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Robert Altman
Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston
Writing Credits:
Jules Feiffer

The adventures of the famous sailor man and his friends in the seaside town of Sweethaven.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $14.99
Release Date: 12/1/2020

• “Return to Sweethaven” Featurette
• “The Popeye Company Players” Featurette
• “Popeye’s Premiere” Featurette
• “The Sailor Man Medleys” Song Access
• Trailer


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Popeye [Blu-Ray] (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 24, 2018)

40 years after the fact, the concept of “Robert Altman’s Popeye” continues to sound odd. Maybe it’s not quite as weird as “Francois Truffault’s Bazooka Joe” or “Stanley Kubrick’s Little Lulu”, but the idea of Altman shooting a film based on a cartoon character did – and still does – seem funky.

In the back of my head, I recalled Popeye as a total flop, but based on the stats, I remembered incorrectly. With a budget of $20 million, it took in $49 million at the US box office.

That didn’t make it a smash, and since the studio touted it as a big flick for the Christmas season, it became a disappointment. Still, it made money, even though I think the critics largely savaged it.

Altman’s take on Popeye apparently reflects the original comic strip rather than the better-known animated shorts. Altman makes sure we know this from minute one; Popeye starts with the traditional opening from the Max Fleischer shorts except that the title character declares he’s in the wrong film.

From there we receive an introduction to the quirky seaside burg of Sweethaven. Popeye the sailor man (Robin Williams) comes into town but receives a very chilly reception from the locals. He arrives there to find his long-lost Pappy, and he rents a room from the Oyl family.

There he meets Olive (Shelley Duvall), a stringbean about to become engaged to local leader Bluto (Paul L. Smith). Popeye and Olive react antagonistically toward each other, though we all know where matters will eventually lead.

At their engagement party, Olive rethinks her decision to marry the brutish Bluto and she flees her home. Along the way she bumps into Popeye, and while they chat, they find a basket with a baby in it. They take in the child as their own and name him Swee’ Pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt).

After Olive jilts Bluto, he uses his authority to tax the Oyls to an extreme. This leaves them almost without a home, so her brother Castor (Donovan Scott) enters a boxing match.

If he wins, they’ll get a tax holiday and big prize money. Castor gets walloped, so the freakishly strong Popeye takes over for him and saves the Oyls.

All seems to be well until the gluttonous Wimpy (Paul Dooley) takes the seemingly psychic Swee’ Pea with him to bet on the races. During some confusion, the boy gets kidnapped.

Popeye, Olive and the others need to find him and confront the predictable culprit. Along the way, Popeye just might find out what the heck happened to his Pappy (Ray Walston).

The question will be if anyone cares what happens to Popeye, Swee’ Pea, Olive, Pappy or any of the others in this mess. Despite its reputation, I recalled positive feelings toward Popeye. Granted, I was 13 at the time, but as I remember, I liked it back then.

Unfortunately, those warm emotions quickly evaporated when this clunker entered my Blu-ray player. Could the producers possibly have found a worse choice than Altman to direct this thing?

I could see a Spielberg or a Zemeckis making something of the cartoon action, but Altman clearly had no clue how to bring the quirky world of Popeye to life. Instead, he substitutes forced whimsy for actual humor or charm.

I knew I was in for a long ride when I saw the wacky character who spends the whole movie attempting to pick up his hat, as instead, he constantly kicks it a few feet in from of him. The whole town of Sweethaven feels like a refuge for circus acts – and lame ones at that.

Though never advertised as such, Popeye actually offers a musical, and quite possibly the crummiest one ever filmed. Okay, that seems a little strong, but I have to wonder how much time composer Harry Nilsson put into the simplistic songs.

With titles like “He’s Large”, “I’m Mean”, and “Everything is Food”, it sounds as though Nilsson spent a good 15 to 20 minutes on the material. Some may argue that a movie based on a cartoon should feature basic tunes like these, but I think the songs of Popeye take things too far.

The fact that Altman really comes to depend on the musical numbers after a while doesn’t help matters, and the final act feels padded with all the lame production pieces. At least the last third vaguely attempts a plot, as the preceding parts of the movie simply present silly escapades connected by no apparent theme.

Not everything about Popeye is bad, and at least most of the actors give it their best shot. Their performances don’t help make the movie watchable, but I guess that the flick could have been worse in theory.

However, only in theory could this movie seem less amusing, charming or entertaining. A thorough dud, Popeye offers a terrible piece of work.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B+ / Bonus C

Popeye appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie often looked terrific.

Sharpness worked very well. From start to finish, the film boasted solid delineation, with hardly a soft spot along the way.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, and I saw no edge haloes. Because the flick brought a nice layer of grain, I didn’t suspect problematic use of noise reduction, and print flaws remained minor. A handful of small specks popped up, but the vast majority of the flick looked clean

The palette of Popeye could reflect the dinginess of Sweethaven, but the cartoony palette often leapt to life, and it did so in a vivid manner when appropriate. That meant color that often appeared vivid an full.

Black levels looked dense and deep, and low-light scenes presented good accuracy and clarity. Without the small array of specks, this would’ve been an “A”-level image, as it looked great most of the time.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of Popeye worked surprisingly well, and the soundfield seemed broad and involving. Music showed fine stereo separation and imaging for both the songs and the score.

Effects appeared accurately placed across the front spectrum, and they meshed together cleanly. The track also involved a smattering of localized speech, and some of those occasions worked nicely, such as the scene in which Popeye walked from left to right and his voice moved smoothly along with him.

Overall, the track created a good sense of atmosphere, and some of the cartoonier bits came to life well. Fights offered nice elements from the side, and a few scenes brought the surrounds into the action as well.

The rear speakers didn’t play a major role in the proceedings, but they were more active than I expected for a film of this vintage. Music provided most of the elements from the surrounds, but a few sequences brought the back channels into the film. I even noticed a little split-surround material, such as when a character flew from the front to the rear right.

Audio quality mostly sounded fine. Probably the track’s biggest weakness stemmed from a preponderance of bad dubbing.

From what I understand, most of Williams’ original dialogue was inaudible as recorded, so he needed to do a massive amount of looping. This fact became abundantly clear as I watched the movie, for Williams’ lines often blended poorly with the action.

Some other dialogue – mostly Bluto’s – also demonstrated weak dubbing, but otherwise the speech seemed reasonably natural. I noticed no issues due to intelligibility or edginess.

The rest of the track was quite good. Some light distortion greeted a few effects, but they mostly sounded acceptably accurate and distinctive.

Bass response worked really well on some occasions, such as Bluto’s roar of anger when Olive jilted him. Not only did that bellow fill all five speakers nicely, but also it rocked my subwoofer with surprising vigor.

Music seemed clean and vibrant and also showed pretty nice range. Although the audio of Popeye didn’t match up with modern tracks, it seemed very good for its age, so I gave it a “B+”.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 2003? The BD”s lossless audio showed similar scope but it displayed stronger range and impact.

As for the visuals, the old DVD looked good for the format, but the Blu-ray clearly topped it. This disc brought superior definition and colors, and it also lost most of the modest print flaws of the DVD. Expect a nice upgrade here.

No extras appeared on that old DVD, but a few pieces arrive on the Blu-ray, and we start with Return to Sweethaven, a 13-minute, 29-second reel. It brings comments from director Robert Altman, prop master Stephen Altman, and actor Robin Williams. While Stephen’s comments come from 2020, Robert’s stem from 1999 and Williams’ from 2014.

“Return” covers the adaptation of the source, visual design and makeup, music, sets and locations, and the movie’s release/reception. It’s too bad we don’t hear from a broader array of participants, but we get a decent mix of notes here.

The Popeye Company Players runs nine minutes, 34 seconds and features Robert Altman, Williams and Stephen Altman. As expected, we get thoughts about cast and performances. This becomes another enjoyable piece but also one that could use additional perspectives.

Next comes Popeye’s Premiere, a two-minute, 40-second reel that offers stills from the December 6, 1980 opening. It becomes a good compilation of stills, though it could use text to identify the participants, as many celebs now seem tough to recall and name.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we finish with The Sailor Man Medleys. This simply allows you to go straight to any of the movie’s 12 musical numbers, and you can also choose “Play All” to watch them as one big package. This does nothing for me, but fans may enjoy it.

How could so many talented people make a movie as genuinely atrocious as Popeye? That question will remain a mystery, so we find ourselves left with a nearly unwatchable movie. The Blu-ray brings strong picture and audio along with a handful of bonus features. While I find don’t care for the movie, fans will feel delighted with its excellent presentation on this Blu-ray.

To rate this film visit the original review of POPEYE

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