Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lazy Movie Weekend: Welcome to Cleveland

"No duck is an island. And if fate sent me here to save Earth, then Howard the Duck is ready to fight."

There is a story around the fantastic bomb of a film, Howard the Duck, that hints at the birth of a very popular and profitable animation studio we all know and love. It seems that George Lucas, executive producer and supporter of the film, was in debt and was banking on the success of Howard the Duck to help bail him out. This did not happen. He had just completed construction on Skywalker Ranch and began selling off assets. One of the assets he sold was part of the computer graphics division of Lucasfilms known as Graphics Group. Steve Jobs was one of the majority investors in this deal and the division would go on to become Pixar Animation Studios. Think of all the Pixar movies you love; now thank Howard the Duck.

I love this story. I've read it a couple of times over the years in articles about Pixar, George Lucas, and Marvel Studio films. It wasn't until I sat down to re-watch Howard the Duck for this LMW post that the story came back to mind (thanks IMDB). The 1986 film is considered one of the worst movies in history and was a huge financial bomb for Universal and for Lucas. Like so many of films I write about on LMW, Howard the Duck has gone on to become a cult classic and is adored by fans of the original comic book (published by Marvel starting in 1973) and people like me who found the movie about a space duck who saves the Earth oddly endearing and funny. I have never understood why Howard gets so much hate. Is it a great film? No, but it's not the worst film either. You can decide for yourself. Grab a Bud (that's what Howard drinks when he lands on Earth) and get comfy in your favorite chair. It's time for Howard the Duck.
  1. Howard the Duck was the first attempt at a live-action adaptation of a Marvel comic book character since a 1944 serial featuring Captain America. 
  2. So many duck sight gags, so little time. From movie posters (Mae Nest! Splashdance!) to  Marshington, DC on his license everything in Duckworld is a little bit like it is on Earth. Duckworld is like Earth except with ducks.
  3. Note that Howard was in a band. This will be important later.
  4. Like all heroes, Howard is just hanging out in his apartment minding his own business when something out of the ordinary happens to him. He is teleported to Earth and lands in Cleveland. 
  5. Of course not only does he land in Cleveland but he also lands in the midst of a gang of punks who take him to a punk club where we meet the band Cherry Bomb and catch our first glimpse of Beverly.
  6. Fun fact: Tori Amos, Belinda Carlisle, Paula Abdul, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Lori Singer all auditioned for the role of Beverly. I think Lea Thompson was the right choice.
  7. Thompson did all of her own singing for the film and kept the Les Paul guitar that she plays. Sweet.
  8. Howard, unlike superheroes, possesses no superpowers but he is a master of Quack Fu. This is nothing to laugh at.
  9. Beverly's crimped hair - if any trend from the 80s returns I hope it's this one. Actually, Beverly's style is my favorite thing right now. How can I make this work in 2015?
  10. Howard: What is this place? Beverly: Cleveland. Howard: Cleve-Land? Uh-huh. That is a perfectly weird name for this planet.
  11. Not to hate on Cleveland again but another perfect quote: "Hey if I had someplace to go I certainly wouldn't be in Cleveland."
  12. OMG - Beverly's apartment. Yes, it is in a craptastic neighborhood but seriously it's amazing. Do I have to move to Cleveland for this apartment? I bet even today that apartment wouldn't be that expensive. She has a window seat, y'all. What do I have to do for a space like this?
  13. Tim Robbins! Robbins was a virtual unknown at this time (small roles in a few films) but is absolutely hilarious as Phil, the wannabe scientist who ultimately does figure out how Howard  came to Earth.
  14. One of Phil's best quotes, "It's just a temporary job until I finish school and get my own museum." I think I might start saying this to people. I should have my own museum.
  15. Howard parts ways with Beverly (for now) and goes to the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services. He gets a job a hot tub club (so gross) where we discover that he can't swim. A duck who can't swim? This will be important later.
  16. "Space rabies!!!!" This is how Howard gets the band their money, becomes their manager, and terrifies an entire punk club. 
  17. Fun fact: Six actors played Howard. Ed Gale is considered the primary actor and did most of the stunt work. Gale is also known for his work as Chucky in the Child's Play movies.
  18. When I was younger, I was a huge Jem & the Holograms fan. Upon re-watching this movie, I've decided that Cherry Bomb is Jem & the Holograms if they were a band that played in dirty Cleveland punk clubs and hung around with space ducks. Also, "Cherry Bomb" was a song by an all female hard rock band, The Runaways (used on the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy). I'm not sure if this is a reference to the band but I'm going to pretend it is.
  19. Howard is as uncomfortable as everyone else is about the Beverly seduction scene. 
  20. Enter Jeffrey Jones as Dr. Walter Jenning. Ferris Bueller's Day Off was released in the same year as Howard the Duck and Jones' principal, Ed Rooney, is one of the great teen movie villains. He is fantastic as Dr. Jenning, a scientist who eventually becomes a Dark Overlord and destroys a lot of stuff. 
  21. It's science gone wrong that brings Howard to Earth. Totally plausible story. 
  22. "There's no guard." No movie ever went well after this type of statement. 
  23. Are you a CSI fan? Paul Guilfoyle, who played Capt. Brass on the show, is here as Lt. Welker.
  24. The action picks up pretty quickly after the explosion at the lab. Jenning is on his way to becoming a Dark Overlord, Beverly and Howard hit the road with Jenning to escape, and Phil is arrested. We also see an odd Japanese diner destroyed, a fight with truckers, and the seasoning of Howard (they were going to eat him).
  25. No one ever believes that your friend is a Dark Overlord.
  26. Howard reunites with Phil and they fly (and I use this term loosely) back to the lab to save Beverly from becoming the mother of more Dark Overlords.
  27. The action and special effects in this movie are so 1986 but were considered groundbreaking for the time. We are so spoiled today.
  28. Suspension of disbelief time: Why is it so easy to get in and out of the lab? Wouldn't there be more police presence given all of the recent events and the fact that Howard was a fugitive? Why are he and Phil able to easily get to dangerous weapons to defeat the Dark Overlord? 
  29. The Dark Overlord comes to life and looks like a crab, a scorpion, and an alien had a baby. It's not really scary and looks super fake but it gets the job done as far as creepy creatures from another dimension go.
  30. Beverly and Phil are stunned by the Dark Overlord and it looks sort of like glitter. All I can think about is craft time gone wrong.
  31. Howard has to do what any hero has to do: decide if he will sacrifice himself (in this case his ability to get back to Duckworld) or save Earth. With five seconds left.
  32. Of course, the movie ends with a very 1986 musical performance. Beverly's costume is reminiscent of Tina Turner's in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and Howard's guitar playing reminds me of Marty McFly in the Back to the Future.  Fun fact: the title song "Howard the Duck" was written by Thomas Dolby (who wrote all the film's songs) and George Clinton (yes the George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic)
So there you have Howard the Duck. I feel the same way about this movie that I do about the movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; it was made before we were all ready for it. We live in a world now where movies like Ted exist and do very well and spawn sequels. Howard the Duck had the misfortune of being made too soon. George Lucas liked him too much to wait. That has to mean something. Howard recently made an appearance in the post-credit sequence in the Marvel blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. James Gunn, the director of that film, has hinted the Howard might make another appearance in the future. Maybe Howard won't get a reboot but maybe he'll be returned to his rightful place in the weird and wonderful Marvel Universe. If we have room for a foul-mouthed talking raccoon and an endearing tree creature, why not for a sassy, kickass duck from space?

Marvel Universe Wiki
Wikipedia: the movie; the comic

Howard and Phil

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