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HOWARD, RON
(1954– ). American director and actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Directed: Splash (1984); Cocoon (1985); Willow (1988); Apollo 13 (1995).

Directed and produced: Through the Magic Pyramid (tv movie) (1981); Ed TV (1999); How the Grinch Stole Christmas (and appeared in, uncredited) (2000); The Da Vinci Code (2006); Angels & Demons (2009).

Produced: From the Earth to the Moon (tv miniseries) (1998); The PJs (animated tv series) (1999-2000); Curious George (animated) (Matthew O'Callaghan 2006); Curious George (animated tv series) (2006-2010); Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey! (animated) (Norton Virgien 2009); Cowboys and Aliens (Jon FAVREAU 2011).

Acted in: "Walking Distance" (1959), episode of The Twilight Zone;  The Music Man (Morton DaCosta 1962);  Village of the Giants (Bert I. GORDON 1965); "Genius at Work" (1969), episode of Land of the Giants; Locusts (tv movie) (Richard T. Heffron 1974);  "My Favorite Orkan" (1978), episode of Happy Days.

Provided voice for animation: "When You Dish upon a Star" (1998), "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder" (1999) (animated; voice), episodes of The Simpsons; Osmosis Jones (Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly 2001).

Appeared in documentaries: NBC Salutes the 25th Anniversary of the Wonderful World of Disney (Art Fisher 1978); Willow—The Making of an Adventure (1988); The Magical World of Chuck Jones (George Daughterly 1992); George Lucas: Heroes, Myth, and Magic (Jane Paley and Larry Price 1993); Frank Capra's American Dream (Kenneth Bowser 1997);"Behind the Scenes: The Making of From the Earth to the Moon (1998), episode of HBO First Look; From Star Wars to Star Wars: The Story of Industrial Light and Magic (Jon Kroll 1999); "The Films of Roger Corman," "The Films of Ron Howard" (1999), episodes of The Directors; Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens, a Life in Animation (Margaret Selby 2000); Making a "Splash" (Barbara Toennies 2004); Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible (Leslie Iwerks 2010); Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (Alex Stapleton 2011).

 
In the beginning, little Ronny Howard was only one of the innumerable child actors who were very much in demand during the era when every television hour was a family hour, really no better or worse than the rest (does anyone remember Flip Mark?)—but he was lucky enough to land a steady role on a long-running television series, The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968), where the homespun star's popularity allowed him to remain employed, and keep improving his acting skills, as he matured, so that unlike other former child actors, he could still get jobs after the series ended. However, by the 1970s, the bright young lad who had twice been cast as a "genius" (in Bert I. GORDON's risible Village of the Giants and an episode of Irwin ALLEN's Land of the Giants) could not have felt secure about his future as an actor, despite high-profile performances in George LUCAS's American Graffiti (1973) and another long-running series, Happy Days (1974-1984) (where, among other milestones, he witnessed the first appearance of Robin WILLIAMS as the alien Mork). For Howard surely recognized that he was once again depending upon charismatic co-stars (like Harrison FORD, Richard Dreyfuss, and Henry Winkler) whose prospects for long-term success were far greater than his. So, wishing to remain in the comfortable soundstage environment that had been his home for the greater part of his life, and lacking the technical skills for other behind-the-scenes roles, Howard decided to become a director.

At least, I am assuming that is why he became a director, because there is no other visible reason for this career choice. Schooled by French film critics, we now prefer to regard directors as auteurs, who make films in order to explore certain subjects and themes that are personally important to them. And, despite the pressures of big-budget film production, many contemporary directors who make such films—like David CRONENBERG, Brian DE PALMA, Stanley KUBRICK, and Martin Scorsese—have forged careers that fit that description. But there are no such patterns to discern in Howard's directorial career. Rather, these are clearly his only priorities: first, to make as many different sorts of films as possible; second, to make every one of his films as financially successful as possible; and third, to ensure that, by demonstrating his versatility and reliable ability to make profitable films, he will always be able to get more directing jobs. In other words, Howard directs films solely in order to direct films.

This is not to say that Howard came into directing completely without relevant talents: feeling comfortable in the strange milieu of filmmaking is an asset in itself, and the man manifestly works hard to maintain an array of valuable connections and oversee the many complexities of film production in a maddeningly stressful industry. But what George Bush the Elder so memorably referred to as "the vision thing" is important too, and that is what is so lacking in Howard's films.

A survey of his remarkably inchoate career: after Roger CORMAN gave him his first directing job, the forgotten Eat My Dust (1978), Howard began to specialize in making mediocre science fiction and fantasy films—surely not due to any special interest in the genres, but solely because, in the post-Star Wars era, such films were regarded as probable money-makers. Nobody noticed Through the Magic Pyramid, a harmless children's adventure about travelling back in time to the age of King Tutankhamen, but his next venture into the fantastic made more of a Splash.... Inexplicably, one must add, for despite skillful comic performances by Tom HANKS and John Candy, the film was only sporadically funny, and it first displayed a characteristic Howard weakness—a clumsy, overlong conclusion, as if reflecting Howard's reluctance to abandon this film and begin the search for another project to keep him on the set. Cocoon was more palatable, not because of Howard's unique panache, but because the presence of so many veteran performers managed to balance the film's egregious sentimentality with a special sort of gravitas. As for the weakling Willow, all that it proved was that its creator George Lucas was indeed slipping, that Val KILMER didn't have what it takes to be a star, and that classic heroic fantasy for some reason just doesn't work on the big screen.

However, the successful comedy Night Shift (1982) was an early sign that Howard didn't want to be regarded as overly specialized, and pondering his long-term future, and recognizing that trends in Hollywood are constantly shifting, Howard spent his next seven years strengthening his résumé by branching out into other genres, with uneven results: family comedy (Parenthood [1989]), realistic dramas (Backdraft [1991], The Paper [1994]) and historical epics (Far and Away [1992]). However, he drifted back in the direction of science fiction with Apollo 13, where an idiot-proof true-life dramatic story proved to be actually idiot-proof; still, one might have hoped for a film that attempted to probe, or even reflected an interest in, the real reasons why men want to become astronauts. Then, after a stumble of sorts with Ed TV (overshadowed by the similar, and superior, The Truman Show [1998]), Howard scored another huge success with How the Grinch Stole Christmas.... Inexplicably, since one must go back to Steven SPIELBERG's infamous Hook (1991) to find a more club-footed, artless exercise in whimsy. It is a film filled with funny lines that don't make you laugh, impressive special effects that don't impress you, and a charming story that never charms you; a film so obsessed with its own contrived back-story that it utterly ruins Dr. Seuss's simple fable and stumbles to a unsatisfactory halt, diminishing any emotional impact it might have had by spending more time tying up its inane loose ends than celebrating the Christmas spirit. However, aided by a massive promotional campaign to drive audiences into theaters, Ronny Howard ended up getting exactly the Christmas present he hoped for—a profitable hit, leading to another big directing assignment to keep him home (on the set) for future holidays.

Indeed, Howard followed that undeserved triumph with a string of well-executed but unadventurous dramas that were both financial and critical successes, including two adaptations of Dan Brown best-sellers, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, of moderate genre interest, while also dabbling in producing some generously unmemorable films like Curious George and Cowboys and Aliens. But it remains hard to anticipate any films from this director that reflect any sort of directorial personality, only more slickly produced crowd-pleasers that scores of other directors could have done just as well. If there is anything in this man's career to look forward to, it lies in the fact that he has never entirely abandoned acting, and has proven to be an amiable presence in venues like the reunion film Return to Mayberry (1986) and as a voice for animated films. Noting that other aging directors like Sydney Pollack shifted to successful acting careers, one might hope that some of Howard's many Hollywood friends might start offering him small roles in their films and encourage him to again seek employment mostly in the place where, arguably, he has always belonged: in front of the camera, not behind it.

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