Christopher Campbell offers ten defenses for Howard the Duck, as if this gem actually needs defending. (Yes, yes it does.) And yes, that is the entirety of the movie above. Watch at the risk of too much ridiculous awesomeness.
1. It’s No Longer the Worst Lucasfilm Production
Take your pick — there’s The Phantom Menace or there’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, either of which could certainly take the prize for being the worst movie to come from George Lucas in his 40 years producing films. Well, maybe not worse than More American Graffiti. But both films were far bigger creative and franchise disappointments than Howard the Duck (financial success is another story, of course), and so they have a relative sort of wretchedness that places them in the bottom of Lucas’ Sarlacc pit of a career. Even if you’re one of those defend-to-the-end Star Wars fanboys who will argue the pros of Menace, at least then consider Willow to be worse than Howard the Duck. The blatant Lord of the Rings rip-off has its historical relevance, but looking back on it now, it’s even more dated than Howard. And regardless of how groundbreaking it was, Willow’s visual effects don’t hold up quite as well as Howard’s old-fashioned, and oft-celebrated craftsmanship. But that’s another point…
2. The Special Effects Are Technically Brilliant
3. The Duck Suit is Still Better Than Most CGI
4. Parallels, Puns and Playful Philosophy
Some fans of the original Howard the Duck comics could argue that the duck suit is hardly the worst offense of unfaithfulness. Other complaints might be the alteration of Beverly’s career or the occasional sacrifice of the comic’s tone in order to pander to younger audiences. But real sticklers may take issue with Howard’s origin, the inclusion of Duckworld (which did come from the comics but wasn’t Howard creator Steve Gerber’s idea of what the character’s home world was like) and the punny parallels that came with it. Yet for those of us who love corny jokes and puns, the idea of an alternate world where everything’s the same, just with descendants of ducks rather than apes, is a lot of fun. It’s the same appreciation that allowed me to enjoy the ska scene and the similarly parallel worlds of The Flintstones and Dinosaurs and the parodies in MAD Magazine. In the first few minutes, we get treated to the following cheesy but delicious sight and audio gags: a Rolling Egg magazine, a Playduck magazine, movie posters for “Splahsdance,” “Breeders of the Lost Stork” and My Little Chickadee (starring W.C. Fowls and Mae Nest), and commercials for feather fungus treatment and the Crazy Eddie spoof “Crazy Webby.” This, plus the opening credit narration and theory of Duckworld evolution were enjoyable to a kid in the midst of learning about Darwin and pondering the existence of alternate worlds.
5. Jeffrey Jones as Dr. Jenning/Dark Overlord
6. The Diner Scene
Although it’s mostly thanks to Jones that this scene is so memorable, it’s not just his performance alone that makes it so terrific. Every time I watch the movie, I look forward to the entire episode, from Jones/Jenning/Dark Overlord’s exposition to the waitress’ interactions with the “family” to Howard’s pie and quack-fu fight with a bunch of rednecks. And I will always recommend the movie for this scene alone. It includes a lot of disturbing elements, such as Beverly’s claim that she’s Howard’s girlfriend and the angry mob’s desire to kill and cook a talking duck man, that might have worked better had Howard been represented as an animated character rather than a guy in a suit (bestiality and homicide is just fine in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Looney Tunes cartoons), but it’s also one of the weirdest and funniest scenes from any comic book adaptation ever.
7. Lea Thompson as Beverly Switzler
8. Cherry Bomb and the Howard the Duck soundtrack
9. It’s For Kids
10. It’s Not Redundant
Unlike some comic book adaptations, Howard the Duck isn’t a straight lift from the pages of the source material, and it’s better off for it. Some fans of the comic may be annoyed with Howard’s appearance or Beverly’s occupation or the absence of any of Howard’s usual foes, but those of us who saw the movie first can appreciate the differences, because these allow for a better introduction to and curiosity about the comic. In a way, it’s to the original Marvel series as The Incredibles is to the graphic novel of Watchmen (though it’s certainly not anywhere near as smart nor well-crafted as The Incredibles).