In the first half of the eighties it seemed George Lucas could do no wrong. With the original Star Wars trilogy completed he was on top of the world. In 1984 he brought us Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and his crown started to perhaps look a little tarnished, but we forgave him because we all loved Indy.
Get to 1986 though, and the first signs of him going perhaps a bit la-la came along, with the release of Howard the Duck (also known as Howard A New Breed Of Hero). Film critics were boggling as to how George Lucas would even dare to put his name to this film, which bombed at the box office and is often cited as being one of the worst films made.
But what do film critics know? They thought Hudson Hawk was bad (I liked it, Bruce!) and anyway, George has done far worse in the meantime by introducing us to the oh-so-annoying Jar Jar Binks.
Personally I quite liked Howard the Duck, although admittedly I was a young teenager at the time I saw it, and I think this is the age group that will appreciate the film most, as despite featuring a duck as the main character it is perhaps not all that child friendly, and because it features a duck as the main character most adults would think it childish.
So what is the film about? Well, the titular Howard is an inhabitant of Duckworld, who for some reason finds himself (and his armchair) propelled through space to Earth, where he meets up with wannabe rock star Beverly (Lea Thompson). Howard saves Beverly from some muggers, so being a good sort she decides to try and help Howard to return to his home planet.
The pair go to visit scientist Phil Blumbertt (Tim Robbins) although it turns out Phil isn’t exactly a scientist, he’s actually more of a janitor. However, in contacting Phil the news of Howard’s arrival reaches Dr Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones) who is actually the reason why Howard has ended up on Earth. He has been working on an experiment in the field of dimension jumping, and offers to try and send Howard home.
This sounds perfect to Howard, but things go awry when they try to use the dimension jumping machine again, and Dr. Jenning ends up being taken over by an evil alien presence going by the name of the Dark Overlord of the Universe. Nice! Cue the alien making off with Beverly and Howard then has to go to her rescue.
Howard the Duck actually started life as a comic book, created in 1973 by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik. George Lucas was a fan, as he first had the idea of bringing Howard to the silver screen shortly after finishing American Graffiti, so this is how he came to be involved in the film in the first place.
The original comic book was apparently fairly absurd in nature (unsurprisingly I suppose) but the film took on a more science fiction slant in order to make the most of Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic effects house. As with most stuff ILM are involved in the effects were actually fairly good, with possibly the worst effect being Howard himself, who never quite looks like a real duck but more like a bloke in a duck suit.
To finish then, remember I said that the film was perhaps not all that child friendly. Here’s a good example of why not…