I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Howard the Duck: Turd is the Word

by Johnathon Davis
Nov. 20, 2011
This is one of those movies that I really loved as a kid. The only problem? I became an adult and realised how awful it is. It’s easy for one to wonder just how this movie even got made, but thankfully I have a simple two word answer for you- George Lucas. Yes that’s right. The man who brought us such cinematic abortions as Jar Jar Binks is none other than the Executive Producer of the movie in question. Give yourself a second to recover from that little tidbit, then you can read an amazingly brief plot synopsis.

Okay are you breathing normally now? Plot synopsis: Howard T. Duck is transported by a laser beam thingy from his apartment on Duckworld, (presumably an alternate Earth, but populated by talking ducks that we find out through the ensuing chaos of Howard’s departure from said planet that Duckladies have feathery duck boobs) sucking him through deep space and landing him in a filthy alleyway in Cleveland. Strung out with no place to go, he meets a struggling rock musician named Beverly (played by Lea Thompson) with whom he shares a very awkward (and unsettling) attraction. Meeting with scientists, (one of which is played by Tim Robbins, this movie of which is probably his finest work, which is not saying much) they try and find a way to return Howard home.

I know that’s longer than I promised but all of the parenthesis got in the way. I’ll be fair- it’s not entirely Uncle Georgie’s fault this movie stinks but he’s sitting in the high chair on this one. His name is so huge in the business what else can you do? That being said I still like to think of this movie as the fart that preceded the pipe clogging shit that became the Star Wars prequels. According to a documentary on the Howard The Duck DVD, Lucas told his film school buddies and later co writers on American Graffiti Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz about a comic book he had found called “Howard The Duck” that he thought was really funny. This was assumedly in the early/mid 70’s when the comic was really in its heyday. Flash forward to 1984 and Lucas steps down as president of Lucasfilm to focus on producing movies. This was his third feature as a producer and as the saying goes- third time’s the charm... I think the only reason this even had a DVD release was because they could bank on Lucas’ name, and pretty much every movie ever made by a big studio had been released on the format already so they might as well. DAMMIT!

While I can praise the film for its various technical achievements with animatronics the story just falls- dare I say it?- fowl (get it?). As I started saying before, the comic book on which the film is (LOOSELY) based is a bizarre piece of work. Think film noir but replacing Bogart with a talking duck in a suit. Dadaesque and existentialist to be sure. So what’s the problem you ask? The whole joke about the comic was there ISN”T a joke. This makes the comic and the film stand completely opposed to one another thematically. In the DVD documentary I mentioned earlier, Howard The Duck screenwriter Gloria Katz further cemented the obvious differences between the two by claiming “It’s a film about a duck from outer space, it’s not supposed to be an existential experience”. Wow... looks like somebody fell off the boat AND missed the point in one fell swoop.

Even the humor in this film bothers me. While it is still similar to the humor of the comic (which uses various duck related puns) there’s also rather unnecessary descriptions of actions. Like for instance when Howard grabs on to a crane to get away from a female biker gang shortly after arriving in Cleveland he simply HAS to exclaim “Up and away!” while laughing ridiculously. I always think of purely descriptive actions in humor as an American invention. Americans need actions exacerbated by telling them what to laugh at because they aren’t intelligent enough (on average) to know what is inherently funny or if there is nothing funny (as in the scene described) they can chuckle at what is an otherwise grotesque exercise in “entertaining” film making. There’s also the diner fight later in the movie where a heroic Back To The Future type piece of film score plays over Howard saying more unnecessary bullshit and fighting off a bunch of stupid diner patrons. DOUBLE DAMMIT!

Another thing (I know you’ve been waiting for this since the start of this article) is the REALLY awkward presence of inferred beastiality. Lea Thompson single handedly wins for the two most awkward almost sex scenes in a major Hollywood film during the 80’s within two years. First she tries to get with her as yet unborn teenage son in Back To The Future but then proceeds to put the moves on an anthropomorphic waterfowl.....EEEEEEEWWWWW! While a talking duck in love with a bodacious babe works in a comic book it just seems gross when rendered in live action.

I really feel like this film would have been better off not being made. I mean come on, check out box office records to find out it made a profit of just under one million dollars over what it cost to churn out! I’ve sat through it twice as an adult (once this week to be able to write this review with sufficient vitriol) and I can really honestly say that I find it hard to watch without A) almost falling asleep and B) throwing up in my mouth a little putting me at risk for choking on my own vomit when I do fall into slumber. Normally films this bad try to rescue themselves by having the female lead run around scantily clad in at least one scene. Don’t get me wrong- Lea Thompson in her mid twenties is great eye candy and all, but last I checked that doesn’t stop a ship from sinking, a train from derailing, or this piece of shit movie from filling up the room with its reek.

Sources utilized:

The documentary A Look Back At Howard The Duck. This is included on the DVD but someone mercifully put it on youtube so I didn’t have to go get the damn disc.

Also used were various back issues of the Howard The Duck comic book published by Marvel Comics. I made sure to use non Comics Code Authority stuff to get maximum entertainment (you should too).

And also the Star Wars Holiday Special (except for the cool cartoon bit featuring Boba Fett) because if this didn’t prove how awry things could get with George Lucas, what else can?

Oh yeah, that’s right- Jar Jar Binks...
Johnathon lives in Portland, Oregon. He makes collages. He also writes things for Network Awesome, as well as his weekly movie review blog which can be found at http://fshomevideo.blogspot.com. You should read it, it's really terrific.