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George Lucas Hates You All

  • Jun 11, 2011
There are some movies which you see and honestly believe were made by people who were either high in marijuana haze or expected their audiences to be. The Wizard of Oz comes to mind. The 1980's equivalent of that would of course be filmmaking while coked up, which would explain more than a few movies of the era. Then there are movies from the 80's which you believed were created while the filmmakers were not only coked up, but wearing rainbow-colored clothes, constantly spinning around in a swivel chair, and getting incessantly whacked over the head with a Nerf bat.

Ladies and gentlemen, Howard the Duck.

I do not know just how to write about or describe this thing. I have never in my life seen such a horrific mishmash of elements which are very bad in and of themselves, very badly executed, very badly mixed up with each other, completely out of left field, nonsensical as hell, and ramped up to about 13 on the manic madcap scale to top all the rest of it off. Howard the Duck is one of those things which so well captures the worst aspects of both bad and weird filmmaking, you seriously want to recommend it to everyone, if only to ensure they know you aren't making it up.

I always watch new movies with an open mind, and I always give even the worst-reputed ones the benefit of the doubt. But when Howard the Duck began with an anonymous, booming, incorporeal voice giving us a brief narration about the nature of the universe which included the grand pronouncement of the movie's name as it appeared onscreen, I knew it was going to be in serious trouble.

The movie begins with our main title character, a duck literally named Howard The Duck (abbreviated Howard T. Duck on his mail) arriving back at his apartment after a long day at work. Now, Howard is from a different dimension in which the main difference between his world and ours is that ducks were the animals chosen for evolution, instead of apes. Evolution took away the ability of ducks to fly, which is a minor plot point. Naturally, there are a million silly duck puns in Howard's world, including a movie poster for that classic action movie Breeders of the Lost Ark. Breeders? Hey, don't ask me, I had nothing to do with this thing. But George Lucas, who produced Raiders of the Lost Ark, did, so please direct any incomprehensible puns to him. Anyway, Howard is kicking back in his easy chair when he is suddenly launched into an interdimensional vortex which warps him into the scary world of Cleveland, Ohio, United States, North America, Earth, Milky Way.

Howard the Duck proceeds to shift gears more times than Kurt Busch. At first, it takes us in the direction of a typical fish out of water story, in which Howard tries to fit into a world which can't figure out what he is or what to do with him. Then it shifts to the story about the lost creature, like ET, just trying to make a contact in his home world and find a way back. After that, it's a quest to save Earth from some kind of evil dark overlord whom I'm assuming was shoehorned in to extend the length to 50 minutes longer than the hour it otherwise would have taken to get everything else resolved.

For about the first ten minutes, screenwriter Steve Gerber and director Willard Huyck manage to capture Howard's displacement. He lands in the world and people don't know what to make of him, and manages to befriend a girl named Beverly after saving her from attackers. Howard at first rejects her friendship, but eventually he goes crawling back. They enlist the help of her lab-assistant friend Phil to try to get him back to his home world, the attempt fails and one of the people involved in it gets his body possessed by the Dark Overlord, who wants to use the device that would put Howard back into his home world to bring his pals to Earth. That's the plot in a nutshell, but there are a few detours which feel like they were left hanging. One is that Phil seems to have a goal of becoming a full-fledged scientist. Another is that Howard forcefully takes the managerial reins of Beverly's band, Cherry Bomb, and it's a bit implied that the old manager will later return for his rightful spot by delivering a good old-fashioned whuppin'. These threads are brought up once and never mentioned again. A particularly creepy plot thread is Howard's increasing sexual attraction to Beverly, a thread which I'm not sure I would want to see played out to its conclusion. I would rather like to know what sick bastard believed that was even a good idea.

There is a streak of mean-spirited dementia running through Howard the Duck. This may be because Howard is a literal cigar-chomper who feels like a combination of Sam Spade and a lecherous movie studio executive. Although the plot revolves around him, Howard is more like a jerkass, sarcastic play by play commentator than anything else. He wears a suit and spouts off sarcasm-laced one-liners and non-sequiters. It's nice that this attitude keeps him from becoming saccharine, though. It keeps him nice and in character even after the initial feeling of isolation he gets upon his arrival in Cleveland wears off. Peoples' attitudes toward Howard, however, move all over the map depending on what the plot requires. Some people scream uncontrolably when they first see him, some people think he's a kid or a midget in costume, some want to kill him, and some are just rendered speechless. One scene has an employment service worker treat him like normal, which really doesn't fit in.

A lot of the elements and characters in Howard the Duck are over the top in some form or another, and that can make the movie pretty amusing in spots. Jeffery Jones (you remember him as Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off) plays Jennings, the man whose body gets possessed by the Dark Overlord, and he really hams up his role with a weird gravel voice during his transformation. Tim Robbins, as Phil, acts like a mad scientist who was warped into being friendly after once being foiled by James Bond. Most of the characters act like they were ripped from the pages of comic books (and yes, I know Howard the Duck was a comic book originally) but with everyone almost competing to be as over the top as possible, it's a distraction and a disruption of the cast's chemistry, which is nonexistant.

Former Epinions member 32 Footsteps once wrote a weekly column for Netjak called Beyond the D-pad. In one memorable column - whose title I've nicked and pasted as the title of this very review - he attacked the career of George Lucas, after the then-recent announcement that Star Wars Episode III would be called Revenge of the Sith. He described being so horrified with Howard the Duck that he still can't look at Lea Thompson - who plays Beverly - without going into convulsions. That sums up how I feel about this mess, which is a true product of the shimmering tackiness, cocaine, and excess of the 80's. It's like George Lucas - whose career, by the way, I've been far more tolerant and forgiving of than most - was trying to get back at us all for, well, I don't know. I reckon that between THX 1138, American Graffiti, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, we were all treating him just fine until this point. Someone HAD to be on cocaine, because I just can't think of any other possible explanation.

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October 09, 2011
Fantastic review. This movie is one of the highest orders of cinematic sodomy out there. I say if you want to watch something starring talking ducks, watch Duckman.
October 09, 2011
I tried Duckman. I wasn't impressed. To be fair though, I was a lot younger.
July 09, 2011
George Lucas hates us? WELL DON'T THAT BEAT ALL?!!? I kid. This movie I liked as a kid, but only saw it once cause it had monsters and other weird crap going on with a cartoon like duck swearing and being fowl (huh huh huh.) Now that I'm older, I can see this as nothing but a dumb movie, bad and the thing that killed Lea Thompson's career and lets face it, if I can oink for a moment, she was freaking cute in this movie. I remember Jeffrey Jones as the guy whoes been busted for kiddie porn twice.
July 09, 2011
Yeah. What a shame.
July 09, 2011
A shame about what, Lea Thompson or Jeffrey Jones?
July 09, 2011
Both, really.
June 16, 2011
In far too many films, good casts have been squandered on abysmal scripts, yet very few examples among them are as egregious as this. Most people seem to think that Lucas' worst transgressions were committed in the late '90s to middle aughts, but this is solid proof that his mind was deteriorating years before his retooled editions and prequels of Star Wars.

As a devoted Runaways fan, almost nothing is as embarrassing as Lea Thompson's band in this film - a horrid reference.

Probably the best antidote for this abhorrent refuse is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!, which achieved where HTD failed on a larger scale and a third of the latter picture's budget.
June 16, 2011
Yes, poor Lea Thompson never really recovered from this fiasco.
June 16, 2011
Buckaroo Banzai sounds like a real must-see disaster!
June 16, 2011
A great, gloriously goofy film, that.
June 11, 2011
Great review, I couldn't stand this film either! It's one of those WTF movies that you watch when it's late at night and it's been a long night, to put you to sleep. I agree, someone had to be on drugs and beat over the head with a bat lol
More Howard the Duck reviews
review by . October 28, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
What rhymes with
Ooooh, Howard the odd choice for Marvel to make for it's first comic to big screen adaption and after it hit the theater like a rotten egg in the mid 80's, I'm surprised that they made it to 99 with X Men.      Even odder was George Lucas as one of the creators of the movie chose this for a movie.  Howard the Duck was a weird 70's comic about a duck who had weird adventures with his friend Beverly.  Howard wasn't the cute kind of ducky …
Quick Tip by . September 24, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The film gets a lot of flack from both being a George Lucas failure and straying from it's comic roots, but the SPFX work is great and Jeffrey Jones is worth the price of admission.
Quick Tip by . July 18, 2010
This film is totally 80's and thats whats so fun about it. Howard the duck is amazingly funny
review by . July 17, 2010
This movie was set back in a time where graphics were new to all of us. A person in a duck costume is carried away into earth by some type of quake or so he thought....      This movie has a lot of twists and turns and I enjoyed it very much so. I think my girls liked it a lot but I do feel the movie dragged a little at the end. Overall I felt the movie was still worth a 3 and I think this movie is good for kids between the ages of about 7 years old and up.
About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #26
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Howard the Duck is a 1986 American comedy science fiction film directed by Willard Huyck and produced by George Lucas. Loosely based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, created by Steve Gerber and quoting scripts by Bill Mantlo,[3] the film focuses on Howard, an alien from a planet inhabited by anthropomorphic ducks, who is transported to Earth, where he meets Beverly, a struggling singer. As Howard attempts to find a way to return to his planet, he helps Beverly with her career, develops a romance with her, and finds himself having to save humanity from an evil alien monster. The film stars Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, and the voice of Chip Zien as Howard. It was the first theatrically released film starring a Marvel Comics character.

Lucas proposed adapting the comic book following the production of American Graffiti, and began production on the film after stepping down as the president of Lucasfilm to focus on producing. Huyck and producer Gloria Katz's adaptation altered the personality of the character, and placed less emphasis on satirical storytelling in order to highlight the special effects work of Industrial Light & Magic. Following multiple production difficulties and mixed response to test screenings, the film was released to very poor critical and commercial reception. Criticism was made regarding the decision to shoot the film in live action rather than as an animated film and the unconvincing appearance of Howard.

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