Revisiting the Reviled – ‘Howard the Duck’: Yeah, um, What in the Hell Were They Thinking? (NSFL)

GameStop, Inc.

howard-2

This will not turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rand about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rand about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rand about George Lucas.

If you watch enough movies with bad reputations, you’ll find that many don’t earn their infamy. Some, like Ishtar, become synonymous with fiasco only to find their ardent defenders decades after their release. Then there’s Howard the Duck. Not only does Howard the Duck earn its reputation as being a truly godawful film, it exceeds its reputation. While we point to the Special Editions and Prequels of Star Wars as the point of decline for George Lucas, he was well on his way well before anyone got a glimpse of Jar Jar Binks.

The husband and wife team of Willard Hyuck and Gloria Katz wrote the script with Hyuck directing and Katz producing. The two had worked with Lucas for years, co-writing American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. While Lucas always had the safety net of Star Wars, Hyuck and Katz did not. After the fiasco that was Howard the Duck, the two would only pen one more feature film, 1994’s Radioland Murders, co-written and produced by George Lucas. Lucas himself relinquished his role as chairman of Lucasfilm to produce the film. Following its disastrous release, Lucas would have to sell Lucasfilm’s computer animation division to Steve Jobs, a division that would become Pixar. Heads rolled at Universal, too, with production head Frank Price being ousted even though he had nothing to do with greenlighting the film.

As would happen with the Prequels, the film has no consistency with its tone. It can’t decide if it’s a special effects laden kid’s film or a dark adult adventure. Where the Star Wars Prequels had a built in audience that allowed the films to be financially successful while not being beloved by fans, Howard the Duck didn’t have that luxury.

howard-3

This will not turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rand about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rand about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This will not turn into a rand about George Lucas.

While sitting on his recliner watching television, Howard the Duck (mostly Ed Gale in the suit, with 6 other people donning the costume, and voiced by Chip Zien) is suddenly transported across time and space to the nightmarish dystopia that is the ‘80s. Like Death Wish 3, the city is populated with almost exclusively violent thugs and rapists, aka Reagan’s America. After saving Beverly (Lea Thompson), a big-haired singer of a synth-pop band, from being raped, Howard befriends her and she takes him to Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins), a lab assistant at a local institute. Eventually Phil brings Howard to the attention of some colleagues, including Dr. Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones), who inform Howard that he was accidentally transported through a scientific experiment they were conducting. Attempting to reverse the process, the machine malfunctions and causes Dr. Jenning to be possessed by some intergalactic creature called the Dark Overlord. Howard, Beverly, and Phil defeat the possessed Dr. Jenning, and as part of the happy ending, Howard has graduated to becoming Beverly’s band manager.

For a supposed comedy, Howard the Duck has jokes that range from bird puns to a bizarre sexualization of its main character. Before he’s transported to Earth, we’re given long glimpses of posters that adorn Howard’s apartment – Breeders of the Lost Stork and My Little Chickadee with W.C. Fowls are what pass for wit in this movie. As to the sexualization of Howard, he’s reading a Playduck when he’s transported. He comes perilously close to consummating a sexual relationship with Beverly before they’re interrupted – which for those of you keeping score at home, that’s two films in this series that feature intra-species sexual relationships, the other being Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. But the borderline sexual relationship between Howard and Beverly isn’t the element of sexualization that left the biggest impact on me. Even though it’s a brief gag, its inclusion is so baffling it sums up the entire movie. Two words: duck tits.

When Howard and his recliner are being pulled through time and space, he crashes through various duck-filled apartments, one of which features a naked female duck bathing. Her bare breasts, nipples and all, are exposed for all to see. As film is a collaborative art, think about how many people had to approve the duck tits. Concept artists worked on designing the duck tits, likely drawing varying shapes and sizes of duck tits. These concept drawings were then taken to the art supervisor, who had to make his choice about which duck tits best suited the film: “I don’t know. Could we add nipples to the duck tits?” Lucas, Katz, and Hyuck had to approve the duck tits: “Can we make the duck tits perkier?” I imagine Lucas asking. Then the concept art of the duck tits were taken to the crews who handcrafted the duck tits. Artisans spent countless hours crafting the duck tits into a workable costume that a little person or small child could fit in. Even after the scene is shot, an editor must assemble all the footage of Howard blasting through the bathroom, and return to a close-up of the duck tits in case anyone missed it.

howard-1

This might turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This might turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This might turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This might turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This might turn into a rant about George Lucas.

This might turn into a rant about George Lucas.

Aside from the duck costume, and duck tits, there are some truly impressive effects for its era. But this is the kind of film with such an uneven vision that it makes sense that it would be produced by the same man who decided to create a film aimed at kids with Jar Jar Binks and counteract that with adult-themed material concerning trade treaties. There was a time when Lucas was an ambitious experimental filmmaker. Apocalypse Now was his idea, intended to be shot guerilla-style in real wartime locations. He passed the material to Francis Ford Coppola after the success of Star Wars occupied his time. Since Empire Strikes Back, Lucas hasn’t been behind anything resembling a good movie. Even worse, he’s ushered in the era of cross-merchandized blockbusters that emphasize effects and marketability over quality. Even much worse, Lucas is partially responsible for the death of film. With Attack of the Clones, Lucas threatened to withhold the film from theaters that didn’t invest in digital projection. And he refuses to allow audiences to enjoy his films as they were originally seen in cinemas. Aside from the Prequels, the only film of Lucas’ that hasn’t been altered is the Katz and Hyuck co-scripted American Graffiti.

According the IMDB trivia page, Lucas claimed that in 20 years Howard the Duck would be hailed as a masterpiece. It’s been nearly 30 years since its release, and Howard the Duck may have aged for the worse. It says something that the least ugly thing in the film is the big, crimped ‘80s hair. It’s one thing to be dumb. It’s another thing to be ugly. But when you’re dumb, ugly, schizophrenic, and feature duck tits, there is no forgiving. There is no forgetting. This is that rare movie that exceeds its bad reputation, and is easily one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. With a brief cameo at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy, maybe there’s hope for a decent Howard the Duck movie in the future. Maybe with the next one they’ll leave out the duck tits.

howard-4

This has been a rant about George Lucas and duck tits.

This has been a rant about George Lucas and duck tits.

This has been a rant about George Lucas and duck tits.

This has been a rant about George Lucas and duck tits.

This has been a rant about George Lucas and duck tits.

This has been a rant about George Lucas and duck tits.

 

Anytime Costumes

One Response

  1. Lisa December 23, 2014 Reply

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