If you, like me last week, haven’t seen Howard the Duck since you were an easily impressed child in the mid-1980s, you may wonder how, or if, it holds up. Your tiny, pigtail-covered mind may have been wowed at the wisecracking, cigar-chomping shenanigans of a 3ft-something duck from outer space, and you want to know if your much larger, pigtail-covered mind (okay, I’m just talking about me again) would feel the same today.
The answer is no.
I spent about 85% of my recent rewatch of Willard Huyck’s Howard the Duck actively annoyed. It’s a very… loud movie. The great Tim Robbins performs most of his turn as scientist/janitor Phil Blumburtt at a shrieky, amped-up level that does the film no favors. Jeffrey Jones makes me want to crawl right out of my skin. And Howard T. Duck himself (voiced by Chip Zien and physically performed by a bevy of actors including O Brother, Where Art Thou’s Ed Gale) is a pervy little twerp.
It’s long. The running time is nearly two hours, and at an hour in, I felt sure we were nearing the conclusion. The action sequences are extensive and tedious. You could legit fast-forward through forty-five minutes of the third act and still fully understand what’s going on in this movie.
But listen, I signed up to Say Something Nice™ about Howard the Duck, and that's what I'm going to do, dammit. And I actually have two nice things to say about this extremely dumb, remarkably weird, exceptionally irritating movie.
1) Lea Thompson is a perfect angel, obviously.
2) The thing just looks so rad.
Let’s take a look!
Howard the Duck has a bright, cool, fun aesthetic that is likely responsible for my fond memories of the film, since my brain is nothing if not a magpie, attaching itself to shiny neon patterns and rainbow scrunchies. Every single thing Beverly (Thompson) wears in the film is a delight. Her apartment is AMAZING. I need her entire wardrobe. She makes me want to buy a used crimping iron from Craigslist. She rules.
But, really, the whole film is beautifully colored and charmingly designed. The diner, the nightclub, Howard’s vests, even the science lab is decorated to 11. I digitally rented a standard definition version of the film, because who needs to pay $4 for Howard the Duck, right?, but even removed from HD, the film was bright, colorful and fun to look at. There’s nothing dull or dark here, nothing that hasn’t been intentionally designed for maximum ‘80s pop.
I’d live inside Howard the Duck if the volume were just turned down and Jeffrey Jones would vacate the premises. Now please stay tuned for my 4000 word discourse on Beverly Switzler’s hair.