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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Action > Superhero > Satire > Howard The Duck (1986/DVD-Video/Umbrella Entertainment Australia/Region 0/Zero/PAL DVD)

Howard The Duck (1986/DVD-Video/Umbrella Entertainment Australia/Region 0/Zero/PAL DVD)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: C-     Film: C-



PLEASE NOTE: This DVD can only be operated on machines capable of playing back DVDs that can handle Region Zero/0, PAL format software, and can be ordered from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment at the website address provided at the end of the review.  As of this posting, it has never been issued in the U.S. by Universal, Marvel Comics and/or LucasFilm.



Yes, finally arriving on DVD… somewhere in the world, is co-writer/director Willard Huyck’s George Lucas-produced film of Howard The Duck (1986) which laid one of the biggest box office egg-bombs in cinema history when originally issued in theaters back in August of 1986.  What a way to end the summer!  After his huge success with the original (and some say only) Star Wars Trilogy, Lucas watched E.T. become a huge hit and decided that maybe he could duplicate the success on some level with a edgier, more comical non-human from another world.  Unfortunately, he hatched a franchise whose name is synonymous with total failure and financial loss.  Early on, one person high up in the film industry confided in me that “we don’t talk about that one!” as if it were cursed.


Howard (played by at least eight people, not unlike “Mother” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)) is at home in his world when a strange force zaps him through time and space, landing him on our planet earth.  Lucky us!  Then he discovers how much rougher our world is and finds a lonely singer named Beverly (Lea Thompson) who is down on her luck and being used by her manager.  Then the Huyck/Gloria Katz script stuffs in every cliché, pun and bad joke it can come up with, felling more like a bad TV skit that goes on and on and on and on.


Remarkably, that is more consistent than most commercial films we have seen in the last 15 years and hey, its not torture porn!  Tim Robbins turns up as a geeky scientist, making a deranged part of the nerd/geek cycle of the time, minus the teenagers.  Real Genius has nothing to worry about.


Then we discover something more sinister is going on and after some wacky chase scenes, bad scenes, oddball scenes and anything to get the audience quacked up over, another scientist (Jeffrey Jones) may ultimately know the secret as to all that is going on.  Too bad that cannot explain the bad script.


Howard The Duck creator Steven Gerber died around the time this release was being planned and had a long history since the 1980s as a major contributor to other TV shows, animated TV series ands feature films in the Superhero genre.  At the time, the comic was a big hit and something different for Marvel Comics, which had another one of their counterculture comedy hits on their hands like their many spoof comics.  Unfortunately, this film did not begin to have any of that edge and after NBC had a big TV bomb a few years before with Mr. Smith, a would-be sitcom with a talking chimp with a 256 I.Q., you’d think the makers here would have had some second thoughts.


Not so.


The Huyck/Katz team had penned both American Graffiti films and Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom for Lucas, so they had experience that could have made this work, but it is one of those things where anything that could have gone bad usually does.  Their belatedly made Radioland Murders (reviewed elsewhere on this site) fared a bit better, but they felt what they tried here eventually made the live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films a success and that has some validity.


However, the feel-good formula the film uses that put Lucas and Steven Spielberg on the map were wearing thin at this point.  Ideologically, the “brand new day” approach that was keeping Ronald Reagan popular was starting to crack, from The Iran-Contra Affair to Lucas’ own battle with Reagan over naming his ever-problematic money pit missile defense system (which leaves nuclear radiation in the atmosphere when and if it can intercept nuclear missiles in the first place, as if that would have prevented 9/11) “star wars” for which Lucas sued and lost.  Ironically, both made a comeback in recent years.


But this film never will.  It is lucky to become a cult item, but also a relic and even time capsule of a 1980s Hollywood long gone by.  You can actually do worse than Howard The Duck these days, but not by much.  If you have never seen the film and are curious, grab this DVD.  Just don’t expect much, because at this point, the party was over.



The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image (credited as 1.77 on the case) looks very good for its age in this format, though the PAL format is probably helping matters.  Director of Photography Richard H. Klein does make the film look good without it looking phony, having started on TV (Honey West, The Monkees,) moving on to some major feature film work (The Boston Strangler, The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, The Fury, Star Trek (1979)) and remaining one of the best in the business all the way up to here.  The film has money on the screen and Klein shows it off, plus, it has no bad digital effects, while the optical ones hold up well.  Phil Tippett (Star Wars Trilogy, Piranha, Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom) did some interesting stop motion work here, which he would continue in the Robocop films, Starship Troopers and other films before digital took over, which he has adapted to with ease.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo has surprisingly good regular Pro Logic surrounds, which is more than can be said for the majority of Dolby tracks with such encoding, giving us a very good idea of the kind of soundfield the 4.1 Dolby magnetic stereo tracks would have had in the 70mm blow-ups of this film.  John Barry did the score between his last two James Bond films (A View To A Kill, The Living Daylights) and Thomas Dolby (the one hit wonder of the 1983 hit She Blinded Me With Science) did the many forgettable songs usually sung by Thompson as part of a would-be all-gal Rock band.  No wonder Hip Hop overtook Rock.


The only extra is the hilarious theatrical trailer, though I was surprised we even got that.  Howard The Duck marks the end of an era where George Lucas could do no wrong and is now shockingly becoming a cult film.  Now you can see for yourself.



As noted above, you can order this import exclusively from Umbrella at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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