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Popeye: 40th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

The 1980 live action adaptation of famous comic strip turned populated animated series Popeye from director Robert Altman starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall as the titular character and his girlfriend Olive Oyl arrives on Blu-ray for its 40th anniversary from Paramount. This film brought together a group of odd bedfellows in director Altman, stars Williams and Duvall, legendary producer Robert Evans and composer and lyricist Harry Nilsson for an off-kilter musical that followed the comic strip by E.C. Segar more than it did the animated series Max Fleischer, which made the film very different tonally than most people were used to or expecting. Add to this that it was a musical with rather strange and at-times purposely oddly sung melodies (see the favorite “He Needs Me” which was later used by Paul Thomas Anderson in Punch-Drunk Love) and the film just didn’t sit well with audiences. The story took place in the seaside town of Sweethaven where Popeye the Sailorman arrives in search of his estranged father, meets and quickly falls for the lanky Olive Oyl, and gets into a rivalry for her affections with the husky Bluto (Paul Smith). Popeye and Olive find Swee’ Pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt), an adorable baby that brings the two of them together as surrogate parents as Popeye eventually finds someone, he believes may be is father.

Altman’s style is on full display throughout this film, the dense framing, the overlapping dialogue, the natural looking lighting. His style doesn’t quite translate as well here as it did in films like MASH or McCabe & Mrs. Miller where the grittiness and cluttered dialogue and settings were an addition to the realism. Popeye being a comic strip and animated series needed to be elevated out of the world of realism a bit more, particularly with Robin Williams going around with the beefy prosthetic forearms that definitely play better on the page or animated cell than in live action.  Still, the film is not all terrible. There’s some good comedy gold to be found, and how couldn’t there be with Williams in the lead? There is a combination of physical gags and improvisation and odd turns of phrase combined with Williams’ uncanny ability to do the Popeye mumble and not make it completely annoying. Of course, there are also some good musical performances thrown in here and there as well. This is a strange mix of a film and still not one of Altman’s –or any of the big names involved in it – best, but one that is definitely ready for a reexamination.

The Video

Popeye comes to Blu-ray for the first time in an AVC 1080p encodement framed at 2.39:1. It doesn’t seem to be a brand-new restoration (this has been available in HD digitally), it does look great on Blu-ray absent all the issues with streaming like banding and compression noise. If you look very closely you can spot the slightest bits of some source damage, but it is for the most part, really clean with great detail and good ‘pop’ in the primary colors. Olive Oyl’s read blouse and Popeye’s blonde hair really stand out. The film has an odd way of sort of looking muted, but also looking really vibrant as well. Film grain is natural and not overwhelming. The biggest issue I saw was black crush in darker scenes. For example, during the “He Needs Me” performance, not only does Olive Oyl’s skirt and the background lose some clarity, but Popeye’s coat loses a lot of finer detail in the dark, even when there is a little light shone on him. That said, and I don’t normally like to generalize, but I have found that many Paramount titles really do push the black levels down to the depths, on Blu-ray and 4K.

The Audio

Popeye gets a lossless English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix on Blu-ray that places a lot of lush atmospherics in the surrounds, provides clean dialogue and vocals, natural dynamic range, and beautiful airy soundstage for the musical numbers. It really works.

The Supplements

A good selection of featurettes that contain relatively recent interviews with Robin Williams and other members of the cast and crew, including Robert Altman. They include some interesting trivia on the film and its production.

  • Digital Copy Code
  • Return to Sweethaven: A Look Back with Robin and the Altmans (1080p; 00:13:28)
  • The Popeye Company Players (1080p; 00:09:34)
  • Popeye’s Premiere (1080p; 00:02:40)
  • The Sailor Man Medleys – Play the songs from the film directly÷
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p)

The Final Assessment

An excellent release on Blu-ray of this long maligned but still fun to watch film. It looks great on Blu-ray and provides the perfect in to give this film another opportunity.

Popeye: 40th Anniversary Edition is out on Blu-ray December 1, 2020 from Paramount



  • Rating Certificate:PG
  • Studios & Distributors: Paramount Pictures | Walt Disney Productions | Robert Evans Company | Paramount Home Entertainment
  • Director: Robert Altman
  • Written By: Jules Feiffer (screenplay) | E.C. Segar (based on characters by)
  • Run Time: 113 Mins.
  • Street Date: 1 December 2020
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • Secondary Audio: English DD 2.0
  • Subtitles: English | English SDH | French
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