Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Robert Altman's Popeye (1980) Paramount Blu Ray Review

Popeye (1980) Paramount Pictures 12/1/2020

Directed By: Robert Altman 

Starring: Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Paul L Smith, Ray Walston, Paul Dooley 


Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    I seriously never thought we would get a brand-spanking new HD version of Robert Altman's Popeye (1980). The film has gained a loyal cult following  Why? Maybe it's because it remains an oddity in Altman's career? Or, maybe it's the endearing Robin Williams performance? Maybe it's how perfectly cast Shelley Duvall is as Olive Oil. Whatever the reason this wild colorful film has found a new audience. The movie starts out with the old introduction that would proceed every Popeye cartoon in the '30's-'40's with an animated Popeye making a nice fourth wall breaking joke about being in the wrong movie. It's worth mentioning they got the original voice actor Jack Mercer to voices Popeye in this brief scene. I already loved this being a big fan of the Fleischer cartoons. Thus starts our strange voyage. The plot sees  a sailor Popeye (Robin Williams) drift into the town of Sweethaven where he meets Olive Oil (Shelley Duvall) and of course, the big brute Bluto (Paul L. Smith) in his wild re-telling of the classic cartoon series. 

     So, part of the reason why I wanted to review this besides being a Altman fan and a huge fan of Robin Williams, was that I recall liking this a lot as a kid, but, remember very little about it. Altman swings big here doing his best to capture the cartoon magic of Popeye in the '30's and '40's. In this I think he is incredibly successful and, as a big fan of the original cartoons Williams portrayal of Popeye feels like he leaped right out of a old Max Fleischer animation and into his live-action world. Though, as a straight-forward narrative the film starts to enter some choppy seas as it feels more like a series of vignettes threaded together to form a plot. It also comes in at almost two hours and, even though I do enjoy this movie a lot I think it could have easily used a 20 minute or so trim. 

    Despite some short comings it was hard for me to not be dazzled at the films big bright colors, incredibly detailed set designs (not to mention being filmed in beautiful Malta) and of course that cast. When people talk about a perfectly cast film I think this movie deserves to be right up there with the best of them. Popeye marks Robin Williams first feature and, wow, he really nails this iconic character. From looking like him to the subtle mumbles facial expressions and movements, it's not hard to see Williams would be a comic genius (Yes, I realize he was already on Mork and Mindy prior). And, of course you have  Shelley Duvall as Olive Oil. Not only does Ms. Duvall look like the character but, like Williams really understands her mannerisms and brings her to life. Paul Dooley makes an amazing Wimpy and Paul L. Smith (which most horror fans will remember from the 1982 cult film Pieces) is stellar as Bluto.  Ray Walston and Donald Moffat (The Thing '82) round of a fantastic cast. It's also a movie that with its bright palate, big broad comedy and whimsy works for kids but Altman also works in content that adults will connect with as well. The film has its issues but as a cartoon fan it was a treat to watch such craftsmanship at work bringing this legendary character to vivid life. This movie is a musical which will turn some people off but I happened to think the tunes are solid. With a little research I found out that this film indeed did not bomb at the box office, having earned over 60 million on a 20 million budget and was critically praised. Hell, Roger Ebert even lavished the film with praise. So, how this movie got a bad reputation is beyond me, and it certainly did not hurt anybody's career. If you`ve slept on this film because of this rep I beg you to give it a try. It's not perfect but I was enthralled with this version. Set sail with this misunderstood Altman film which showcases the late great Robin Williams. 

Picture: Popeye turns 40 years old this year and I have to say I was very impressed by the look of the film. Grain level is very low and consistent throughout. The picture retains a lot of detail in costumes, textures and locales. This movie is a big bold cartoon come to life and boy, oh boy, does this look fantastic. The locations and sets really are done justice in this transfer. There are moments that look a bit on the blurry side but nothing that is remotely distracting, especially if you arent looking for it. Overall, a very nice presentation. 

Sound: Popeye's DTS 5.1 must have downed some spinach because, in my opinion it packs a big punch! Sound design and music are robust and adds to the overall experience. 

Extras:  For me, the real selling point of this disc is it's not a bare-bones release. This includes three  new featurettes Return to Sweethaven: A Look Back with Robin & The Altman's (13mins). This is a real gem featuring vintage interviews put together in this featurette. We hear from Robert Altman (filmed in 1999), Robin Williams (filmed in 2014) and Stephen Altman (prop master/Rob Altman's son) Hearing from Williams himself is amazing but also so bitter sweet. This is a really interesting peak into the making of the film as told by the cast/crew. 

The Popeye Company Players (9mins) A inside into the film with the prop master Stephen Altman (recorded this year for this feature) with vintage interviews from Robin Williams and Robert Altman about the cast and crew. 

Popeye's Premiere (2min) This 2 minute photo montage featuring what I'm assuming is some rare personal photos play out. A really nice touch and a great addition to this disc! The highlight is Dennis Christopher wearing a t-shirt for his movie Fade to Black (1980). Also Hugh Hefner for some reason. 

The Sailor Man Medleys- This really cool feature allows you to jump to a musical number in the film. That's a nice thing to provide. 

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