Kill Bill! Disastrous ‘Howard the Duck’ Screening Showed Why Epic 1986 Flop Must Never Be Remade

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By Henry Jeffreys | 9:52 pm, July 7, 2017

In Hollywood, no film is too lame to not be remade. Ocean’s Eleven, the 1960 Sinatra smugfest, was remade in 2001 as a Clooney smugfest.

Then they well and truly scraped the bottom of the barrel with two sequels. But what Hollywood really loves is a comic book remake. There have been three Fantastic Four adaptations, all of them terrible but you just know that somewhere a studio executive is thinking, is it fourth time lucky for the Fantastic Four?

But what about the lamest duck of all, the box office turkey that was 1986’s Howard the Duck? For readers fortunate enough not to know what I’m talking about, Howard the Duck was a live-action take on the surly Marvel comic animal bewildered by life on earth.

 The movie turned Howard into a duck from outer space who saves the world. It was so disastrous that studio executives Frank Price and Sidney Sheinberg reportedly physically fought in a dispute over who bore responsibility for it. In Britain it was re-named Howard, a New Kind of Hero to get away from the fact that the film was about a talking duck.

 Perhaps one of the reasons why it was considered such a disaster was the talent involved. Howard the Duck was produced by George Lucas, John Barry, yes John Barry of James Bond fame, composed the soundtrack and it featured some serious actors including Lea Thompson (Back to the Future), Tim Robbins and Jeffrey Jones (Mr Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).

It cost over $30 million to make, this was back when $30 million was a lot of money, but earned less than $15 million at the US box office.

And yet the Duck refuses to die. Howard, created in 1973 by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik still commands a loyal following.

Howard, voiced by Seth Green, enjoyed cameo roles in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volumes 1 and 2 and the rumor mill was in overdrive that the movies’ director James Gunn might himself make a new Howard the Duck film.

When questioned on this he said:”It’s possible Howard could reappear as more of a character in the Marvel [cinematic] Universe. But if people think that’s going to lead to a Howard the Duck movie, that’s probably not going to happen in the next four years. Who knows after that?”

So that’s a definite maybe.There are even whispers that perhaps the 1986 film wasn’t so bad. “People love that movie,” Lea Thompson recently declared and anointed herself “First Queen of Marvel”.  The words neglected, cult and classic are often bandied around Howard the Duck.

 The extraordinary commercial growth of the Marvel Universe in the last decade- their movies have grossed over $11 billion worldwide- has fueled speculation on social media that more attention will soon be paid to Howard. Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios hardly put paid to the remake talk when he said, “The fun thing about Howard is he shows up where you least expect him. So, who knows where he’s going to appear next?”

Where Howard the Duck appeared this week was at a 70mm special screening at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s West End. I hoped it might be like the celebrated singalong Sound of Music that the repertory cinema hosts but with fans in duck costumes smoking cigars and saying “I am a master of Quack Fu”.

Sadly the theatre was almost completely empty. Those that were there were mainly single men, at least three of whom looked like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. There were no duck suits though there was a man in a Spider-man top.

 A very small cheer went up as the film began but apart from this no obvious sign that I was amongst Duckettes (as I have decided to call them.)

And the film? Well it’s still bad. Surprisingly the worst thing about it isn’t that it stars a humanoid duck though the joke about everyone being surprised by a three foot talking duck gets tired after about 20 seconds. The acting particularly by Robbins, in a career worst role as a nerdy scientist, and Lea Thompson, as a singer in a band who befriends Howard, is appalling.

Thompson in particular seems to find acting alongside an almost expressionless duck impossible and just looks embarrassed most of the time. But worse than the acting is the sheer laziness of the plotting. At times it’s like all the worst bits of the 80s in one film: tedious madcap chases as in Short Circuit, dodgy special effects rejected by Ghostbusters and music video sequences lifted from Cyndi Lauper (actually that makes it sound quite good but it’s not.)

The climax with Howard fighting monsters and saving the world is moderately exciting and there are some good one liners but I defy anyone to watch the final sequence where Howard plays a widdly-diddly guitar solo without cringing. From the evidence at the Prince Charles cinema, it’s time to bury the duck once and for all.

As we filed out of the theatre, the lobby was already full of tipsy gays getting their glitter ready for the next film, Priscilla Queen of the Desert. There was a queue round the block for tickets.

Now that is what a film with a proper cult following looks like.