TBT Review: ‘Howard the Duck’ is Famously Bad
Last month we had ourselves a little holiday called Star Wars day on May the 4th.
My boss asked me to submit any Star Wars related posts I had. Well I have to admit one of my first ideas was to be the contrarian who while everyone else is like “Jedis” “Lightsabers” “The Force!” I’d be that guy going “Howard the Duck!” Ultimately I decided not, but the idea hasn’t left me so why not let’s take a look back at this famous bomb and see if it’s reception was fair.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 2
“Howard the Duck” was based on the Marvel comic book of the same name. The series was actually fairly popular for a time and Howard even got a ton of write-in votes during the 1976 Presidential election. One of those fans was “Star Wars” creator George Lucas who wanted to turn the comics into an animated film for adults (they were popular at the time) however his contract with Universal required a live action film and with no other options he went with Howard for the film. He hired “American Graffiti” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz to write and direct. First things first, as the creative forces behind the film, they did not seem to get Howard the Duck. Here’s a quote from Katz “It’s a film about a duck from outer space… It’s not supposed to be an existential experience” which is an odd position to take in adapting a comic that was most often described as an existentialist parody of comics as explained by Howard’s creator Steve Gerber. Now that’s pretty bad, but add that to the inexperience that the director/writers had and it’s no surprise the film looks so plain and boring despite having a budget HIGHER than “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.”
The plot follows along in not being terribly interesting. I mean Howard really does seem to work better in a serial format like comics so I’m not sure what a great film plot would even be. As such, I’m not going to hold it against them too much. The acting is very mixed. Leah Thompson is delightful as always, though the way they write her character leaves a lot to be desired. Chip Zien has been criticized as being a poor choice for the voice, but it honestly never bothered me. Jeffery Jones does as good as a job as could be expected of him though again I’d say the character as written is what holds him back. Most of the background actors seem to try to affect a way of speaking like cartoon characters which I suppose was what they thought would allow the audience to better accept the premise, but instead makes the film even stranger and even harder to connect to. However the reigning king of AWFUL performances comes from probably the best actor in the cast, Tim Robbins. Seriously watch him in “Mystic River” right before this and your neck might break from the quality whiplash. He is TERRIBLE in this film, not one single line sounds like a real person. I know he’s comic relief, but his acting here is so over the top he’s practically in space. The effects are decent, yes I know Howard the Duck is obviously a guy in a suit, but at the time it was a very advanced suit effect. Now being state of the art doesn’t always mean good looking because as audiences in 86 noted it’s pretty clear that he’s a little person in a duck suit. I suppose it’s a character that just can’t work with practical effects… maybe Jim Henson’s company could have pulled it off… maybe. However all of the other effects are standard for the time. The stop motion on the dark overlord is honestly pretty excellent and a highlight for me personally.
Entertainment Value – 1.5
Here’s the main problem with the film, it’s tone is ever changing yet somehow never interesting. I’ll admit some of the jokes make me laugh, but often their style (and age range) change from scene to scene. Some are kinda naughty while others feel straight out of a kids film. It really has no idea what it wants to be. You’d think that it would make it accidentally interesting, but it doesn’t. I know it’s all a joke, but the bedroom scene just feels all kinds of uncomfortable even though technically Marty McFly’s mom never actually has sexual relations with that duck (despite what some say) it’s just… eww. The only thing I can honestly say works throughout the film is the great John Barry’s (composer of the James Bond films) score which is fun, exciting, and just a joy to listen to. It’s a shame the rest of the film can’t follow suit.
Rewatchability – 2.5
Here’s the weird thing about the movie, I don’t like it however, every couple of years I get the strange urge to watch it again. I can’t explain why. It’s not like I’m expecting to like it this time… I just watch it. So I know for a fact it strangely is a re-watchable film. Maybe it’s checking with my brain to make sure it actually exists. Anyone else have this issue with a film?
Reboot Possibilities – 5
I decided to add in a 4th category to be able to discuss an idea of mine that didn’t really fit anywhere else. I won’t actually factor it into the final score. What do I mean by Reboot Possibilities? I basically mean does Howard the duck deserve a second shot at the big screen, I say yes. Now if you’re only familiar with Howard through this film then it is understandable if you think this is crazy. However as stated before it’s not just a bad movie, but it’s bad adaptation of the character. I don’t read a lot of current comics (for many reasons) however I have been enjoying what I’ve been seeing of Howard the Duck lately. Marvel seems to get the urge every couple of years to try and push the character and as a result he’s been making a lot of cameos and guest appearances. Anyway the point is, he’s actually a good comic book character and deserves a better film adaptation than he got. Marvel Studios has been proving time and time again that they know how to portray the characters correctly (I’d argue that they’re better at it than a majority of the actual current comics) so I think he’d be in good hands now. However, because of how legendarily bad this film was the chances are pretty slim. I think it’s safe to assume we all know about his cameo in the post credits scene of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and it struck me as good way to do it. We know they’re doing more “Guardians of the Galaxy” films and I think adding Howard to them could really work. I don’t mean to make him a member or something, but use him like Joe Pesci in “Lethal Weapon 2.” Like he’s a witness to some sort of space crime stuff and the Guardians have to keep him safe for the movie. He gets an important role that could really utilize him well (his interactions with say Rocket Raccoon could be hilarious) while not taking over the story from the actual main characters. If he works there then maybe give him a Netflix series or just keep him around as character in the MCU. I see nothing but good that could come of this. Make it happen Marvel, please.
- Entertainment Value
- Reboot Possibilities
Famously bad film is... well... bad. There are those out there who enjoy it, but I don't. It may not be as bad as some make it out to be (there are far, far worse films out there) but it is still a bad film. It does feel like there maybe could have been a good film in it, but was never allowed to hatch. The direction and tone go all wrong at the wrong times. While some of the acting is fine there are just as many awful performances in it. And while technically decently made its flaws really do consume it. I give it 2 stars out of 5.
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