the Duck is a turkey all right, no doubt about it. Don't let any
nostalgic twentysomethingers who saw it as impressionable kids try to
convince you otherwise . . .
Marginally based on a Marvel comic book that enjoyed
cult success amongst college types in the mid- to late-1970s, the plot of
this expensive 1986 live-action flick involves a sarcastic, talking duck
named Howard that is, ahem, plucked from his home planet of Duckworld and
deposited in the middle of Cleveland, Ohio.
The comics were rather good
and one can see why executive producer George Lucas would talk his old
American Graffiti cohorts Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz into making a
movie out of it. They were part social satire, part self-indulgent
psychoanalysis (writer and creator Steve Gerber was fascinated by
psychology) and a dig at all the outsider superheroes that were typical of
Marvel Comics at the time.
In the movie Howard befriends a wannabe rock star named
Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson) who tries to helps him get back to his
home planet where ducks are the dominant species instead of humans. They
are in turn assisted by a scientist played by a very young Tim Robbins,
probably the only person who, along with the special effects department
(the effects were top notch for its time), came out of Howard the Duck
unscathed. It turns out that the same experiment that brought Howard to
Earth also brought an evil alien presence intent on conquering the planet.
Now it is up to Howard and his small group of friends to prevent the
Howard the Duck (the movie) was supposed to be a
special effects-heavy blockbuster, but it turned out to be the sort of
movie that destroyed careers instead. It got incredibly rotten reviews and
bombed big-time at the box office.
Star Wars director George Lucas was having cash flow problems at the
time and was hoping that Howard the Duck would save him. Instead he
had to sell off a lot of assets including the computer division that would
eventually become Pixar to Steve Jobs. (Lucas also disowned the movie.)
Director Willard Huyck, who also wrote American Graffiti, never
directed another movie again. Shortly after Howard the Duck was
released, Frank Price quit his job as the head of Universal Pictures, the
studio that funded the film. Variety reported the story with the headline,
?Duck Cooks Price's Goose.?
Watching it today one realizes why audiences stayed away
in droves. The movie is never clear on who exactly it is intended for. The
biggest problem is Howard's duck costume which is - and looks like - a
dwarf in a phony duck suit. Despite Lucas having spent a reported $2
million on the suit, Howard looks like a character out of the Sesame
Street children's show. The design screams "something for the kids."
Yet the movie never finds a tone on which to settle on. Is it for small
children or adults? It veers between the slapstick of an action sequence
in which police chase Howard in a micro-light flyer and some very adult
humor. Take your kids to go see Howard the Duck and you might end
up explaining stuff like gang rape, bestiality and condoms to the little 'uns. Also some of the monsters featured at
the end will have little children fleeing the cinema in tears. Just what
were the filmmakers thinking?
Even more surprising is the movie's mean-spiritedness as
Howard is continuously victimized by nasty humans throughout the entire
movie culminating in a scene in which a mob of patrons at a diner wants to
disembowel him with a meat cleaver!
The fact is that the film was dogged by creative
missteps from the word go when it was decided to make Howard the Duck
a live-action movie instead of an animated one. The screenplay is simply
lame and unfunny. Howard reads Playduck, has a Breeders of the Lost Ark
poster adorning his wall and knows Quack Fu. Ho-ho . . . About the only
entertaining thing in it is actress Lea Thompson's gargantuan 'Eighties
hairdo which according to the special features supplied on the disc took
the makeup people two hours each day. It was worth it though, folks. One
cannot imagine Howard the Duck without that hairdo . . .
THE DISC: Image and sound is quite good for a 23
year-old movie. The special featurettes are informative and interesting,
but don't expect any appearances by George Lucas, or Tim Robbins for that
WORTH IT? No. And don't believe Amazon.com's
editorial review that says this is "a midnight movie that your kids might
watch more than you." I wouldn't let kids watch it at all.
RECOMMENDATION: Buy the original Howard the
Duck comic books by Steve Gerber instead and give this a skip.