Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck 1986
There was only two things I really remembered about this movie before I picked it up on clearance at a used DVD store for about two bucks: I had watched it when I was younger, and I recently skimmed a review for it that had a picture of duck boobs from it. Based on that alone, my wife was against letting Jena watch it with us. But ever since we brought the DVD home, she has been interested in the movie based on the cover artwork alone. My wife was upstairs going to bed early, it was late, my review is due in a couple hours to meet my own personal deadline (which I’ll be about an hour late on), the movie is rated PG, so we started watching it together. Jena’s one word review of Howard the Duck: “Fantastic”. I’m glad I let her watch it with me, it may not be a stellar parenting choice, but I’m ok with it. And while there is that moment of pseudo-nudity, it’s presented in a non-sexual manner, and she is a girl after all. Howard the Duck managed to combine adult themes, childish humor, minor amounts of action, and a love story between a human and a duck. It was bad, but based on the reactions of my daughter, and my wife who came down halfway through the movie, it was worth it. (note: running behind, pics will be added tomorrow)
The movie starts off in kind of a weird way, it avoids showing the full figure of Howard the Duck and instead shows pictures, posters, and television shows featuring many different duck-like-people. It doesn’t make sense that they would build up the look of Howard as a surprise considering the fact that the movie is called Howard the Duck, and on top of that, they’re showing tons of ducks so it’s not like the reveal is a big surprise. Howard is then sucked through the building in his chair and through a tunnel of light across the galaxy. It never really makes much sense that it would have targeted him specifically when there were so much else in the way. Or that it would get him through the walls without also taking them with him. All of the duck suits look pretty good, though personally I think they could have gotten the same effect with a lot less. There’s also a voice over that essentially explains the infinite Earths concept, except according to the movie, Howard is from the same universe, just a different planet, which makes the explanation rather pointless.
The cast in this movie is actually pretty good, even though it’s early work for most of them. Lea Thompson is the lead and love interest for Howard, and she is totally 80’s hot in this movie. Her acting ability is not quite so hot however as she spends most of the time cheering Howard on and occasionally making goo goo eyes at him and calling him Ducky. Tim Robbins plays a geeky scientist named Phillsy who plays it incredibly cornball and slapstick, with lots of wide eyes and shouting. And the villain is played by Jeffrey Jones, who is possessed by a demon that gives him electrical powers and makes his voice raspy.
This movie could not have had a more generic villain, it’s a demon of unspeakable horror or some similar description of vague evil. When he first implants himself into the scientist host, he doesn’t really do much of anything except speak in a raspy voice. Howard takes the Macguffin key from him and all he does is stare blanky into space, and when asked why he isn’t doing anything, he explains that the waitress took his eggs, even though a couple minutes earlier he mentioned that he no longer needed human food. I imagine it was meant to be a joke, but apparently demons aren’t very funny. He slowly looks more and more like a deranged scientist, has an electric glow, and occasionally spouts random tentacles. His final form is a giant stop motion animated creature that my daughter thought looked like a stupid crab. I thought it was a little more impressive than that, but it was still equal parts goofy and creepy.
Howard himself was a generally likable character, but he was incredibly inconsistent. One minute he could fight a grown man, the next he would get tossed around like a dwarf. The differences between the fully animatronic Howard and the Howard suit were fairly noticeable to me, with the animatronics being much skinnier than the full body suit. The reactions of the general population were also wildly inconsistent. One minute he would walk through a bus and every single person on the bus would recoil in extreme surprise, then the next scene he would be walking through a crowded room and no one gave him a second glance.
The humor was just as inconsistent as Howard himself, there were many moments of very mature and risque humor such as Howard’s first job in a hot tub bathhouse, the duck boobs I mentioned earlier, and when Lea Thompson invites Howard into bed with her and jokes that she’s into him sexually, nearly taking her top off. And yet there’s all sorts of childish jokes and humor like when they’re in a cajun sushi restaurant that serves fried eggs as part of their special, how does that even make sense as a joke?! And the fact that Howard, as a duck, can’t swim and is afraid of flying. There’s also several cheesy one-liners spewed out at various moments.
While I did find a lot of stuff wrong with it, I did enjoy myself through most of it. Of course that was partly due to my amazement at how much Jena was getting into the movie and enjoyment at how baffled my wife was at the movie. I liked the… I hate to call it chemistry, but I guess that’s what it is… between Lea and Howard. And while I could spot the difference when they switched styles of Howard, the animatronic, vocal, and suited performances were pretty believable. The acting and special effects are quite dated, the plot was absurd, but there’s still something likable about this movie if you go into it with the right mindset. Plus, Lea Thompson is hot… 80’s hot. Next up on the cheesy chopping block will be Flash Gordon, a classic sci-fi superhero. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.