Howard The Duck (1986) #Rediscovered

When he popped up in the end of credits stinger on “Guardians Of The Galaxy” (I’m not posting a spoiler warning for that because any right-thinking person has already seen that movie at least twice by now, and if you haven’t, stop what you’re doing and go watch it right now) , I knew it was time. Time to introduce The Mertmas to another of my favourite childhood films. Time to #Rediscover… “Howard The Duck”!

Howard #Rediscovered

So much has been written about how terrible this film was, how it pushed George Lucas perilously close to bankruptcy (inadvertently starting the genesis of what would become Pixar), how its failure led to boardroom fistfights at Universal and crippled the careers of everyone involved for years but here’s the thing: when I first saw it at the age of 12, I thought it was great!

Back then, I didn’t care about box office receipts, critical reception or production difficulties, I just enjoyed this funny, weird movie about a duck from outer space who crash lands on Earth and has an adventure with a cool looking monster in it. I had no awareness of the comic book source (still don’t, really) but the mix of nonsense, adventure and sci-fi ticked all my boxes and I’m pretty sure I saw it in the cinema more than once. It’s possible I’m personally responsible for most of its UK gross.

The story begins on Duckworld, when Howard is pulled from his apartment by a mysterious energy vortex which dumps him in a seedy neighbourhood of Cleveland, he quickly encounters the colourful and safely non-threatening gang culture which only seemed to exist in comedies in the 1980s. You know the kind, they’re leather and denim clad punks who’ll push you around and brandish flick-knives but the most they’ll do is shove you to the ground near a comfy pile of soft garbage bags. So much more civilised than the gangs nowadays. Having had enough, he rescues Beverly (Lea Thompson) from a would-be mugging and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Eventually, through Beverly’s friend Phil (Tim Robbins), they discover how Howard arrived on Earth and together with Dr Jennings (Jeffrey Jones) plot to send him back. But before they can, something else uses the experimental laser spectroscope to travel to Earth – a ‘Dark Overlord’ from the Nexus Of Sominus, bent on world domination.

howard pic iiiYeah, the effects are a bit ropey nowadays but they were decent for the time but the puppet/ suit Howard is actually pretty damn good and voiced by Chip Zien and [mostly] inhabited by Ed Gale (Chucky in the “Child’s Play” series) Howard himself feels real and present – far more than, say, CGI Jar Jar Binks would over thirteen years later. Lea Thompson, fresh from her appearance in “Back To The Future” is at her sexiest ever in this film as a rock singer Beverly while Tim Robbins is good value as the manic and clumsy Phil. It’s Jeffrey Jones, however, who comes close to stealing the picture from Howard himself. He’s immensely entertaining as Dr Walter Jennings, especially when he becomes possessed by the Dark Overlord.

howard pic iiOf course, the film isn’t without its problems and the biggest is the whole tone of the film. While the second half is a more straightforward kids sci-fi comedy adventure, the first half is decidedly more adult in its approach. We’re treated to puns aplenty in Howard’s apartment: in-jokes and references to everything from jock-itch to porno mags with more than one glimpse of the naked female duck form displaying impressively mammalian features. There are numerous references to drink, drugs and sex including a played-for-laughs-but-still-a-bit-weird-and-creepy seduction scene between Beverly and Howard (from the producer who brought us a sister kissing her brother to make another man jealous) and Howard being forced to get a job at a sleazy brothel but all of this stuff – all the stuff that weirds me out a bit as an adult – just went over my head at the age of twelve, or if I did get the references, they didn’t bother me.

howard pic iThe same was true for The Mertmas watching this for the first time with me. He loved Howard and enjoyed his adventures, his eight year old mind simply tuning out the bits where Howard says something that seems a bit odd or doesn’t make sense, and focussing on the parts where a duck from outer space has a series of whacky adventures and ends up using a laser gun to fight a really cool looking interdimensional alien.

I concede that my personal fondness for this film polishes out a lot of its rough edges, and perhaps it’s more of a guilty pleasure [Hmm…that gives me an idea!] than a misunderstood and underrated great movie but I enjoyed it then and I still enjoy it now. For me “Howard The Duck” is easily just as good as “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” which has a similarly screwball mixture of surreal sci-fi, comedy and rock’n’roll and yet seems to be universally beloved. The Mertmas has already watched “Howard The Duck” again and I suspect it’ll find a place in his regular rotation.

Perhaps “Guardians Of The Galaxy” will lead to more people seeking this film out and giving it a post-modern, ironic chance. Maybe it’ll even achieve the masterpiece status that George Lucas believed it would eventually be seen as. After all, consider this: “Howard The Duck” was the first – the very first – Marvel feature film in history. And on that ‘Cherry Bomb’shell, I’ll leave you with the score:

6/10 Rediscovered 6

 

#Rediscovered will return!

13 thoughts on “Howard The Duck (1986) #Rediscovered

  1. Some films get a bad rap because they were massively hyped and didn’t live up. Other notorious films are so ambitious they were doomed to fail. But Howard the Duck is just a terrible, terrible movie IMO. I appreciate that your opinion is colored by nostalgia. It happens to the best of us. But nothing about the movie works, except for those cool alien demons. The duck suits look fake, the action isn’t exciting, the jokes fall flat, and the “adult’ humor is creepy and cynical and makes the film inappropriate for its target audience of kids. But everything I just said is conventional wisdom, and I admire you for sticking your neck out and having something out of the mainstream to say. Movies strike people differently.

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  2. Ha ha, thanks Peter! I know it’s a terrible film but I have good memories of seeing it in the cinemas and although its faults are clear to see (and as you say the sexualised first half of the movie is mind bogglingly creepy when I watch it now) but I’ve seen far, far worse movies since then to abandon it completely.

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    1. It was a different time when the film came out. I can understand how the sexual stuff in Ghostbusters went over my head as a kid, because that was played in a slightly oblique way. But the stuff in Howard is pretty explicit. It wouldn’t slip past modern kids.

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      1. Age is key. I watched it with my son (the #Rediscovered thread is really about revisiting the movies I loved as a kid and seeing them again through his eyes) and he didn’t pick up on most of the stuff but he’s only eight.

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      2. Well, like you said kids at that age have a remarkable ability to just tune things out. But innocence is being lost earlier and earlier, and shielding kids is becoming harder. When they reach a point where they’re able to understand adult material, the best method is making sure they can put what they’re watching in context and perspective. Because, one way or another, they’re going to find a way see these things. I envy my own parents for not having to deal with the modern mass media age.

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  3. Forget the movie, check out the comics especially the new comics! great stuff and the original material was intended for adults and has brilliant writing and good satire. All that was dumped for the movie to be a summer blockbuster and executive meddling as they thought it was a comic and has a duck so it has to be for kids, that was a big mistake to market a film like this to the children’s market and try to turn an adult comic into a family film as it’s ashamed of it’s comic roots due to executive meddling (It would be like turning Heavy Metal Magazine into a PG rated family adventure movie) and to turn Howard who was basically like Baby Herman from Roger Rabbit yet somehow in this movie he is reduced to Scrappy Doo, a “cute” and “lovable” character only to sell product. Marvel Studios can do better with Howard to make a live-action/animated combo show like Son of Zorn meets Deadpool plus the satire of Gerber’s comics. Get to know the REAL Howard from the comics.

    You consider that seduction scene to be creepy? Howard and Beverly were always a couple in the comics, nothing wrong with interspecies love in comics/sci-fi fantasy stories/animation/games/sci-fi fantasy films! i mean what makes Vastra and Jenny from Doctor Who no different or Catherine and Vincent on the Ron Perlman Beauty and the Beast show which has a human woman in love with a beast-man who resembles a lion Beast/Carly on X-Men TAS (a human woman with a blue furry mutant man who resembles an ape-cat) or Batman and Cheetah on Justice League or Vinny and Charlene on Biker Mice from Mars or Hepzibah and Corsair (a space human pirate who is Cyclop’s dad with an alien furry cat-skunk woman) etc.? no one looses their minds over Catherine and Vincent or Vastra and Jenny and everyone feels fine, what’s the difference?

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      1. Explain to me why it is creepy? and is it cause the duck costume with a midget in it looks creepy or what? what if a man had a romantic affair with Minerva Mink in a comic or show for adultswim, would that be different? and what about TankGirl and Booga?

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      2. Like I said, it’s the context. The film is unabashedly aimed at family and kids and mines a lot of material from the fact that people are hyper aware Howard is a duck and that that’s weird so it’s just doesn’t quite work in that movie specifically.

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  4. The comics were not for children and that was the mistake of this movie to tone down the adult themes/tone of the comics to make a family picture which was a bad move eh? it was originally gonna be an adult animated film like Heavy Metal, Fire and Ice, Wizards, Ninja Scroll etc. but the studio wanted a live-action blockbuster by 1986 which was a bad move too eh?

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