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Considered one of the most notorious box-office flops in history (next to
the 'Road to Morocco'-ripoff 'Ishtar' with Dustin Hoffman and Warren
the following year), 'Howard the Duck' became the laughing stock of
and movie-goers alike when it was released in theaters in 1986. If its
executive producer, George Lucas, had his way, he would have canned that
movie for good. But thanks to the home video boom in the 1980s, 'Howard'
would follow suit and find his way into video stores across America.
Nearly twenty years later, 'Howard' is slowly being pulled from video store shelves. But it is now that a film of such poor quality can be truly appreciated.
Here's how it all goes down: You are dropped onto a planet from a far-away universe, where ducks are human-like and are running the world, only to be pulled out again moments later. An everyday working-duck by the name of Howard gets sucked out of his living room on his recliner after returning to his apartment after a long, hard day.
After the opening title is shown in the thundering tradition of cinematic heavyweights like '2001: A Space Odyssey', we see Howard's decent toward the planet Earth. Once he has reluctantly gotten his feet on the ground, he clashes with the dregs of society and saves the lead singer of an all-female punk band named Beverly, (played by 'Back to the Future's Lea Thompson). She tries to give him a hand, and help him get an explanation as to how he got sucked out of his living room and landed in Cleveland, Ohio.
That explanation never actually makes any sense, but that doesn't matter, because better plot developments hinge upon it. With the help of a goofy lab janitor Phil (played by the immortal Tim Robbins in an early comedic role) and a big time nuclear scientist Dr. Jennings (none other than Jeffery Jones), Howard finds out that a giant laser Jennings was using went haywire, and pulled Howard down instead. But going back isn't going to be so easy, because one of Dark Overlords of Evil hitched a ride on that laser, and has plans of planet domination and destruction. And who better than to save the day than the 3'1" (3'2", that is) wise-"quacking" title character, Howard T. Duck!
Although George Lucas got ripped apart for having his hands in this one, I have yet to see a movie that is so awful, so terribly bad that I have been brought to tears crying at simply recalling scenes from this flick. The opening sequences on the duck planet contain countless parodies of American pop culture, and Howard's implausible hurtle through space is enough to make even the most serious chuckle.
Audiences back in 1986 didn't seem to, however. But something about watching this flop nearly two decades later makes all of these scenes so much funnier. The way I see it, our teen generation now has a funny fascination with the decade in which they were born, the 80s, and anything from it has a distinctive look and sound. American pop culture was throwing away Three's Company for MTV, LPs for tapes, and the Bee Gees for the Brat Pack. The youth took yet another step in distancing themselves from their parents, and although they furthered that schism, they too felt a strong connection the past few decades. What was happening when I was in utero? Taking my first steps? Saying my first words?
Today's generation has 'Howard the Duck' as one of the most endangered time capsules of the 80s. You've got a one-of-a-kind performance by now Acadmey Award Winner Tim Robbins, whose his explanation of duck's evolutionary scale is priceless. George Lucas's own Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) special effects studio must be embarassed to have itself credited with the horrendous effects (the Dark Overlord, for one). You've got a helplessly catchy theme song, revelling in all of its cheesy 80s pop-synth glory.
The jokes are terrible, the dialogue sub-par, the plot laughable. But you know what, you'll laugh you a$$ off.
Join me in saving Howard from being pulled from video store shelves. Today's generation will love the waddling fowl more than the angry movie-goers who saw this dud in the theaters. Keep him alive!
HOWARD THE DUCK is one of those movies you have to see to
A whopping boondoggle of sheer notoriety that replaced HEAVEN'S GATE as The Most Embarrassing Miscalculation In Hollywood History, this flick immediately humanized George Lucas; it proved that even he could make a bomb. And that's one of the things that makes it so fascinating--you just sit there, wondering what on earth the man was thinking.
I'm not going to write this with any intent of sarcastically ripping it to shreds, though. I'm going to attempt to both be fair and to express my opinion of it at the same time, mainly because I know that there *are* some folks out there who enjoy it for various reasons.
I'll be honest with you, the moment I heard Lucas was doing this film months in advance (and even then I was convinced the guy telling me was kidding until I saw an article for it in the paper), I rolled my eyes with disgust and didn't see it in the theatres. I saw it when a friend later rented it out of curiosity after it was rushed to video.
So what was it that suddenly possessed me to watch it? Well, I found out that my cousin was in it. You see, my cousin's name is Debbie Carrington (a.k.a. Debbie Lee Carrington), who was an Ewok in RETURN OF THE JEDI as well as a slew of other things, including but not limited to MEN IN BLACK, CAPTAIN EO, TOTAL RECALL (where she got to get on a table in a blonde wig and blast people with a machine gun) and on THE DREW CAREY SHOW ("Mini-Mimi"). So, naturally, I wanted to see this one because I learned of her involvement in it after the fact.
Most people loathe this film, but some like it simply because it's *so* weird in its badness while others genuinely love it for whatever reason. And that's okay. Actually, I kind of got a kick out of it and all its silliness the first time I saw it. We tried to watch it a second time, though, and were bored by it half the way through.
I just now saw it again for the first time since then.
One of the most bizarre things about this movie is how cheap it looks. For all the gobs of cash wasted on it (a record sum), HOWARD THE DUCK looks terrible. And no, I'm not talking about just the duck costume; I'm talking about the overall film, which looks exactly like a low-budget special made for television. Seriously, that's exactly how it looks, and I have no clue as to where the budget went to. I once wondered if it was used to desperately convince the stars involved to be in it, but I doubt it.
And meanwhile... speaking of the stars, I've got to hand it to Lea Thompson. Despite all the oddness here and all the stuff she is asked to do, she handles it all like a real trooper. In fact, this may be the bravest performance she's ever done, especially the bed scene. It also apparently didn't kill her career, thank God. Even though her character isn't at all fitting for a Big City Punkette, critics have nevertheless pointed out that she's still appealing here in her role as Beverly, and I agree. Meanwhile, Jeffery Jones gives quite possibly the strangest performance he's ever done, which is also an oddly effective one.
The biggest problem with the film is its mechanically coy, self-conscious script that has commercialized to death all of the original comic's appeal out of the final result (so what ELSE is new, Hollywood? ;) ). The movie can't decide whether it wants to follow the original concept or sweeten it up to supposedly appeal to a wider audience, and it is badly confused as a result. The movie desperately wants to protect its investment, so much so that the life has been choked out of it. Also, it has a *huge* amount of blah, unimaginatively generic lines ("No more Mr. Nice Duck", "You'll never get away with this", etc.).
But these days, it does have a ridiculous kind of flaky charm, partially because it's such an unbelievable anti-achievement and because it's so incredibly Eighties that it serves as a strong time capsule. And for those reasons and more, HOWARD THE DUCK has earned a place in twentieth century culture.
Howard the Duck is a film that I grew up with, I was only a 1 year old
when it was released, but my mom and I would watch it together all the
time. I think that's the reason why this movie is just special to me.
But still I watch this movie and honestly it's not as bad as most
people exaggerate it to be, granted it's not Citizen Kane, but it's
still awesome to watch. I think people take the movie too seriously,
first off look at the title, if you're expecting a duck to deliver an
Oscar worth performance, get your head checked, second people make fun
of the "flirting" between the duck and Lea Thompson, which was meant to
be a joke, not real. Third, the ending, people make fun of it and it's
being over the top, I personally found it to be so funny and still a
ton of fun to watch, how could you not get a kick out of Jeffrey Jones'
performance? He was awesome! If you wanna know what the movie is about,
read on before you see the movie so you can get a good idea and judge
The film begins late at night in "Duckworld," which is a version of planet Earth, but with talking ducks living there in place of human beings. As Howard tries to relax, his armchair begins to vibrate violently, and Howard and the chair are promptly yanked through outer-space, all the way to Cleveland on planet Earth. After ending up in an oil drum, Howard hears a fight involving a woman and two thugs pretending to be her fans. Howard uses his skills of "Quack Fu" to defend her. Intimidated by a talking duck, the thugs scamper. The woman, Beverly, thanks Howard and, feeling sorry for him because he has no warm and dry place to sleep, invites him to her apartment. The next day, Beverly takes Howard to see Phil Blumburtt , who she believes is a scientist that can help Howard get back to Duckworld. It turns out Phil is actually a janitor at a museum and Howard, infuriated with Phil's charade. A few days later, Dr. Walter Jenning , and Larry who explain to Howard that they were doing a routine procedure at the lab, only for the experiment to go out of control, causing the laser to hit Howard's planet instead. Howard suggests he can be sent back to Duckworld if the laser can be put into reverse. He is taken to the Dynatechnics lab alongside Beverly, only to find out on arrival that the laser is seriously damaged due to another explosion. The explosion brings down a "Dark Overlord" who is not seen by the audience at the time, and takes over Jenning's body. Howard and Beverly see Dr. Jenning, but he is in the process of being taken over by the Dark Overlord. With Howard and Beverly both unaware of this, they escape in Jenning's car onto the freeway with him driving dangerously due to his worsening possession. They stop outside a diner just before he is fully taken over. Inside the Diner, the Overlord explains his attempts to call forth his fellow aliens from the Nexus of Sominus so that they may take over the world.
Honestly, yeah the plot is a bit much to grasp, but cut the movie some slack, it's about a duck for goodness' sake! For me, it still makes me laugh and I have a ton of fun watching it. I loved seeing Tim Robbins and Howard trying to get to the factory to destroy Jeffrey Jones before he could take over the world, Tim was absolutely hilarious! Yes there are a few things about this movie that are over the top but I still think that this movie is just mindless entertainment. Hey how many movies do we have where a duck saves Planet Earth? Hmm, I guess this is the only one; but give the movie a fair chance, it's a cute one.
At a time when most of Marvel Comics' characters were stuck in low
budget TV and straight-to-video productions, Steve Gerber's relatively
obscure Howard the Duck got the big budget treatment with none other
than George Lucas as producer. The film was written by Willard Huyck
and Gloria Katz, who co-wrote "American Graffiti" and "Indiana Jones
and the Temple of Doom", and directed by Huyck, with special effects by
ILM. What could go wrong?
A lot, apparently. "Howard" was a critical and financial failure that deep-sixed the careers of Huyck and Katz and led to the cancellation of the duck's magazine. If the film had a moderately priced budget, it might have been forgotten as just another lightweight, trashy 1980s comedy and even turned a profit. Instead, the budget somehow ballooned to a then staggering $37,000,000 (almost as much as the entire "Star Wars" trilogy cost to make). Although other films lost more money and got worse reviews, the name "Howard the Duck" is still synonymous with "expensive turkey".
That said, the movie itself isn't as bad as it's reputation suggests. The plot revolves around the title character (voice by Chip Zien, played by various midgets in animatronic duck suits), a sarcastic talking duck from a planet a lot like Earth, except ducks evolved into the dominant life form. Howard is brought to Cleveland, Ohio when an experimental laser beam opens an interdimensional portal. There he befriends an aspiring rock singer (Leah Thompson) and a kooky lab assistant (Tim Robbins), and comes into conflict with various lowlifes, the police, and an evil demon that has possessed the body of a helpful scientist (Jeffrey Jones), all the while trying to get back home.
Gerber's original comic book series and a subsequent adult-oriented magazine weren't kids' stuff. They juxtaposed a funny animal character with bizarre villains and action more typical of Marvel's super-hero books, usually parodying comics, politics, and popular culture in the process. A sexual relationship between Howard and his human girlfriend Beverly was more than just implied. The "Howard the Duck" movie could have either toned down the more adult situations to create a family-friendly action-comedy, or gone straight for ribald satire and gotten an "R" rating. Instead, the filmmakers sought an uncomfortable middle ground that pleases no one. The script is not witty enough for adults and it is too sleazy and scary for young children. The endless duck puns become tiresome. There are, however, a few truly funny moments, such as Howard's shock at being served eggs, or his observation that "If God intended ducks to fly, he wouldn't have taken away our wings."
The direction is uneven. The reaction of several characters to meeting a talking alien duck seems muted given the circumstances. The special effects are also hit and miss. The animatronic duck suit cost millions, but the actors inside it add little personality. They could have at least waddled when they walked. The demonic Dark Lords of the Universe at the end of the film are portrayed with stop motion animation that is jerky and unrealistic even for the time (perhaps this was intentional, though, to provide a B-movie feel). However, while a bad movie all around, "Howard the Duck" at least stands out for its unique premise. Amidst a sea of formulaic mediocrity, an original idea, even if it's poorly developed, counts for something.
** out ****
There are certain movies you cannot die happy without having seen them at
least once. "Casablanca", "The Wizard of OZ", the "Star Wars"
And, if you are a connoisseur of bad movies as I am, you must add to the above list the one, the only, "Howard the Duck".
Now this is, hands down, one of the stupidest ducking (groan) movies ever made. On the other hand, if you have a soft spot for bad movies, it doesn't get much better than this. It is absolutely insane. And it isn't nearly as bad as "Theodore Rex"!
When I was in college, I regularly laughed my butt off reading S. Clay
Wilson's "The Checkered Demon" comics. You see, there was this demon
who wore checkered pants, and he got involved in all sorts of gross
situations, mostly involving scatological humor, severed limbs and
organs, and sexual acts.
Doesn't translate very well, does it? The same thing must have happened when Lucas (or whoever) went to screenwriters Huyck and Katz and asked them to do a treatment of Gerber's "Howard the Duck" strip. H & K apparently had no idea of the type of humor the strip used, or at what demographic it was pitched. The result is a kiddie move that tries hard to be adult in all the wrong ways. The satire and keen observation of the original strip disappear completely. I keep expecting The Goonies to wander in at any moment.
A VERY bad movie, though probably made with good intentions.
The best "continuing story" comic strip of the past 20 years was, in my opinion, Howard the Duck. This brooding film noir-type comic had us sneaking outside work every day at 3:30 for the Washington Evening Star just for this 3-panel strip. Howard just was not happy to find himself trapped on Earth, in Cleveland, living in a slum and interacting with his sexually useless (being human rather than fowl) girl friend Beverly. Like Groucho Marx with a bad hangover, Howard's continual rants about his rotten situation made a great comic strip. Along comes executive producer George Lucas, who strips away every single thing that provided Howard with character, and makes him nice; worse he makes him cute. Gag! If that weren't bad enough, the film has Howard and the Lea Thompson character engaging in post-sex afterglow --- thus advocating human with animal sex and spitting on the Judeo Christian ethic, for the sake of an unfunny site gag. This film is now George Lucas' dirty-little-secret; a part of his legacy; and worse than any of the last 3 Star Wars movies. Boo! Hiss!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't even know how to properly express my anguish. I suppose it
would be fair to admit that I am, usually, an avid lover of terrible
movies. "The Room" was a work of brilliance, and it really doesn't get
much better than "Birdemic: Shock and Terror".
"Howard the Duck" was crossing the line.
This transcended the threshold of "so bad it's good". It wasn't bad in a "Ghost Rider" way. It wasn't even bad in a "Dogma" sort of way. This movie has put to question what terrible cinema truly is, at its core. I'm honestly disgusted with myself after having seen this movie.
Crusaders in its defense have united in a joyful cry of Howard's "originality" and "playfulness". Pray tell, what exactly about it is unique? Aside the fact that our main protagonist is a space- duck... what else? The story itself is deeply wanting in creativity, as are the painfully wooden characters, and campy, repulsive dialogue.
The special effects, while acceptable, were not mind blowing. Especially Howard himself. The "good guy" should never give you nightmares. Howard was trollish and creepy. Not to mention, seriously flawed in his character. What a jerk.
I'd also like to address the idea that this movie was some sort of B-movie phenomenon. This movie, believe it or not, was made in a very serious way. I think the mere fact that George Lucas was somehow attached to this project ought to demonstrate that. That in consideration, there really is no excuse for how vile this movie was. This wasn't a movie that was parading its own flaws, that wasn't "egotistical" or "vain", and it certainly wasn't aiming to please the cult crowd. The sorry truth of the matter is, Howard the Duck was spawned in the same ambitious way as Star Wars. THIS was supposed to be an epic.
That's just unacceptable. This whole movie is unacceptable. I feel betrayed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've often pondered what is the worst movie of all time. It's easy to
point at low budget disasters like CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON and TEENAGERS
FROM OUTER SPACE, but those movies did what they could with no money
and no talent. The fact that they were made at all is something of an
To really be fair, one has to take into consideration the budget and the talent involved to truly interpret just how bad a movie is. With this criteria in mind, I continually come back to HOWARD THE DUCK. Until I can be convinced otherwise, I have come to the conclusion that this pile of hippopotamus vomit is THE worst movie EVER.
In fact, HOWARD THE DUCK is so godawful, it almost seems intentionally so. Not like ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, which was a good-natured parody of bad B-movies, but more as a "f*** you" to the audience. I have no idea what producer George Lucas or anyone else involved in this movie could have been so enraged about in order to feel the need to unleash this form of torture on the public, but it must have really hit a nerve.
The movie looks great. It's well-shot and the special effects (especially toward the end) are terrific; from a technical standpoint, there's not a lot to complain about. Even the actors seem to be genuinely trying their best to please, so the blame can't be laid at their feet either. Who, then, can we point at for this abomination? The obvious party is George Lucas himself. He had everything in 1986. Several blockbusters under his belt, his own independent multi-million dollar production company and an entire staff of effects artists at his fingertips, ready to bring anything that popped into his head to life. Maybe his ego got too big too fast, and he thought he could pull off this ill-advised project. Maybe he thought anything with the Lucasfilm logo on it automatically turned to gold. Boy was he ever wrong. He must have known so, as his name doesn't appear ANYWHERE in the on screen credits of the movie. Even "Lucasfilm" is buried inconspicuously in the end credits.
But the real culprits are the writer-producer-director team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. After writing a serviceable-at-best screenplay for INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, their buddy Lucas gave them Carte Blanche to create a mega-epic to end all others. It didn't quite work out that way.
The screenplay is mind-bogglingly awful. Even worse, Huyck and Katz seem to think their dialog and characters are really funny and quirky, which only causes the script to get more and more awful as it lumbers along. Add to that Huyck's clueless direction and Katz's overblown production and you've got a movie for which there are not enough derogatory words.
I can sum up HOWARD THE DUCK using ten such words: STUPID, POINTLESS, OBNOXIOUS, DULL, EXCESSIVE, ANNOYING, INSULTING, INEPT, REPUGNANT and DISASTROUS. And those are just off the top of my head.
Unless you want to feel the overwhelming urge to kick in your TV screen, never, NEVER watch HOWARD THE DUCK.
I like bad movies. No--I LOVE bad movies. They're fun to make fun of,
good fun to watch. I mean, come on, I OWN copies of both 'Manos - The
Hands of Fate' and 'Gigli,' both of which I rather enjoy. Enough said.
I rented 'Howard the Duck' expecting it to be bad. Just the way I like 'em.
I am flabbergasted to say that it fell far below my lowest possible expectations.
Bad acting, but with Lea Thompson in the picture you can't expect too much. I was quite disappointed with Tim Robbins, at least HE should have been more capable. Jeffrey Jones puts in the best performance of the film as far as I'm concerned, but that's not saying much.
Howard himself? Even given the limited capabilities of 1986 Hollywood, I still was shocked at how laughably ridiculous he looked.
Special effects? Nothing special. Lots of other movies from this era have better (or worse) special effects and are more worth watching.
To be brief, everything you heard about 'Howard the Duck' is true. Forget 'Manos' and 'Monster A Go-Go' and the other movies in IMDb's bottom 100. Those are all classics. As far as I'm concerned, 'Howard' is at the bottom of the stack, and not in a good way, either.
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