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Willard Huyck
Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins
Writing Credits:
Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz

A sarcastic humanoid duck is pulled from his homeworld to Earth where he must stop an alien invasion with the help of a nerdy scientist and a struggling female rock singer.

Box Office:
$37 million.
Opening Weekend
$5,070,136 on 1554 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS 2.0
French DTS 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:
English Runtime: 111 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 3/8/2016

• “A Look Back” Featurette
• “Releasing the Duck” Featurette
• 4 Archival Featurettes
• Teaser Trailers


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Panasonic DMP-BDT220P Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Howard the Duck [Blu-Ray] (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 28, 2024)

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. It also 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 keep the movie in print via various video releases.

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 1980s, 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 2024, 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 becomes 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, as 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, as it’s clear the filmmakers wanted them to camp things up as much as possible. Still, the performances veer 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.

All that said, Howard isn’t the worst movie ever made. Heck, I’m sure we can find crummier flicks from the same year, as it’s not like 1986 was the golden age of cinema.

Nonetheless, few films waste their resources to such a depressing degree. 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 seemed sexy.

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. Unfortunately, the decision to transform a cult comic into light family fare doomed it.

Note that the movie’s musical finale continues into the end credits. Nothing extra appears after that sequence concludes, however.

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

Howard the Duck appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a generally positive but erratic presentation.

Sharpness was largely fine, as most of the movie came across as reasonably distinctive and concise. Wide shots occasionally looked a bit indistinct and interiors could lean tentative, but the flick was acceptably defined for the majority of its running time.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws remained absent, and grain seemed light – probably a bit too light, as the image could feel a bit “smoothed out”.

Colors worked fine. The movie could seem a bit too red at times – reflected mainly in skin tones – but the hues usually felt peppy and full

Blacks seemed reasonably dense and deep, and shadows mostly worked fine. This turned into a more than watchable image, albeit one with a little more “processing” than I’d like.

Overall, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Howard the Duck worked fine. 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, as quieter sequences didn’t have a lot to do. Music also expanded to the rears.

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.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD version? The lossless DTS-HD track felt warmer and more dynamic, though both came with similar soundscapes.

Visuals showed the usual upgrades, as the Blu-ray appeared better defined and offered superior colors. Even with some drawbacks, the BD nonetheless acted as an upgrade.

The Blu-ray repeats the DVD’s extras. A Look Back at Howard the Duck runs 26 minutes, 20 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, 52-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 disc 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” (1:47), “The Stunts of Howard the Duck” (2:43), “The Special Effects of Howard the Duck” (3:10) and “The Music of Howard the Duck” (3:07).

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, Liz Sagal 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 Blu-ray offers decent to good picture and audio plus an appealing array of bonus materials. Silly, inane, and borderline insulting, Howard the Duck is a mess.

To rate this film, visit the original review of HOWARD THE DUCK

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