HOWARD THE DUCK
HOWARD ... A NEW BREED OF HERO
In 1986, this then-sizeable $27 million film adaptation of Howard the Duck was mounted by George Lucas. Lucas was riding on the successes of Star Wars (1977) and sequels and the Indiana Jones films. He turned the film over to his good friends, husband and wife team Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who had written American Graffiti (1973) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) for him, as well as directed the little-seen but acclaimed horror film Messiah of Evil (1973).
The result should have been hilarious. With the name of George Lucas attached, the film had great promise. Alas, Howard the Duck went tail-feathers up in a godawful way with audiences and critics alike. Most decided that the most appropriate fowl that Howard was was in fact a turkey and for a number of years afterwards, Howard the Duck became an industry term for a film that was a total bomb. In the film, Howard is a watered-down shadow of his two-dimensional self, criminally missing in any of his sarcastic temperament and snappy one-liners. The design of the duck is awful it looks no different from one of the extras in Donald Duck costumes that walk around Disneyland. If the film had been made a decade later and Howard conducted as a CGI character, the films success might have been a different story altogether. The scenes with the Dark Lord monster rampaging contain some of Industrial Light and Magics least convincing work.
The second half of the film is a sprawling indulgence that seems to be wanting to turn the film into another Ghostbusters (1984). Willard Huyck lets the film spin out of control into slapstick awfulness with endless scenes of Tim Robbins crashing a microlite through traffic. At least in these scenes, Jeffrey Jones emerges through the chaos to give an inspiredly lunatic performance. Although from Tim Robbins embarrassing performance as a geeky scientist nerd, you would never have guessed you were seeing a future Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning actor and director.
There are occasional clever moments. The opening, which pans up what looks like a New York skyline to unexpectedly reveal two full moons, and then through Howards apartment, taking in posters for Breeders of the Lost Egg and Splashdance and copies of Playduck and Rolling Egg, seemed clever when one first saw the film in 1987, but upon re-viewing seemed more sappy than anything else. Lea Thompson gives the film its few moments of sparkle there is a charming scene with she mock-seducing a scared Howard. However, even she vanishes beneath the noise and silliness of the rest of the film.
Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck have failed to work in the industry again. Their sole subsequent screen credit has been as writers of George Lucass one other big flop Radioland Murders (1994).
A planned Howard the Duck sequel never emerged. Howard does however make a post-credits cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
George Lucass genre films as director have been the dystopian science-fiction film THX 1138 (1971); Star Wars (1977) and the Star Wars prequel trilogy Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). George Lucass other genre works as producer are: the Star Wars sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), as well as various other animated series and spinoffs in the Star Wars universe; as producer of the Indiana Jones series consisting of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), the tv series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-3) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008); the fine Jim Henson fantasy Labyrinth (1986); the sword-and-sorcery adventure Willow (1988); and the animated Strange Magic (2015).