Revisiting Howard The Duck (1986)

  I have a soft spot in my geek heart for the Howard The Duck flick. I saw it a few times as a kid (not when it came out, but I was young-ish) and really liked the mix of what seemed like a kids movie (alien from another planet palling around and learning about earth, eventually fighting a space monster) with the strangely adult elements (naked lady duck, tiny duck condom and hints at interstellar bestiality). But really, I just thought Howard looked and acted cool. He handled adversity (being stranded on another planet) pretty well and even made the best of it by joining a band. That probably seemed like a pretty good life to me when I was young.

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I’ve been slowly reading through the Howard The Duck Omnibus I got a few years back. I checked out the Essentials version a few years ago, knowing Steve Gerber’s issues are considered some of the best around, but just couldn’t get into that black and white format. I love reading the book in color and am really glad I got the omnibus, I just wish it was easier to read. Damn thing’s heavy! Anyway, I ordered something off of Amazon recently and was a few bucks short of the free shipping threshold, so I looked up the HTD DVD and it was only $5! Welcome first to my shopping cart and soon after my home movie Howard!

I just finished watching the movie again for the first time in probably a decade and I still liked it! Sure, there’s some super corny elements and a few things that don’t fit, but what else would you expect from a movie about a duck getting sucked away from his version of Earth to ours? Notice I said a movie, not a comic. In the issues I’ve read, Gerber tackles everything from Kung Fu flicks and gang violence to artistic integrity in a way that couldn’t really be done in a major motion picture. Maybe a series on Adult Swim, but not something that Hollywood would put money into.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, a science experiment drags Howard from his home planet to ours where he lands in Cleveland. He soon befriends Beverly (Lea Thompson), a musician who lets him stay at her place. Bev asks her scientist friend played by Tim Robbins to figure out what his deal is. After some fish-out-of-water (or duck-out-of-pond if you will) scenes, a scientist played by Jeffrey Jones explains that he and his team were trying an experiment that went wrong. They try it again and Jones winds up with a space monster growing inside him. Eventually, Howard has a showdown with Jones and then the monster itself, which looked amazing because George Lucas executive produced this flick.

The movie was and has been panned pretty intensely, but I don’t think it’s really fair. The actors did a killer job, the effects look amazing and overall it’s a solid story that has elements of Short Circuit, ET and Ghostbusters that work pretty well together as far as I’m concerned. Most importantly, no one seemed to think what they were doing was silly, they all played their parts and did what they did seemingly thinking they were making an awesome movie. My one complaint about the movie is that it’s probably 20 minutes too long. I think the filmmakers might have put too much in the movie which wound up extending the period of time audiences had to suspend their disbelief. You might buy the overall premise, but why are you watching such a long scene of Howard and Robbins flying a tiny plane? Aside from that, though, I think it holds up pretty darn well.

At the end of the day, the movie’s absurd and doesn’t really stand up to the comic book, but it’s a fun romp on its own. The DVD itself is pretty rad too because they actually put some effort into it. Robbins is the only person who didn’t come back for interviews as far as I can tell (of course). I’ve watched the first two modern retrospectives and both were pretty interesting. I haven’t gotten to the archival featurettes yet, but I can honestly say that my $5 was very well spent.

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