In the mid 1980s, space extraordinaire George Lucas set out on an impossible mission. With the success of the original “Star Wars” trilogy behind him, he had the world at his fingertips. But he wasn’t interested in space exploration or time travel; no, he set out to bring Marvel’s outlandish, brash and somewhat unbelievable comic book character “Howard the Duck” to life. But what Lucas thought would be a dream project quickly turned into a nightmare, as it became one of the biggest flops in the history of cinema.
With millions of dollars wasted on a film that should have been simplified through the wonders of animation, Lucas lost his company, his reputation and his creative expression. Despite the dramatic financial implications, the film has become a cult classic. While there are many reasons to hate everything, from the script, to the supporting cast, to the duck itself, there are many reasons why “Howard the Duck” really isn’t that bad, and why it might actually be considered one of the greatest films of the 1980s.
15. DUCK BOOBS
When Howard is stripped (no pun intended) from his home planet and sent to Earth by way of a scientific experiment gone wrong, we get a quick view of a world where ducks reign supreme- and apparently the female persuasion has some convincing… attributes. While the film was intended for families, there’s nothing more disturbing than the topless duck partaking in a nightly bath that is forever etched into our memories. There’s also a quick glimpse of a duck model in a Playboy-esque centerfold spread that made its way to the final cut.
But let’s face it, there’s also nothing else like it, and the thought that someone out there was creative enough to believe that ducks could have human qualities, including cleavage, by way of a secondary universe is something that no other film has dared to explore. Not that there’s another space-duck type film that needs to feature female anatomy, but you get the point. It’s a wonderfully tantalizing surprise nonetheless.
14. A MIX OF GENRES
“Howard the Duck” is more than just a comic to script kind of movie — it’s the perfect mixture of a family-friendly film, with a touch of raunchiness, a sprinkle of monster flick, a bit of mystery, and a comedy rolled into one. There’s even some romance in there! Sure, it’s a lot to take in, but considering it’s a part of the Marvel universe, there were a lot of workable elements- and a lot of genre flipping that still works today.
“The Avengers” wouldn’t be the same without the action comedy elements that “Howard the Duck” truly set precedence for. And let’s face it, the way that Beverly looks at her “Duckie” could make anyone swoon. While critics focus on the lack of direction, fans of the film commend it for bringing together a variety of film genres to appease audiences of every walk of life. With this film, there literally is something for everyone.
13. ONE OF US
The fact that Howard, upon arriving on Earth, is universally accepted by humankind, is one of the most overlooked achievements in screenwriting. Sure, the writers took away the manhood bestowed upon him in the comic, and the puns are too much to handle, but the acceptable factor is worth its weight in gold. There’s no questionable stares, confused overtones or constant questioning as to why a duck is naturally implanted into the everyday lives of the other characters.
Even when he first meets Beverly, despite her confusion, she’s not scared of her new companion — in fact, she’s actually intrigued, and even attracted to him, just as if he were an average Joe on the street. He’s expected to get a job, he holds conversations, and he eventually does save the day, without once being shunned for his feathered physique. He’s never made to feel like he doesn’t belong here, and maybe that’s why part of him, in the end, was happy to remain on Earth.
12. JEFFREY JONES: GALACTIC OVERLORD
For those of us who enjoyed a good John Hughes film in the 1980s (we’re not sure if anyone doesn’t have at least one favorite), we fondly remember Jeffrey Jones as Ferris Bueller’s arch enemy, Edward R. Rooney, in the cult classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The same year, however, he was also someone else’s enemy, portraying the the Dark Overlord of the Universe in “Howard the Duck.”
Everything goes awry when Dr. Walter Jenning, Jones’ primary role, tries to send Howard back to his home planet, and instead becomes host to the powerful alien. He wasn’t supposed to appear at the end of movie in extraterrestrial form, but ended up stealing the show. Whether it’s the worst enemy in Marvel history, or one of the best, Jones fit the role. Regardless of how we feel about the special effects and the character as a whole, Jones was brilliant, and his resume’ continued to thrive well after the release of the film.
11. THAT MUSIC
The role of Beverly, Howard’s love interest in the film, was a coveted part for female actresses in the mid 1980s. Everyone wanted to be the next Princess Leia, and they were hoping with George Lucas at the helm that this could be a similar opportunity. After auditioning many hopefuls, including rockers Cyndi Lauper and Tori Amos, Lea Thompson of “Back to the Future” fame was eventually chosen for the part.
Wanting an authentic and original feel, Thompson was asked to take both vocal and guitar lessons, resulting in her actual talents being used in the film. She recorded four of the soundtrack’s biggest songs with the movie’s band Cherry Bomb and eased into the rockstar persona on a cinematic level. With songs written by actual hitmakers Thomas Dolby and George Clinton, the result was a pretty great soundtrack with original music, something that many films today are lacking.
10. REPRESENTING THE 80s
The 1980s, as a whole, were AWESOME. And while many (better) films portray the 80s in practical set design and costuming, “Howard the Duck” went above and beyond to make it known that the film was of that era. Lea Thompson’s crimped hair (which took two hours of prep time each day of filming), the obvious neon color scheme, and even the dialog are perfect representations of an era past. But it doesn’t stop there.
The ode to a decade goes well beyond the picture itself, but also to the behind-the-scenes feel of the movie. “Howard the Duck” screams 1980s filmmaking, from the less than stellar practical effects to the actors to even the look and feel of Cleveland itself — there’s no denying when this film takes place. “Howard the Duck,” while attempting to keep its gritty comic nature, can easily connect to the original MTV generation like a demented, underachieving time capsule filled with charm.
9. ITS NOVELIZATION
Despite the slow, painful death of the film itself (and its creators), “Howard the Duck” the novel was practically a sensation. The book was tasked with bringing the film to life in a new and vibrant way, and the author, Ellis Weiner, did just that. Described as a brilliant combination of the film’s humor, with the comic’s storyline, and given a shot of adrenaline, the novel is actually really good.
Critics have credited the author with revitalizing what otherwise may have been a dead storyline and giving Howard and his supporting cast new life. In fact, many critics hailed the novel as what the film should have been. The author did a good job of making fans laugh and embellishing the missing details from the film’s plot, which combined, makes for a great read. Though harder to find now, the novel is still a talking point for many Howard fans.
8. HOWARD IS A HERO
Describing Howard as a “superhero” doesn’t necessarily put him in the same Marvel realm as, say, Captain America, Iron Man, Peter Parker or even his counterparts in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but when you look at the plot of the film, he really, truly does end up saving the day. After crashing down to Earth, Howard immediately rescues Beverly from a bunch of thugs, and eventually ends up saving her band, Cherry Bomb when he becomes their manager.
Sure, he might not be diving off of buildings, but he did manage to save a few things in the process. And in the end, he really did save the world, even going so far as to sacrifice his chance to return home. Though he probably should have been animated, and the writers gave him atrocious dialog, Howard really is just another unsung hero, making “Howard the Duck” a superhero movie in a very real sense.
7. THE DIALOG
Okay, so, “Howard the Duck” went on to win more Razzies than Academy Awards (including a coveted Worst Picture nod), but whether or not you care for the film, or about the film, there’s no denying that the cheese factor is one of its most appealing traits. There’s nothing better than hearing seasoned actors say “No more Mr. Nice Duck” or fan-favorite “I bet you were born from a very hard-boiled egg, Duckie” to draw laughter from even the most serious of critics.
Have you heard of Kung Fu? Howard hasn’t. In fact, in the film, he’s mastered his own brand of “Quack-Fu,” and he lets you know about it. But why stop there? Even the villainous Dark Overlord chimes in with “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” as he incinerates the local diner. Overall, the problem was that the screenwriters faced the challenge of appealing to both adults and children, and unfortunately many scenes fell flat for both audiences. While the screenwriting may not have been the material of legends, one thing is for certain: it’s so bad, it’s funny.
6. IT’S THE REASON PIXAR EXISTS
When “Howard the Duck” failed for Lucas and his production team, it had to have been a horrible feeling. With so much pressure out the gate on the filmmakers, and momentous buzz created specifically for the film, including a multi-million dollar off-the-wall marketing campaign, it was hard not to take a hit when the film underperformed at the box office. In the end, Lucas lost a lot to this production, including his computer animation company, Graphix Group.
Struggling with the limitations of the company creatively and financially, as well as trying to bring in cash-flow for Lucasfilm, Lucas sold the company to, essentially, pay the bills. Steve Jobs, fresh off of his departure from Apple, snatched the company up and assisted in the creation of what we now know as Pixar. That’s right, as much as one may have hated that animatronic duck, Buzz Lightyear and Nemo wouldn’t have existed without him.
5. IT’S A DIRTY BIRD
In 2017, we’re accustomed to most films having “dirty” undertones. While most children may not catch the sexual innuendos in their favorite princess films, adults appreciate the well-hidden humor that keeps their attention and goes right around their little one’s understanding. Duck boobs aside, “Howard the Duck” cracks a lot of sexual jokes that most adults in the 1980s found atrocious. The film was marketed as a family-friendly adventure, but when parents took their kids to a film that features subtle hints of bestiality and a duck version of Playboy, the adult nature of the film fell flat with a lot of audiences.
Looking back on the content, it’s not as bad as many films we enjoy today, which leads us to believe that the sense of humor in“Howard the Duck” paved the way for society’s future appreciation of a dirty mind. Had the screenwriters taken the time to develop a comedic atmosphere around the puns, there may have been a different response. However, looking back on it now, it wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be, and the humor in it still draws a chuckle.
4. THE SUIT
Costing two million dollars in materials and excessive amounts of labor to make, the duck suit for Howard was one of the most innovative of its time. Critics hated how the costume looked on film, but the suit itself was actually a milestone for technology in the industry. It was the first wireless puppet of its kind and could be controlled entirely by remote control, yet still operate with actors inside the suit itself.
Eight different actors, including one child, worked day and night to bring the title character of “Howard the Duck” to life, and it took months to design. The actors focused solely on the duck’s movement, while a voiceover actor (Chip Zien of Broadway fame) later recorded the dialog. With today’s computer animation and advances in filmmaking technology, the animatronic duck suit is considered by some a blueprint that led to many other character devices in future films.
3. TWO WORDS: LEA THOMPSON
Fresh off of her role in “Back to the Future,” up and coming actress Lea Thompson was cast as Howard’s love interest, Beverly, in “Howard the Duck.” Beating out an array of hopeful actresses, she really took an interest in the film. Her quirky sense of humor gave her a background on which to base her performance, and she really brought the character to life. While critics ripped “Howard the Duck” apart at every chance they got, most hailed Thompson’s performance as one of the film’s few triumphs.
She really dedicated herself to the role, and, as mentioned previously, even took music lessons to better her performance with her girl band, Cherry Bomb. But nothing stands out more than her consistent dedication to the film. While many run and hide from box office failures, Thompson has always embraced it, and to this day, she still owns the Les Paul she used to add spice to Beverly’s music abilities.
2. GEORGE LUCAS MADE IT
Obviously, having made the prequels to “Star Wars” in addition to “Howard the Duck,” George Lucas isn’t perfect by any means, but coming off of the original “Star Wars” franchise films and the “Indiana Jones” series, everyone had high hopes for “Howard the Duck.” Unfortunately, the screenwriting was completely off-base, but the film itself was probably made well before its time. Looking back, though, the good far outweighs the bad, including much of the innovative technology and filmmaking techniques that are still used, or improved upon, today.
Many of the practical effects were very good for the time, and he did fight to have the character animated, only losing due to contractual agreements. Unfortunately, animation would have given Howard a better cinematic focus, but Lucas could only take the argument so far. Imagine what he could have done with today’s technology, and how the film may have been different if there wasn’t so much financial obligation at stake.
1. IT’S MARVEL
Marvel has had its ups and downs in the cinematic sphere. Many of the X-Men films (most recently being “X-Men: Apocalypse”), and even the Spider-Man sequels, underperformed, but never received the amount of backlash that “Howard the Duck” did due to the company’s current place in Hollywood hierarchy. But the film is still a Marvel movie; in fact, it was the first Marvel movie to ever grace the big screen. The comics are rather enjoyable, the characters (even the humanistic duck) are relatable, and while “Howard the Duck” was a financial flop, it paved the way for Marvel to rule the box office decades later. “Guardians of the Galaxy”’s post credits even gave a nod to the character to remind viewers that we all start somewhere- even if that somewhere isn’t exactly immaculate.
Love it or hate it, “Howard the Duck” is notorious, and there are far worse movies circulating Netflix subscriptions and old piles of VHS tapes that just never had the worldwide recognition. But without it, Marvel, Pixar and even CGI wouldn’t be where it is today, and that’s just the tip of the feather. Pull out your old copy, rent it and watch it again with a brand new set of eyes. It’s probably not as bad as you think.
Are you wiling to give Howard another shot? Let us know what you think of the flick today in the comments!
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