Howard the Duck (film): Wikis


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Howard the Duck
The words "More adventure than humanly possible" and a giant egg with a beak holding a cigar sticking out of it.
Theatrical poster
Directed by Willard Huyck
Produced by Gloria Katz
Ian Bryce
George Lucas
Written by Screenplay:
Willard Huyck
Gloria Katz
Comic Book:
Steve Gerber
Starring Lea Thompson
Jeffrey Jones
David Paymer
Tim Robbins
Ed Gale
Paul Guilfoyle
Chip Zien
Tim Fields
Music by Score:
John Barry
Original Songs:
Thomas Dolby
Cinematography Richard H. Kline
Editing by Michael Chandler
Sidney Wolinsky
Studio Lucasfilm
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date(s) August 1, 1986 (1986-08-01)
Running time 111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $38,000,000[1]
Gross revenue $16,000,000[2]

Howard the Duck is a 1986 American comedy science fiction film, directed by Willard Huyck, produced by Gloria Katz, and executive produced by George Lucas. Loosely based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, the film focuses on Howard, an alien from a planet inhabited entirely by anthropomorphic ducks, who is transported to Earth (Cleveland, Ohio, to be exact), where he meets Beverly, a struggling singer who leads an all-girl band called Cherry Bomb. As Howard attempts to find a way to return to his planet, he helps Beverly and Cherry Bomb with their career, develops a romance with Beverly herself, and finds himself having to save humanity from an evil alien monster. The film stars Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins and, as Howard, Ed Gale, Chip Zien, Tim Rose, Steve Sleap, Peter Baird, Mary Wells, Lisa Sturz and Jordan Prentice.

Lucas proposed adapting the Marvel comic book character created by Steve Gerber following the production of American Graffiti, and began production on the film after stepping down as the president of Lucasfilm to focus on producing. Huyck and Katz's adaptation altered the personality of the character, and placed less emphasis on satirical storytelling in order to highlight the special effects work of Lucasfilm's flagship subsidiary, Industrial Light and Magic. Following multiple production difficulties, and mixed responses to test screenings, the film was released to very poor critical and commercial reception. Criticism was made regarding the decision to shoot the film in live action rather than as an animated film and the unconvincing appearance of Howard.



Howard (voiced by Chip Zien) lives on Duckworld, a planet inhabited by anthropomorphic ducks. One night, as he reads the latest issue of Playduck Magazine, his armchair begins to quake violently and propels him out of his apartment building and into outer space, where he eventually lands up on Earth, in Cleveland, Ohio. Upon arriving, Howard encounters a woman being attacked by thugs and decides to help her out with his unique brand of "Quack Fu". After the thugs scamper, the woman introduces herself as Beverly (Lea Thompson), and decides to take Howard to her apartment and let him spend the night. The next day, Beverly takes Howard to a supposed-scientist by the name of Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins), whom Beverly hopes can help Howard return to his world. After Phil is revealed to be only a janitor, Howard resigns himself to life on Earth and rejects Beverly's aid. He soon winds up landing a job cleaning up at a local romantic spa. Due to unfair treatment by his boss, Howard ultimately quits his job and returns to Beverly, who plays in a band called Cherry Bomb. At the club where Cherry Bomb is performing, Howard comes across the group's manager, and confronts the manager when he bad-mouths the band. A fight ensues in which Howard is victorious, before getting the manager to force Cherry Bomb out of their contract.

Howard rejoins Beverly backstage after the band's performance and accompanies her back to the apartment, where Beverly chooses Howard to be Cherry Bomb's new manager. The two begin to flirt and almost engage in sexual intercourse, but are interrupted when Blumburtt and two of his colleagues, Doctor Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones) and Larry (David Paymer), arrive and reveal how Howard came to Earth: earlier, the scientists had been working on a dimensional-jumping device that just happened to be aimed at Howard's universe and brought him to Earth when it was activated. They theorize that Howard can be sent back to his world through a reversal of this same process, so they drive Howard to the lab with the intention of sending him back. The device malfunctions upon being used a second time, and Jenning's body is taken over by a lifeform from another alternate dimension. When the police arrive, the resulting chaos leads Howard, Beverly and Jenning to escape from the police as Jenning's transformation becomes more apparent. After eluding the police, they arrive at a Sushi diner where the lifeform introduces itself as the "Dark Overlord of the Universe" and demonstrates its developing mental powers by causing the table condiments to explode. Chaos ensues when a group of truckers in the diner begin to insult Howard, resulting in a fight. This results in Howard's capture and near-decapitation at the hands of the diner chef. Meanwhile, the truckers are scared off when the Dark Overlord destroys the cafe, kidnaps Beverly, and escapes in an articulated truck.

Howard then finds Phil and frees him from the police car he had been held in after being arrested for his role in the science center explosion. On the run, the two discover an Ultralight aircraft, which they use to search for the Dark Overlord and Beverly. Meanwhile, having returned to the lab, the Dark Overlord ties Beverly down to a metal bed, hoping to transfer another one of its kind into her body with the dimension machine. Howard and Phil return to the lab and apparently destroy the Dark Overlord with an experimental "neutron disintegrator" laser. However, it had only been knocked out of Jennings' body. Then, the Dark Overlord reveals itself as a monstrous creature. Howard fires the neutron disintegrator at the beast, obliterating it, and destroys the dimension machine, preventing more monsters from being brought to Earth, but also removing Howard's only chance of returning to his planet. Howard then becomes Beverly's manager and hires Phil as an employee on her tour.


George Lucas stepped down as the president of Lucasfilm in order to focus on producing films, including Howard the Duck.

George Lucas attended film school with Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who later cowrote American Graffiti with Lucas. After the film's production concluded, Lucas told Huyck and Katz about the comic book Howard the Duck, primarily written by Steve Gerber, describing the series as being "very funny" and praising its elements of film noir and absurdism.[3] In 1984, Lucas relinquished his presidency of Lucasfilm to focus on producing films.[4] Huyck, Katz and Lucas began to seriously consider adapting Howard the Duck as a film, and met with Gerber to discuss the project.[3]

The film was optioned by Universal Studios. According to Marvin Antonowsky, "Sidney [Sheinberg] lobbied very hard for Howard the Duck", because the studio had passed on previous projects that Lucas was involved in, which had been very successful.[5] Sheinberg denied any involvement in Howard the Duck, claiming that he never read the screenplay.[6] Huyck and Katz strongly felt that the film should be animated. Because Universal needed a film for a summer release, Lucas suggested that the film could be produced in live action, with special effects created by Industrial Light and Magic.[3]

Production designer Peter Jamison and director of photography Richard Kline were hired in order to give the film a look similar to that of a color comic book.[3] Throughout the shoot, Huyck shot multiple segments establishing Duckworld, designed by Jamison. Howard's apartment is filled with detailed props, including books and magazines featuring duck-oriented puns.[7] Because Lucas often worked with little person actors, he was able to hire a number of extras to work on these sequences.[3]

The Ultralight sequence was difficult to shoot, requiring intense coordination and actors Tim Robbins and Ed Gale to actually fly the plane.[3] Because of the limited shooting time, a third unit was hired to speed up the filming process.[7] The climax was shot in a naval installation in San Francisco, where conditions were cold throughout the shoot.[3] The film cost an estimated $36 million to produce.[1]


Huyck and Katz began to develop ideas for the film. Early on in the production, it was decided that the personality of the character would be changed from that of the comics, in which Howard was rude, obnoxious and foul, in order to make the character nicer.[8] During the screenwriting process, a stronger emphasis was placed on special effects, rather than satire and story.[8] An early proposed storyline involved the character being transported to Hawaii. Huyck states that this storyline was considered because "we thought it would be sort of fun to shoot there".[3] According to Katz, they did not want to explain how Howard arrived on Earth initially, but later rewrote the screenplay to include this backstory.[3] Huyck and Katz wanted to incorporate both lighter, humorous elements and darker, suspenseful elements.[3] Katz states that some readers were confused by the sexual elements of the screenplay, as they were unsure as to whether the film was intended for adults or children.[3] Huyck and Katz wrote the ending leaving the story open for a sequel, which was never produced.[3]

Special effects

Lucasfilm built animatronic suits, costumes and puppets for the film. Because of the limited preparation time, varied "ducks" created for the film would explode or lose feathers, and multiple ducks were built with the wrong proportions.[3] On the first day of shooting, the crew realized the poor quality of the effects when they found that the inside of the puppet's neck was visible when its mouth opened.[3] Huyck continuously reshot scenes involving Howard as the quality of the technology improved.[3] Because multiple puppeteers where in charge of controlling different parts of the animatronic body, Huyck was unable to coordinate the shoot properly.[3] In the opening sequence, Howard's chair is propelled out of his apartment by wires, which were later digitally erased by computer, an effect that was uncommon in 1986.[3] The effect of the feathers on Howard's head becoming erect during the love sequence took months to prepare.[3]

The voice of Howard, Chip Zien, was not cast until after shooting completed. Because Ed Gale's voice was difficult to hear when he wore his suit, Huyck ordered Gale to perform his scenes without speaking any of the required dialogue, which was later synchronized during the editing process.[3][7] Lead puppeteer Tim Rose was given a microphone attached to a small speaker, which would allow Rose to speak the dialogue in order to help the actors respond to Howard's dialogue.[7] While wearing his suit, Gale could only see through Howard's mouth, and had to sense his location without proper eyesight. Gale often had to walk backwards before beginning rehearsals.[7] In between takes, a hair dryer was stuffed in Howard's bill in order to keep Gale cool.[3] Gale taped two of his fingers together in order to wear the three-fingered hands created for the Howard costume.[9] A total of six actors gave physical performances as Howard.[10]

Makeup artists Tom Burman and Bari Dreiband-Burman and actor Jeffrey Jones discussed the appearance of the Dark Overlord character with Huyck and Katz, and developed the character's progressing looks.[3] When Katz's daughter visited the set during the shoot, she was terrified by Jones' appearance in makeup.[3] The diner sequence combines practical effects, including squibs and air cannons, with visual effects created by ILM.[3] Sound designer Ben Burtt created the voice of the Dark Overlord by altering Jeffrey Jones' voice as his character transformed.[11] Stop motion effects during the climax were designed by Phil Tippett, who began with a clay model before upgrading to more sophisticated pieces.[3]


After auditioning a number of actresses, singers and models for the role of Beverly, Lea Thompson was cast in the role, because of her appearance in Back to the Future.[3] Thompson purchased clothing from thrift stores because she wanted to appear at the audition as "a cross between Madonna and Cyndi Lauper."[7] During the shoot, Thompson complained that the filmmakers chose to shoot Howard's closeup before hers.[7] Thompson also states that she regrets not wearing a wig, as her hairstyle took two hours a day to prepare.[7] Jeffrey Jones was cast because of his performance in Amadeus.[3] Although Tim Robbins had not appeared in many films, Huyck and Katz were confident that he was right for the part.[3]

In order to play the physical role of Howard, Huyck and Katz held casting calls with little person actors, eventually casting a child actor and hiring Ed Gale, who had been rejected because he was too tall for the role, to perform stunts and portray the role during evening shoots.[7] The child actor found the shooting conditions to be too difficult to handle,[3] and the film's editors were unable to match day and evening sequences because of the difference in the two portrayals.[7] Because Gale also served as an understudy, he took over the role.[3][7]

After the film was completed, Huyck and Katz auditioned John Cusack and Martin Short for the voice of Howard, eventually casting Chip Zien, because they felt his gravelly voice worked well for the part.[11] Because Howard's voice was not cast until the film had begun editing, synchronization was extremely difficult.[11]


The film's score was written by John Barry. Thomas Dolby wrote the film's songs, and chose the members of Cherry Bomb.[3] Actress Lea Thompson performed her own singing for the role, although she states that the filmmakers were unsure as to whether they would keep her vocals in the final film.[7] Thompson was required to learn choreography with the band and record the songs so that they could be synchronized during filming.[7] The final sequence, in which Cherry Bomb performs the film's title song, was shot in front of a live audience in an auditorium in San Francisco. The song was cowritten by Dolby and George Clinton.[3] Gale was choreographed to dance and play guitar as Howard.[7] Dolby built a special guitar for Gale to rehearse and film with.[7]

Release and response

The six actors who gave physical performances as Howard received a Razzie Award for "Worst New Star".[10] The appearance of Howard was generally seen as being unconvincing.[12][13]

When the film was screened for Universal, Katz said that the studio's executives left without commenting on the film.[11] Screenings for test audiences were met with mixed response.[11] The film grossed $US10 million in rentals in the USA.[2] Rumors suggested that Universal production heads Frank Price and Sidney Sheinberg engaged in a fistfight after arguing over who was to blame for greenlighting the film. Both executives denied the rumors.[1][6] News reports speculated that one or both would be fired by MCA chairman Lew Wasserman.[1] Price soon left the studio, and was succeeded by Tom Pollack. The September 17, 1986 issue of Variety attributed Price's departure to the failure of the film, even though he had not approved the film's production.[6] Following the film's failure, Huyck and Katz left for Hawaii and refused to read reviews of the film.[11] The negative reaction to the film had a difficult effect on the cast, who found themselves unable to work on other projects because of the film.[9]

Orange Coast Magazine writer Marc Weinberg and Leonard Maltin criticized the decision to shoot the film in live action.[14][15] Maltin described the film as a "hopeless mess".[15] The appearance of Howard was criticized as being unconvincing.[12][13] In The Psychotronic Video Guide, Michael Weldon described the reactions to Howard as being inconsistent, and that "It was obviously made in LA and suffers from long, boring chase scenes", but praises the stop motion special effects in the film's final sequences.[16] Film website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 16%.[17] The film received four Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star, Worst Visual Effects and Worst Picture, tied with Under the Cherry Moon.[10]

According to Ed Gale, he was hired to work on Spaceballs because Mel Brooks had stood up and said "Anybody who's in Howard the Duck can be in my movie."[9] Huyck and Katz continued to work after the film's failure, and chose to work on more dramatic projects in order to separate themselves from Howard the Duck.[9] Katz states that Lucas continued to support the film after its failure, because he felt it would later be seen in a better light than it had been at the time of its release.[9] Huyck states that he later encountered fans and supporters of the film who felt that it had been unfairly treated by critics.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Matthews, Jack (1998). The Battle of Brazil. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 158. ISBN 1557833478. 
  2. ^ a b Lewis, Jon (1998). "The "Film Generation"". The New American Cinema. Duke University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0822321157. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Huyck, Willard; Katz, Gloria. (2009) (documentary). A Look Back at Howard the Duck. [DVD]. Universal Home Video. ISBN 025195052306. 
  4. ^ Shone, Tom (2004). Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Summer. Simon and Schuster. p. 136. ISBN 0743235681. 
  5. ^ Sharp, Kathleen (2004). "Safeguarding the Legacy: 1981-2002". Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood: Edie and Lew Wasserman and Their Entertainment Empire. Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. 451. ISBN 0786714190. 
  6. ^ a b c Dick, Bernard F. (1997). "In the Embrace of the Octopus". City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures. University Press of Kentucky isbn=0813120160. p. 178. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Thompson, Lea; Jones, Jeffry; Gale, Ed. (2009) (documentary). A Look Back at Howard the Duck. [DVD]. Universal Home Video. ISBN 025195052306. 
  8. ^ a b Tom, Stempel (2000). "Alumni". Framework: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film. Syracuse University Press. p. 207. ISBN 0815606540. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Thompson, Lea; Jones, Jeffry; Gale, Ed. (2009) (documentary). Releasing the Duck. [DVD]. Universal Home Video. ISBN 025195052306. 
  10. ^ a b c Wilson, John. "1986 Archive". Golden Raspberry Award. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Huyck, Willard; Katz, Gloria. (2009) (documentary). Releasing the Duck. [DVD]. Universal Home Video. ISBN 025195052306. 
  12. ^ a b Stanley, John (2000). Creature Features: The Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Movie Guide. Berkley Boulevard Books. p. 253. ISBN 0425175170. "For one, the duck costume and makeup are phony — Howard looks like a midget in a Halloween costume." 
  13. ^ a b Hunter, Lew (2004). "Nothing in the Mind, Please". Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434: The Industry's Premier Teacher Reveals the Secrets of the Successful Screenplay. Perigee. p. 21. ISBN 0399529861. "Because we all know what a duck looks like, Lucas could not get an audience to suspend their belief that Howard was a little person in a duck suit." 
  14. ^ Weinberg, Marc (September 1986). "Out-Foxed". Orange Coast Magazine 12 (9): 143–144. 
  15. ^ a b Maltin, Leonard (2008). "H". Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide. Penguin Group. p. 641. ISBN 0452289785. 
  16. ^ Weldon, Michael (1996). "H". The Psychotronic Video Guide. 0312131496. p. 277. ISBN 0312131496. 
  17. ^ "Tomatometer for Howard the Duck". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 

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