Thursday, September 23, 2021

Movie Review: HOWARD THE DUCK (1986)

Once upon a time as a child, I wanted to work in movie special effects and at some point read about the special effects for Howard the Duck. I definitely remember a picture of one of the evil aliens, although I don't recall how exactly it was made. Although I have listened to a podcast about the film (possibly the How Did This Get Made episode), I never actually got around to seeing it.

Well, thanks to Myopia Movies, I finally did. Here's the episode. And now for the review...

The Plot

Howard (Ed Gale in the suit, Chip Zien as the voice) is an anthropomorphic duck hailing from Duckworld, a planet where creatures like him are the dominant species rather than humans. After a long day at work, Howard comes home to smoke cigars, watch TV, and read Playduck (yes, really), only to be transported to Earth by scientific accident. He soon rescues small-time rocker Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson) from punks and she introduces him to her annoying scientist friend Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins), who tries to figure out what Howard is and where he came from. Howard tries to make his way in this strange new world, including getting a job, but the experiment overseen by Dr. Walter Jennings (Jeffrey Jones) that brought Howard to Earth soon brings something else as well...

The Good

*The movie is really funny. Not only is there a lot of goofy and slapstick humor, but there're also some more thoughtful jokes, including a sequence where Howard attempts to find a job at the local unemployment office. I laughed out loud several times--I'm really glad I didn't get this movie off Amazon for the Kindle to watch at the gym. Might disturb the others.

(Even though Howard is now a Disney property, you can watch it for free on NBC's Peacock TV streaming service. For now.)

*Gene Siskel's negative review from when the film was released said that Howard wasn't a likeable character, but in-universe it does make sense. He's the only one of his species on Earth, he's a prey animal on top of that (apparently he arrived in Cleveland right before duck-hunting season), people treat him like a pet, a child, and in one memorable scene, a meal, and he's worried he'll never make it home. He's frustrated and lashes out at people, including those who are trying to help him. And that's on top of some of his personal drama from back in Duckworld--he wanted to be a musician but chose to enter medical school to please his parents, only to fail out. The opening also hints at romantic troubles as well.

*The acting is generally good. I particularly found Thompson amusing as Beverly and Robbins amusing, albeit less so, as Phil. Jones, meanwhile, spends much of the movie possessed by an evil alien. If that's really him speaking with the Evil Voice (Brian Steele is listed as the uncredited voice of "The Dark Overlords of The Universe" so it's possible they dubbed him in), props to him for his vocals.

*I did like the soundtrack as well. Also, Thompson did sing as well as act, which is another point to her.

The Bad

*The movie could stand to be tightened up a bit. There's a chase scene that takes way too long even if it does provide some of the aforementioned laugh-out-loud moments.

*Was this movie marketed toward kids or adults? If it was marketed toward kids, no wonder it bombed at the box office. This movie is not for children, at all. That's not a bad thing (nobody thinks Saving Private Ryan is intended for children), but it is something to keep in mind.

*Per my above comment, although Howard being cranky and obnoxious makes sense for the character, he is kind of a jackass early on.

*Although you do eventually get used to it, upon first seeing Howard he's rather off-putting. I wouldn't go so far as to call it Uncanny Valley, but he does look quite weird. Per Wikipedia the original plan was to make him computer-animated but the technology at the time wasn't up to it. Hopefully if they ever remake it, we're looking at something more akin to Avatar.

*There's this elaborate voice-over that starts the film that claims what's real in one world is fantasy in another. So basically Howard is real on his planet, but he's a comic-book character in ours. That's kind of lame. It's also never followed up on--what if Howard were accosted by a crazed fan who knows he's not a man in a costume? You could get really meta.

*Some of the duck puns are really bad--not funny-bad, but just stupid. And if I think a pun isn't funny, you know it's bad.

*The villainous aliens from the climax have not aged well in terms of effects quality.

The Verdict

Worth seeing at least once. I might actually buy it. 8.0 out of 10. Generally speaking remakes should be reserved for good concepts that were executed poorly (or at least not as well as they could have been), so Disney should definitely come up with an MCU version. Thompson has already volunteered to direct, so maybe they should give her a shot. Like the article suggested, her daughter Zoey Deutch could play Beverly in this version too. That'd be hilarious, since they have worked together before and especially considering Thompson said her daughters refused to finish the movie after a...romantic interlude...involving their mother and an alien duck.

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