The question is not whether Howard The Duck has aged well, nor is it whether the movie was ahead of its time and is only now finding an appropriate audience. It isn’t even if the film is better than you remembered. Clearly it is not. This is still the movie that was too Eighties for even the 1980s, relentlessly silly, and cursed at the heart of it with the surefire box office dynamite that is a bestial romance.
Now that we have that all out of the way, is Howard The Duck a good ‘bad’ movie, the kind of cinematic junk that has a degree of charm because of just how junky it really is? Actually, no. Time has not been a friend to this movie — but not in the way you’d think. Back in its time, the movie was slightly shocking, but mostly a loud, somewhat obnoxious blowback of comic book aspirations paired with the ridiculous tropes of the times. Instead of just being a bombshell, as she was in Steve Gerber’s comics, Beverley Switzler is now a wannabe rockstar. Portrayed by Lea Thompson, fresh from her Oedipally complicated role in Back to the Future and her career-defining role in… uh… Space Camp, Beverley is a bit perkier and spunkier than her four-color role’s sake. Too perky, in fact, which makes it even creepier that this attractive waif of a girl wants to get it on with anthropomorphic water fowl.
And what of the duck? Despite what was touted as the best character costuming of the time, you never, ever, ever for the teensiest second buy into this thing being anything other than ILM mechanics shop 101. The choice of Chip Zien as the voice of Howard was equally misguided, as his shrill interpretation is neither funny nor charming. Just as shot-out is Tim Robbins in one of his first film roles, a fact he has been trying desperately to forget for the past couple decades.
It would be easy to blame George Lucas, the executive producer of the movie, for the mess it is. The blame instead has to go to the writer/producer/director team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. Fresh from success with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, they looked for something a little less disturbing than the Thuggee Cult to continue their streak, but that is the major problem with the movie. The comic book was very disturbing. By trying to split the difference between the freak fandom that formed around the comics and the youth audience that was supposed to catapult the flick into the Summer box office stratosphere, they sided with the worst of each and got nowhere. In this case, it would have been better to go big, or not to have gone at all.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Dunphy, you’re shooting fish in a barrel. You knew this movie was a stinker, and not a Plan 9 From Outer Space stinker either. What did you gain from revisiting it? Did you think the two decades this sat in the cinematic cave, away from the digital revolution, would somehow age it into a fine cult classic? Yeah, I kind of did think that would be the case. I was wrong, and the reason why is because time hasn’t caught up with the film’s insanity, it’s made it all incredibly dull. Manic acting, big special effects, Jeffrey Jones as an alien-posessed evildoer, duck nipples, boring, boring, boring. It either is an indictment of how far, and how twisted our cinematic visions have become, or just confirmation of what we knew all along… This is a bad movie. This is a bad, bad movie.