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Howard the Duck (DVD Review)

6 Mar, 2009 By: John Latchem

Howard the Duck

Street 3/10/09
$29.98 DVD
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones.

Before Spider-Man or X-Men conquered the box office, the progenitor of movies based on Marvel Comics characters was somehow Howard the Duck.

For all those who questioned George Lucas’ sanity about “Star Wars” special editions, prequels and Jar Jar Binks, the first signs of trouble may have been this bizarre film he produced in 1986.

In one of two retrospectives included on the new special-edition DVD, director Willard Huyck and writer Gloria Katz said they would have preferred to animate the adaptation of the less-than-serious character, a wisecracking alien duck who is plucked from his apartment on Duckworld and transported to Cleveland. But Lucas insisted a cheesy-looking animatronic anthropomorphic duck costume would work.

Today there is little doubt Howard would be rendered in CGI, drawing natural comparisons with other talking-animal movies such as Underdog.

Howard the Duck has generally been ridiculed over the years, having earned Razzies for worst picture, worst screenplay, worst visual effects and worst new star (for everyone in the duck suit).

The DVD includes an archive of vintage featurettes, which show that in its time, Howard the Duck was presented as a wacky sci-fi adventure, and it certainly is that. The filmmakers also tried to inject a touch of noir through a whimsical John Barry musical score, which ended up outclassing the on-screen action.

The movie’s creators recognize the critical hostility toward the film, and retort that they were just trying to have fun. They also acknowledge that the movie has its own legion of fans, having become something of a camp classic.

The film’s historical significance is not all negative. It offers an early performance from Tim Robbins, who would go on to win an Oscar (in 2003, for Mystic River). It’s also among the many films (All the Right Moves, Jaws 3, Some Kind of Wonderful, Casual Sex?) that helped establish Lea Thompson as one of the sexiest stars of the 1980s, love scenes with ducks aside.

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