Anyone who was a child or adolescent during the 1980's probably has fond memories of at least one movie that George Lucas had some involvement in. Of course there's the Star Wars and Indiana Jones Trilogies. Then there are the classic fantasy films Willow and Labyrinth. And he also helped bring us the animated series that just refuses to die, The Land Before Time. All of these films are great, and the mere mention of them instantly floods this writer's mind with nostalgic memories. There is one film that Lucas produced, however, that is as infamous as it is famous. A film that is as polarizing (if not moreso) than Lucas's new Star Wars movies. Esteemed critic Leonard Maltin called it "a hopeless mess." George Lucas himself went as far as to disown it. The film I'm referring to is of course the legendary flop and cult classic, Howard the Duck.
The film opens with shots of a world not unlike our own; the biggest difference being that this world is inhabited by anthropomorphic ducks. In a masterstroke of cleverness, the planet is named Duckworld. Everything else is pretty much the same. And I do mean EVERYTHING. It'd be a fool's errand to apply any sort of logic to this movie, however only a moment's thought really makes you wonder how a planet where ducks are the dominant species could be anything like our own. That's a really minor qualm, and it's forgivable in light of what's to come. We are introduced to Howard, just a regular guy... er duck..., who is about to enjoy a beer in his favorite recliner. All of a sudden, he is mysteriously ripped from his apartment. As his recliner races through the halls of his apartment building, we are treated to a visual that was inserted into the movie for the sole purpose of making men feel awkward- a bathing female duck with a decent rack. As a child I wondered why the duck had nipples, and as an adult I wonder... other things. Anyway, Howard is transported all the way to Earth (Cleveland to be precise) circa 1986.
Upon landing, Howard is assailed by what appears to be an A Flock of Seagulls cover band and then walks around Cleveland; surprisingly, he does so without getting mauled by a dog. Howard is eventually taken in by rock singer Beverly (portrayed by a hot, 25 year old Lea Thompson) after he saves her from a record contract that's leading her to Nowheresville. His good deeds and overall humanity help her overcome the fact that he's a freakin' talking duck. I don't know about you, but in the days before CGI and Geico commercials, a three foot tall, talking duck would've scared the bejesus out of me, no matter how much of a winning personality it had. I digress.
Beverly introduces Howard to Phil Blumbertt, (Tim Robbins in a role I'm almost positive he doesn't speak of) a stereotypical dork who tries to speak to Howard in quacks. Why he would attempt to do this is beyond me. He knows he doesn't speak duck. And seriously, if you knew you could communicate with ducks, wouldn't you be making a fortune doing it on TV or at a zoo or something? I know I would.
Howard attempts to adjust to life on Earth, and the film delivers us yet another horribly awkward sequence. After getting into another scuffle (which he wins by threating his assailants with some sort of space bird flu), Howard and Beverly retire to her apartment. Howard shows off his keyboard skills by playing a song that only a failing, wannabe, 1980s rock star would be impressed by. Beverly, despite being gorgeous, is obviously sex starved to the point where beastiality is a viable option. So, she invites Howard into her bed, begins to undress him and tells him he's got "animal magnetism." Even Howard finds this unnatural, but goes along with it probably so he can go back and tell his buddies how he scored some human tail. The scene is mercifully interrupted by Phil and his scientist buddies who are all fascinated by Howard. One of which is Dr. Jennings (played by pederast Jeffery Jones) who thinks he knows how Howard got to Earth.
Jennings apparently created a space teleportation laser thingy, and said laser thingy transported Howard to Earth. So, in an effort to set things right, Jennings attempts to send Howard back and end this flick before it gets any worse. Unfortunately for Jennings, his machine has it out for him and transports a Dark Overlord of the Universe (aka a space scorpion) to Earth. We don't see it, though, because it inhabits Dr. Jennings' body and slowly turns him into Dr. Wily from the MegaMan games.
Howard, Bev and the gang have a run in with the authorities, and are involved in a slightly amusing fiasco at a diner that involves the Doctor's developing Dark Overlord powers (i.e. shooting lightning bolts) and persona (pretty much a ripoff of Dana Barrett from Ghostbusters when she's possessed by Zuul). The new Dark Overlord Jennings is set on using his teleportation laser thingy to bring more of his kind to Earth. So, he kidnaps Beverly and heads for his laboratory. Howard and Phil are hot on their heels, however, forcing us to put up with a crappy hang-glider chase.
The pair reaches the lab just as Jennings is preparing to bring another Overlord to Earth, with the intention of having it possess Beverly. Phil breaks out a sweet raygun, and mounts it onto a six-wheeled golf cart.
The final showdown ensues, and if the prospect of watching an old man with lightning powers face off against a duck in a gun-toting golf cart sounds atrocious to you, that's because it is. Luckily, the raygun is able separate the Overlord from Jennings; on the flip side, now there's a giant scorpion running about. Seriously, of all the creatures from all the Lucasfilm movies, this thing is the worst. Imagine Return of the Jedi's Rancor. Now, imagine it with Down Syndrome. Still with me? Okay, now give it a scorpion's body. Finally, dump a bag of feces on it.
Howard defeats the monster, but unfortunately has to destroy the teleportation device to keep more from coming to Earth. Poor lil' guy will never go back to Duckworld. Oh well, Beverly's rock career takes off, and Howard is in the band. Plus, they find a way overlook the horrific implications of a relationship and hook up. Oh, and Phil gets a job backstage. Jennings was probably taken to jail for all the stuff he did while he was possessed. And for the paederasty. I love happy endings.
Yeah, so this movie is pretty much horrible in retrospect. However, let me point out that if I had written this article twenty years ago, it would've been titled "The Most Awesome Movie Ever, Period." It certainly deserves a place in the cult classic pantheon, and even though I make fun of it, I've come to appreciate it's corny attempts at humor and overall weirdness. If you haven't seen Howard the Duck since you were a kid, it's worth revisiting; if you've never seen it, I'd recommend you do so just so you don't feel left out when people talk about how bad it is.