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Willard Huyck
Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones, Ed Gale, Chip Zien
Writing Credits:
Steve Gerber (comic books), Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz

You will believe that a duck can talk.

One of the most talked-about movies of all time, Howard the Duck, lands on DVD for the first time ever in an all-new Special Edition! From executive producer George Lucas and the pages of Marvel Comics comes this unbelievably funny comedy about a fast-talking, cigar-chomping, beer-loving duck from a parallel universe who crashes to Earth. Featuring brand-new bonus features, a digitally remastered picture and new 5.1 surround sound, Howard the Duck: Special Edition is a hidden treasure the whole family can enjoy.

Box Office:
$30 million.
Opening Weekend
$5.070 million on 1554 screens.
Domestic Gross
$14.964 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 110 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 3/10/2009

• “A Look Back at Howard the Duck” Featurette
• “Releasing the Duck” Featurette
• Four Archival Featurettes
• Teaser Trailers


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Howard The Duck: Special Edition (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 19, 2009)

Lots of movies flop, but few flop so badly that most involved try hard to pretend they don’t exist. 1986’s Howard the Duck falls into this category. Touted as a rollicking comic book adventure from George Lucas, Howard bombed at the box office and inspired a level of derision that made it a legendary stinker.

Despite the best efforts of the filmmakers to sweep this clunker under the rug, Howard became beloved among a cult of fans. This was never an enormous group, but I guess enough of them exist to finally prompt those behind Howard to unleash it from the vaults – for better or for worse.

While at home one evening, a mysterious force sucks Howard the Duck (voiced by Chip Zien, acted by a mix of little people in animatronic suits) from his world and deposits him on Earth. Howard lands in Cleveland and soon makes a friend: Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson), an aspiring rock star he rescues from some thugs. Beverly takes him into her apartment and tries to help him adjust to his new environment.

As they become pals, Beverly consults with her scientist acquaintance Phil (Tim Robbins) to figure out how Howard came to the Earth. It turns out a device run by Dr. Jenning (Jeffrey Jones) transported Howard from his home. The film follows Howard’s efforts to return to his planet along with a mix of complications.

When I saw Howard back in the Eighties, I recall that I liked it. While I don’t think it dazzled me, I also didn’t believe it deserved all the animosity it inspired. As far as I remember, I felt Howard offered an entertaining comic fantasy.

As I watch Howard now, however, I imagine that a combination of youth and stupidity influenced my opinion. How in the heck could I have been entertained by this idiotic piece of fluff? Maybe we were easier to amuse back in the 1980s.

All I know is that as of 2009, Howard comes across as a mess. Is it such a disaster that it deserves its reputation as a legendary stinker? Probably not, though I believe the film’s then-exorbitant budget and George Lucas’s presence as executive producer contributed to the extremely negative reaction; touted as an expensive summer blockbuster, Howard earned extra infamy due to its perceived excesses.

If we remove the film from these concerns, it seems less worthy of its relentlessly negative status, but not by much. Let’s face it: while Howard has many apologists who seem to regard it as an unjustly maligned classic, the movie simply isn’t good. For one, the story makes almost no sense. Wouldn’t it have been enough just to stick with Howard’s adjustment to Earth and his Dorothy Gale-like quest to return home?

Apparently not, as the filmmakers graft on a ridiculous story about “Dark Overlords” along with police pursuits and other extraneous elements. It’s bad enough that these lack any vague logic or coherence; in addition, they just don’t entertain at all. The film wants to offer a mix of sci-fi action and comedy ala Ghostbusters, but instead it causes far more exasperated groans than laughs.

The film’s tone really is an issue. The original Howard comic book offered a subversive work that acted as a parody of superheroes. You’ll find none of that sense of irony or darkness in this piece of family fare. The comics were meant for a more adult crowd, but the movie decides to change Howard into cute ‘n’ cuddly general audience piece.

It doesn’t work. The movie’s light tone simply makes the occasional attempts at satire seem toothless. If anything, Howard feels like an ode to mid-1980s cinematic excess instead of the spoof it should be. Howard submerges us in cheap slapstick, bad bird puns and pointless action scenes.

None of this manages to entertain, and the actors don’t help. They overact to an extreme, though I guess I can’t blame them; it’s clear the filmmakers wanted them to camp things up as much as possible. Still, the performances are so broad and wild that they do little more than distract.

Of all the people who should’ve been most eager to keep Howard out of general circulation, Tim Robbins stands at the top of the list. When I watch his crazed, manic performance, I wonder how he ever got another job much less how he someday won an Oscar. Robbins produces a turn so bad that he makes other parts of the flick seem subtle.

I will say this: the animatronic Howard works pretty well. No, we never really buy him as anything other than a person in a duck suit, but the heads manage surprising expressiveness and nuance. Howard acts as a good accomplishment in terms of puppetry; he’s easily the best thing about the movie.

Howard isn’t the worst movie ever made. Heck, I’m sure we can find crummier flicks from the same year; it’s not like 1986 was the golden age of cinema. Nonetheless, few films waste their resources to such a depressing degree, as this big-budget dud looks cheap and fails to provide even rudimentary entertainment value beyond the shock that comes from the realization we once thought Lea Thompson’s huge crimped-out hairstyle didn’t look ridiculous.

All of which is a shame. Some talented folks worked on Howard the Duck, and with all the money at the filmmakers’ disposal, something here should look good other than the duck suit. The source material had the potential to create a cool, effective movie, but the decision to transform a cult comic into light family fare doomed it.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Howard the Duck appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A product of its era, Howard looked like a movie from 1986.

Sharpness was decent. Most of the movie came across as reasonably distinctive and concise. Wide shots occasionally looked a bit indistinct, but the flick was acceptably defined for the majority of its running time. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little edge enhancement was detected. As for source flaws, grain seemed heavier than expected, but the rest of the presentation remained clean.

Colors were erratic. Occasionally they looked reasonably dynamic and lively, but they usually suffered from the vague murkiness that often affected Eighties flicks. Though I didn’t think the tones were weak, they lacked consistent vivacity. Blacks were similarly decent but somewhat flat, and shadows tended to be a bit dense. The image had its ups and downs but was good enough for a “B-“.

At least the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Howard the Duck proved a little more successful. The flick provided a broad soundfield, especially in the front channels. In fact, the information might’ve been a little too wide, as the elements could seem a bit too “speaker-specific”. Nonetheless, the track opened up well and usually blended in a positive way. The elements appeared in the appropriate spots and created a good sense of environment.

As for surround usage, the back speakers added some zing to the proceedings. We didn’t get a ton of information from the rear channels, but they were active enough to help the track. The action scenes boasted the most noticeable material; quieter sequences didn’t have a lot to do.

While not stellar, audio quality was good. Speech demonstrated nice clarity, and I noticed no edginess or other issues. Music seemed distinctive, though I thought the score and songs lacked much low-end. Effects appeared accurate and fairly dynamic. This was a satisfying soundtrack for its age.

While not packed with extras, Howard does come with a few components. A Look Back at Howard the Duck runs 26 minutes, 21 seconds and includes comments from writer/director Willard Huyck, writer/producer Gloria Katz, and actors Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, and Ed Gale. “Look” examines the film’s origins and development, story and character subjects, cast and performances, music, makeup and various effects, bringing Howard to life, visual design and costumes, stunts, sets and locations, and a few other production topics.

Though “Look” presents its information in a somewhat scattershot way, it nonetheless manages to cover the film well. We get a good overview of all the important subjects, and the participants manage to discuss matters in a concise, involving manner. I’m disappointed Huyck didn’t record a commentary, but “Look” still offers lots of good notes about the flick.

For the 12-minute and 53-second Releasing the Duck, we hear from Huyck, Katz, Thompson, Gale, and Jones. We learn about post-production voice acting, other sound design issues, more about music, and the film’s reception. That’s the challenge when a DVD discusses a notorious bomb: how to acknowledge that area without dumping all over the film.

“Releasing” walks that line pretty well. On one hand, some of those involved – primarily Katz – defend the flick and seem to think it was a great film that was just ahead of its time. (Sorry, Gloria – that’s not the case.) Others are more frank in their disappointment; in particular, Thompson relates how the movie’s failure affected her self-esteem. The two sides balance as well as I can imagine in this interesting feature.

Four Archival Featurettes appear. We find “News Featurette” (1:49), “The Stunts of Howard the Duck” (2:44), “The Special Effects of Howard the Duck” (3:12) and “The Music of Howard the Duck” (3:08). These include remarks from Thompson, Katz, Jones, Huyck, executive producer George Lucas, stunt pilot Lyle Byrum, alien monster designer Phil Tippett, composer Thomas Dolby, and actors Tim Robbins, Holly Robinson, and Dominique Davalos. All four featurettes entertain the conceit that a) Howard is a real duck from outer space and b) he plays himself in the movie. That gets old in about 10 seconds, but we find enough interesting behind the scenes footage to make the clips worth a look.

Finally, we get some trailers. Two teasers appear, though only the first is interesting. It features unique footage of Lea Thompson and her enormous hair as she talks about Howard.

Does Howard the Duck deserve its reputations as one of history’s greatest flops? Yeah, pretty much. At the very least, it provides a severe disappointment, as it wastes a huge budget and some talented folks both behind and in front of the camera. The DVD offers decent to good picture and audio; it doesn’t feature a ton of extras, but those that we find prove to be tight and informative. Silly, inane, and borderline insulting, Howard the Duck is a mess.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5909 Stars Number of Votes: 22
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