Howard the Duck is an iconic film. The problem being that it is an iconic film for all the wrong reasons. Released in 1986, Howard (which is based on a 1970s Marvel Comic) had a huge budget, it was produced by Star Wars mastermind George Lucas and it was expected to be a huge earner at the box office. This sadly wasn’t the case and the $37 million budgeted film only grossed $16 million in US cinemas, placing it in the capable company of Ishtar as one of the 1980s legendary duds. Not only that, but the critics took to the film like a duck to oil and savaged the film.
The film was written and directed by Willard Huyck, a long time Lucas collaborator and screen-writer of American Graffiti, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and little seen 90s Lucas effort the Radioland Murders. Since Howard, Huyck hasn’t returned to the megaphone.
It’s easy to look at Howard the Duck or Howard: A New Breed of Hero as it was called over here in the UK, and list its faults. Yes it is a flawed film, yes it’s bizarre in that it has a romantic subplot which involves Howard having a relationship with Leah Thompson- made all the more shocking as this is supposed to be a children’s film. Of course Howard looks like a man in a duck suit, but who cares? The film is incredibly fun, quite humorous and very 1980s!
The plot of the film begins with our titular hero being zapped from his home planet of “Duck World” (no, I’m not making this up) to the back streets of Cleveland. On his arrival Howard befriends Beverly, a struggling singer, who takes him under her wing (pun intended). Hoping to help him, she introduces Howard to bumbling scientist, Phil Blumburtt, played by Tim Robbins, yes – that Tim Robbins. Throughout the course of the movie we discover that Howard was accidently hit by a laser from a scientific experiment conducted by a Blumbert’s colleague, Jennings (played by the ever reliable Jeffery Jones). However, this laser not only brought Howard to earth, but also The Dark Overlord – an evil alien that now inhabits Jennings’ body.
Will Howard get back to Duck World? Will the Dark Overlord destroy earth? Will you find Howard the Duck entertaining? You’ll have to watch the film to find out!
Critically mauled on release, this box-office turkey shouldn’t have much to recommend, however I find it good old fashioned fun, and whilst not in the same league as other 80s gems as Gremlins and Back to the Future, there is much to enjoy in Howard the Duck.