Film Review: Howard the Duck (1986)

Into the Dark - Film Review: Howard the Duck

This may be a guilty pleasure, but I also think it inherited an unfair reputation.  George Lucas wanted to produce a comic film noir and about a stranded duck from another world who saves humanity from cosmic forces while trying to find his way home. No matter how well it was done, this would never be a huge hit.  Lucas’ name proved cancerous to the movie, daring critics to take their best shot, and unintentionally promising Star Wars-like universal appeal for what is really a niche product.  It’s a silly goofball of a movie that I first saw in the theater when I was 12 years old (perhaps the target audience).  But as I turn 38, I’m still entertained by it.

Howard‘s definitely got its problems, though.  I think the main ones are in it’s first hour.  It starts off on Duck World, without any attempt to ease the audience into the lunacy of the concept.  At that very moment, you’re going to lose about half the audience who aren’t willing to suspend their disbelief.  Then, for about the first hour, the story is very unfocused.  There is no antagonistic force driving the plot — there’s just Howard’s strange inter-species romantic relationship to Beverly (Lea Thompson), another alienating element for many viewers.  The relationship treads a fine line:  is it comic, or is it serious?  Howard has a little duck condom in his wallet.  Should we laugh or throw up?  I find the confusing tone intriguing.  I mean, the movie’s so fricking weird already, why not screw a duck?

For me, the movie pulls together in the middle to deliver a fun final hour.  I love the scene at the sushi diner where Jeffrey Jones goes wacky and blows shit up while transforming into a ‘Dark Overlord of the Universe’.   I also love the ultralight airplane escape,  a (dare I say it?) masterpiece of film editing. The climactic showdown features some awesome stop-motion animation from Phil Tippet. Tippet’s Dark Overlord of the Universe is among the last stop-motion animated monsters to hit the silver screen. (A few years later, the advent of CGI would begin nudging him into a new career path.)

Considering the subject matter, John Barry would seem a highly odd choice for composer of this film.  It’s hard to see how Howard the Duck fits into Barry’s distinguished filmography:  Born Free, Out of Africa, Dances with WolvesHoward the Duck?  It’s actually an inspired choice. Barry’s romantic string work gives the film some needed weight while pop icon Thomas Dolby serves up a handful of appropriately cheesy pop tunes.

It’s an odd, odd movie that probably should never have been made.  But I like Howard the Duck.  You can give me a scarlet “H” if you want to.  I’ll wear it proudly.

Rating: 3.5/5 ★★★½☆ 

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About Scott_S

Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit www.scottschirmer.com. Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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