Howard (voiced by Chip Zien) works in advertising, having recently given up his dream of rock stardom. Tonight he gets home to his apartment after work and puts his feet up in front of the television, but there's a nasty surprise waiting for him as he channel surfs. Suddenly, his easy chair is gripped by an unseen force which propels him backwards at high speed and through the walls of the building, up, up into the sky and into a funnel of energy leading into space. After a few minutes of this trauma, Howard is deposited not back on his own world but on a very different one... well, maybe not all that different, although there is one big difference - on Earth ducks are not the dominant species...
It's a pity that the name Howard the Duck is now more associated with this notoriously ill-judged would-be blockbuster flop and not Steve Gerber's original comic strip, a rare example of Marvel going for the underground market, if you can call one of its most successful titles of the seventies that. That Howard was an agreeably loopy character, but still hip in a corporate way, who ventured on such endeavours as running for President, but the Howard you get here seems to be unsure of who precisely he is supposed to be appealing to - and in the event appealed to precious few, with parents objecting to the material that seemed inappropriate for their kids, and adults not wanting to watch what looked like a kids' entertainment anyway.
Scripted by producer Gloria Katz and director Willard Huyck, both of whom found their careers very much harmed by this project, it was optimistic executive producer George Lucas who took a large part of the blame for the failure, one of the productions that post the first Star Wars trilogy revealed him to be in dire need of a good idea (which turned out to be another Indiana Jones movie). This however, was not one and the main sticking point was its fatal lack of a decent tone. Was this aimed at an adult audience who would appreciate the topless duck lady, condom joke and brothel in the first half? Or the kids who might enjoy the mayhem of the second?
Nobody looks very sure, and once Howard, landing in present day Cleveland, hooks up with aspiring rock singer Beverly (a game Lea Thompson who ends up lazily kidnapped), the film makes moves towards a bestial, interspecies romance that will likely leave you scratching our head wondering what they were thinking. And apart from that, the title character is pretty obviously a small person in a duck suit, resembling a feathered Munchkin rather than the original Daffy Duck/Donald Duck style of the comic, so the suspension of disbelief is pretty much absent. As it turns out, if you can make it through the uncomfortable first half there are a few rewards as though the title character's representation as a curious pro-animal rights mascot never gelled, a lot of money had been thrown at this, and that can prove interesting visually.
Aside from that huge budget (all for naught), mainly this was due to Jeffrey Jones appearing as scientist Dr Jenning to explain to Howard how the waterfowl was zapped from his planet to ours, and more importantly, for the boffin to become possessed by the Dark Overlords, Lovecraftian beings who are searching for a doorway into our dimensions to slaughter us all. Once the trio of Howard, Dr Jenning and Beverly arrive at the diner a measure of amusement can be had with the waitress and the special effects are just around the corner: the Overlords are great creation deserving of a better film. But then there's a boring chase with Tim Robbins as Beverly's scientist friend Phil hanging from a microlight which Howard is piloting, so it's not all fun when the plot finally gets into gear. The trouble is, the filmmakers take it for granted that the audience will love its wisecracking, cigar-smoking duckanoid and there's really not much to love as he came across like a hacky standup rather than the irascible observer of the source. But for fans of screen disasters, this film remains essential. Music by John Barry, songs by Thomas Dolby.
[Metrodome's Region 2 DVD only has the trailer as an extra, but there are a select few who have been clamouring for this release and will snap it up regardless.]