The Hulk who? Spiderman, huh? X-Men, whazit? Before ANY of those illustrious Marvel characters ventured into major motion pictures territory, there was Howard the Duck, a VERY obscure (But actually pretty good) Marvel comics character adapted to the big screen to middling—and that’s putting it nicely—results. Love it or loathe it, the duck with the cigar in his beak is now out on DVD.
Howard the Duck is not a good movie, and I don’t mean that in a good way either. Big Trouble in Little China and C.H.U.D., are good movies, even though most people who don’t understand the meaning of camp would probably just call them abortions in cinema. Howard the Duck, on the other hand, is just bad—you know, the kind of bad where even as a kid you thought it was pretty lame for a duck wearing a tie to play a guitar with his beak at the end.
Even so, I’m going to defend Howard the Duck, and not just because I want to be different from every other critic who has ever reviewed it over the past few decades or so. Howard the Duck, for all its corny faults, is a product of its time, and looking at it now in 2009, I think it represents a pretty good time capsule of what the 80s were generally like as a whole—loud, garish, and entirely into itself. The story alone is vintage 80s.
Howard, living on a planet much like Earth except everything has references to ducks on it (Playduck, Rolling Egg, the list goes on and on), gets pulled from his house by a weird ray beam and is brought down to Earth in a freak accident, which is good for planet Earth to have such an awesome duck now residing on it, right? Right, but the only problem is, this ray beam also manages to bring down a dark overlord that, similar to LoPan from Big Trouble in Little China can also shoot light from his eyes and mouth. Before said overlord (Who’s played by Jeffrey Jones, a familiar face in the 80s, probably most known as the bloodhound Dean of Students in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), starts lighting up and taking on a hideous voice though, we get to see the misadventures of Howard as he gets a rocker girlfriend (Played by Marty McFly’s mom, Lea Thompson), works at a sex sauna, and gets harrased by Tim Robbins (Yes, THAT Tim Robbins), who thinks Howard is the greatest discovery in science since the cure for Polio. In other words, this movie doesn’t make any sense, and I applaud it for not doing so.
The comic, which I’ve only read here or there, was always a little off center, and while I don’t think the movie comes anywhere NEAR representing that askewed sense of reality, I do approve of the effort put into it by the director, Willard Hyuck. And before you even ask it, no, George Lucas DIDN’T direct this movie, even though that’s a common misconception that he did. Instead, he just helped produce it, but that doesn’t mean his greasy handprints aren’t all over it, as the humor is VERY George Lucas, and when I say the humor is very George Lucas, I mean to say that it’s very corny.
The thing is, though, the humor in this film actually sometimes transcends being just George Lucas corny and actually falls into a territory where you just shake your head and say, “God, what were they THINKING back then?” In one such “God, what were they thinking,” moment, Howard is in bed with a woman (Yes), and when she rubs his fluffy chest, the hair on top of his head stands on end like he’s getting an erection. Okay, wait, what? Isn’t this supposed to be a children’s movie? Only in the 80s, man, only in the 80s. In another scene early on in the picture, Howard is flying out of his house and he passes through the bathroom of a female duck taking a bath with her bare breasts exposed (!) Only in the 80s, man, only in the 80s. Granted, George Lucas wouldn’t be quite as risqué today as he was back when he funded a movie like this. But really, a strangely obnoxious but harmless character like Howard the Duck is not too far off from a blantantly obnoxious and harmless character like Jar Jar Binks. But I digress.
In all honesty though, the reason I’m giving Howard the Duck a better than average score is because I actually LIKE the movie, and I like it BECAUSE it’s so bad. I mean, in the end, sure, I can talk about how it’s “like a time capsule” to my childhood, or how the music isn’t all that bad (How-ard, the Duck! Hey, it’s catchy!), or some bullcrap like that. In the end, though, I just can’t hide the fact that deep down inside, I actually LIKE Howard’s story of landing on Earth, getting the babe, and blowing up an overlord or two. Yes, don’t get me wrong, Howard the Duck IS a bad movie, and not just bad in a John Waters’ campy kind of way, but bad in a, "Did I really just buy this on DVD?" kind of way. All the same, I still like it, I still watched it, and I’ll still watch it over again when nobody else is looking. You got a problem with that, Mack? Well if you do, then you can take it up with the hero that quacks. (Heh, heh, heh, I just made a funny. Whoops, wrong 80s movie).
If special features are supposed to ADD to a movie once it’s released on DVD, then why does it feel like the special features on this particular disc actually detract from it instead? Without a commentary or any sort of deleted scenes added in of Howard picking up a hooker or anything like that, we’re left with its creators talking about how much they liked the movie at the time and how it was so hard to make, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Alright already, I get it, you worked hard and it was a flop, so what? Honestly, though, what I really want to hear is Tim Robbins talking about how he made all those accurate duck noises, and also if he regrets doing Mystic River over the long gestating, Howard the Duck 2: The Quack is Back (You know I’m joking, right?). Instead, we get a few bland special features, each one more boring than the last.
On “A Look Back at Howard the Duck,” director Willard Huyck and his screenwriter wife Gloria Katz (Who speaks as if she has something stuck up her nose all the time), discuss how the movie was made, and also how very, very hopeful they were back then that the movie would be a success—poor, silly, misguided fools. The actor who played Howard also makes an appearance, discussing how he replaced a twelve year old for the role and how it was really tough to see out of that blasted duck costume (He could only see when he opened his mouth. Fascinating). Lea Thompson (still looking hot) also discusses her role as Howard’s girlfriend in the film, and Jeffrey Jones (still looking evil), talks about how he really liked his role. Well, I did, too, Mr. Jones, I did, too.
“Releasing the Duck,” talks about how the picture was a complete bomb when it originally came out, but has since been elevated to cult status. Finally, the “Archival featurettes,” which include news clips, stunts, special effects, and music featurettes, leaves much to be desired since it all just seems slapped on to fill some sort of special features quota. I mean, there isn’t even a little booklet or scene select leaflet inside the actual DVD case, meaning you get the disc and nothing else. What the hell is up with that? For a fan willing to forgive a lot of the film’s faults, I think the biggest fault here is that the special features are just so paltry (Notice I avoided the pun and didn’t write, “poultry”). Where are the rub-on tattoos, the sing-along lyrics, the not-for-resale doll that should come along with the package? If you really want to be freaking camp, people, you have to go all out! Don’t say something is special edition if the only other special feature on the disc is the obligatory trailer for the film, which rounds out the rest of the features on this disc.
Honestly, George Lucas really should be stepping up to bat for this one since he had such a big stake in it at the time. I mean, it even says his name above the title, George Lucas presents Howard the Duck, similar to all those recent crumbum films that Quinton Tarantino keeps endorsing. Well, look, guys, if you supported the film when you thought it was going to be a success, then you should equally stand behind it when it gets panned by all the critics. Because really, besides Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and American Graffiti, what else is Lucas known for? THX1138? Um, Star Wars? Exactly! George Lucas hasn’t done anything else worthwhile, so he should at least be able to say a word or two about the movie that quite possibly almost ended his career in Hollywood.