Original release: August 1st, 1986
Running time: 89 minutes
Director: Willard Huyck
Writers: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Steve Gerber
Composer: John Barry
Cast: Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones, Chip Zien, David Paymer, Paul Guilfoyle, Ed Gale
What lies beyond our world? Ancient aliens, parallel realities, or maybe even a heavenly dimension or two? Scientists, philosophers and theologians have long scratched their heads and pondered these possibilities, but while the universe may turn out to be far stranger than we can imagine, none of us expected anything like Howard The Duck. Just over 3 feet high and covered in white feathers, Howard arrived in 1986, but he didn’t exactly take the world by storm.
Based on the Marvel comic of the same name, the story begins on a planet called Duckworld, which looks very much like Earth did back in the 80s. Its inhabitants have cities, houses, jobs, entertainment – everything’s the same, the only difference is they’re ducks.
After a hard day at work, Howard returns home where he checks his answer machine, turns on the TV and flips through the latest issue of Playduck as he sits in his armchair. That’s when he’s propelled through his apartment building into outer space and plummets to Earth, landing in Cleveland, Ohio. No sooner than he arrives he set upon by a gang of hoodlums and ends up saving a girl, Beverly (Lea Thompson), from being attacked. Although a bit stunned by his appearance, instead of leaving him standing in the rain, she invites him to stay with her and tries to help him.
The next day, Beverly hides Howard in a garbage bag and takes himto see her scientist friend, Phil (Tim Robbins), but they soon realise he’s not really up to the job. Phil’s only a lab assistant and a bit of a bumbling nerd who tries to talk to Howard in what he thinks is a duck language. Thinking he’s stuck on Earth forever and facing discrimination from everyone he encounters, Howard decides to go it alone and gets himself a job at a spa. However, the job doesn’t work out and he finds himself back with Beverly. She takes him home again and Phil arrives later with a couple of scientists, Dr. Jenning (Jeffrey Jones) and Larry (David Paymer), who can explain how he got to Earth.
The scientists were working on a device that would allow them to move from one dimension to another, but when it was aimed at Duckworld and activated, Howard came through it. Hoping they can reverse the process and send him back home, they head to the lab but the device malfunctions and something else comes through, taking over Dr. Jenning’s body.
Revealing itself to be a Dark Overlord of the Universe, it attempts to bring more Overloads to Earth and kidnaps Beverly to use her body for the next one. With Earth’s survival now hanging in the balance, Howard steps up to be its protector, but we know if he ends up destroying the device, he has no other way of getting back home.
I first saw Howard The Duck on television back in 1987 when I was nine years old. It was only a year after the film came out and though I was a bit confused by the sight of nipples on a female duck, there was a lot in the film to enjoy. The dialogue is funny, mostly because the situations are so absurd, but what I found really wonderful was John Barry’s score. It can be heard throughout and it’s unmistakable, lending the story a feeling of warmth and longing for home during its tender moments.
As someone who grew up watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, for me, Howard was no different from a Muppet. I saw him as something equally loveable, although it’s clear the film had some adult themes too, such as the assumed cross-species relationship when Phil, Dr. Jenning and Larry walk in on Beverly and Howard in bed together. Later on there’s a feeling of Quack-ablanca as Howard says to Beverly “Of all the alleys in the world I could have fallen into that night, why did it have to be yours?”
It came as a surprise later on to learn Howard The Duck was so poorly received. I’ve always had a great time watching it. It does falter toward the end when Dr. Jenning starts to transform into the Dark Overlord, but I never found it a reason to hate the movie as there are so many other things to enjoy in it, least of all the music performed by Beverly’s rock band, Cherry Bomb.
There might be stranger things out there, there might even be better things, but when it comes to Howard The Duck, he doesn’t have to travel that far to find a home because in my heart I’ve always had a place for the little ducky.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .