Popeye (1980) – Blu-ray Review

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Film Title: Popeye (1980)
Release Date: 2020
Rating: PG
Runtime: 113 minutes
Region Coding: Region Free
Distributor: Paramount
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Aspect Ratio(s): 2.39:1
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray
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Blu-ray Release Date: 12/1/20
Director: Robert Altman
Cast: Robin WilliamsShelley Duvall, Paul Dooley, Ray Walston, Paul L. Smith, Richard Libertini, Donald Moffat, Roberta Maxwell, MacIntyre Dixon, Donovan Scott, Bill Irwin

Jump to Sections:
| Video | Audio | Bonus | Closing | Screenshots
Full Blu-ray Tech Specs at bottom

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The Movie

“Popeye” was a 1980 comedic musical motion picture adaptation of the popular comics strip and cartoon character of the same name, which was originally created by E.C. Segar and first appeared in January of 1929. This 1980 film was made as a joint production venture between studios Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions. The movie was shot on location in Malta which added a whole lot of visual believability to a small coastal town, but more on that later.

The film adaptation was directed by Robert Altman, best known for directing the movies “MASH” (1970), “Brewster McCloud” (1970), “The Long Goodbye” (1973),  “Thieves Like Us” (1974), “Nashville” (1975), “Cookie’s Fortune” (1999), “Gosford Park” (2001), and “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006). The movie was produced by Robert Evans, who himself had quite a career. The screenplay to Popeye, the 1980 film adaptation, was written by the award-winning cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer. Feiffer is best known for writing the screenplays for the films “Carnal Knowledge” (1971) and “Little Murders” (1971).

The story here is by no means (at all) what you’ve come to expect from the original comic strip or those classic cartoons. However, it did its best to pay homage to those artistic styles and the characters. Keep in mind this is after all a full-on musical affair, very much, unlike the original short subject Popeye cartoons that most have grown accustomed to over the years. As we first are introduced to a Sailor Man named “Popeye” (Robin Williams) he’s just arrived at the harbor of a coastal town called Sweethaven. Immediately Popeye is greeted, or perhaps accosted would be the right word, by the local Taxman (Donald Moffat). This guy has a tax for everything you could possibly imagine there even being a tax for, and he’s doing it all in the name of a mysterious commodore that no one has ever seen.

The town is populated by a very skittish yet comical and colorful bunch of characters. When Popeye first arrives at the harbor they’re a bit afraid of a stranger and also afraid that “Bluto” (Paul L. Smith) might show up at any moment. Bluto is the second in command, to the commodore, in charge of the town of Sweethaven. In this iteration, Bluto is just as brutish as you’ll remember from the comic strip and cartoons and the people of the town have most certainly learned to fear the big obnoxious ox.

Meanwhile across town, there’s the “Oyl” family’s home where Popeye manages to find a room. There is where our favorite sailor man meets the mother “Nana Oyl” (Roberta Maxwell), father “Cole Oyl” (MacIntyre Dixon), son “Castor Oyl” (Donovan Scott), and most importantly the daughter “Olive Oyl” (Shelley Duvall). There are also some other familiar faces there and throughout town like “Wimpy” (Paul Dooley) and“Geezil” (Richard Libertini). Let’s just say you’ll see a few other familiar faces from the old Popeye comic strips and cartoons here in this film, but I won’t get too much into that to avoid dishing out “spoilers” and such. My further take on the movie itself can be found in the closing section of this review.

Movie Rating: 3 (out of 5)

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Video Quality

“Popeye” (1980) on its Blu-ray Disc debut is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. This movie was shot on 35mm film using the Technovision anamorphic cinematographic process — according to IMDb.

Next, let me get technical, for a bit, in regards to the Blu-ray Disc itself here. This release is using a BD-50 (50 gigabytes) disc, 41.58 gigabytes total, and 34.2 gigabytes for the film itself.

“(Well) Blow Me Down!” This looks downright excellent in HD (high definition) via this its debut to the Blu-ray format. I’m absolutely blown away by how good it looks. Seriously. This is a film now celebrating its 40th anniversary and is admittedly not the highest regarded of films but the folks at Paramount have done this pure and absolute justice visually. The transfer comes with a tad bit of dirt and such left behind, mostly seen during the opening credits, and I love that. There’s a very impressive amount of film grain left fully intact and I don’t think that any DNR (digital noise reduction) or other techniques have been applied. It feels like a true 1980 theatrical film presentation in your home, via HD, and has not been cleaned up too much. That’s something I wish we saw a lot more of on releases.

The color palette here is downright stunning, with the bright colors of Olive Oyl’s red dress and other wardrobe choices always standing out but never coming close to ever “bleeding” or feeling too bright or such. The black level is almost as solid as ink, pun intended here, and as a result, Olive’s dark black hair looks precisely how it should. The colors of Popeye’s most memorable outfit (pictured down a bit below) really feel as much cartoonish as they do realistic and it adds a lot to this. Flesh tones appear to be as accurate as SDR (standard dynamic range) will allow for on a Blu-ray Disc. Also, the amount of detail here is rather impressive and that is especially something you’ll see most certainly in some facial close-ups. Compression is sure not an issue here on the Blu-ray, as I actually saw this mostly run around 30Mbps to all the way in the 40Mbps range. Those are some pretty awesome bitrates for a Blu-ray Disc, folks.

All and all, “Popeye” (1980) was what it was and this Blu-ray makes for what is one very impressive HD presentation for the film and earns itself a very respectable 4.75 rating for video quality — for a film perhaps not the most highly respected. Regardless, the folks at Paramount have done a really good job here on the film’s debut to the Blu-ray Disc format.

Video Quality Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)

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Audio Quality

Audio on the Blu-ray Disc debut of “Popeye” (1980) comes in the form of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround mix, including a DTS 5.1 core for those not capable of fully decoding the lossless surround sound mix. There’s also a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track available for the purists out there who want to experience something close to the original Vistasonic Stereo sound mix the film received. Just realize that Dolby Digital is a lossy format though if you decide to opt for that 2.0 Stereo mix. I opted for the lossless 5.1 surround sound mix and that’s what I’ll be covering here.

Starting off here, it’s most certainly worth noting that this musical adaptation included the original songs (both music & lyrics) written by Harry Nilsson. The musical also featured further original music arranged & conducted by Van Dyke Parks and an additional score composed by Tom Pierson. This music sounds absolutely elegant now in this 5.1 lossless sound mix and gets a great amount of rear channel usage. The music is predominantly driven from the front channels and the vocals through the center channel speaker. The same goes for dialogue getting a spot-on precise delivery from the center channel. The music also makes some excellent use of the LFE which you’ll be feeling via the subwoofer all throughout this film, and the same goes for the sound effects.

This mix starts out during the opening credits coming at you with a nice bit of “oomph” and very nice rear channel usage for the sound of thunder and then you’ll feel the lightning strikes in the sky via the bass representation in the speakers as well as via LFE on the subwoofer. That’s just in the opening credits. The musical numbers feel larger than life as they should now and make great use of a 5.1 lossless mix. All the way the audio sounds crisp and clear for a 1980 film that comes from a stereo sound mix. It’s great to finally be able to hear a musical get the right treatment in terms of its sound mix when it gets a Blu-ray debut. That said, “Popeye” (1980) earns itself a surprisingly respectable 4.75 rating for audio quality.

Audio Quality Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)

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Bonus Materials

Bonus materials, on this release, are all presented in HD video quality with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound.

  • A Digital Copy (code) of the film is included via a paper insert. This is redeemable via AppleTV (iTunes), Vudu, and FandangoNow online services. The film redeemed for me in HD on AppleTV with iTunes extras of the bonus materials listed below.

The bonus materials that are on the Blu-ray Disc include:

  • “Return to Sweethaven: A Look Back With Robert And The Altmans” (13:29 – HD) features archival interviews with Robert Altman (director) from September 1999, and Robin Williams (Popeye) in one of his final interviews, from January 2014. There’s also a new interview, via video chat, with Stephen Altman (prop master & Robert Altman’s son) from July of this year (2020). All along the way, you get to see some beautiful high-resolution photographs from behind the scenes of the movie being made.
  • “The Popeye Company Players” (9:34 – HD) pays focus and tribute to the whole cast that made this film possible. Here you’ll get further archival interviews with Robert Altman (director) and Robin Williams (Popeye), as well as Stephen Altman (prop master) in a new interview. There’s also a lot more of the beautiful high-resolution photographs from behind the scenes of the movie being made thrown in here along the way. You get to learn here that Gilda Radner was one of the original casting choices for “Olive Oyl” but didn’t end up playing the part. Also, you’ll learn that Altman fought for Shelley Duvall to get the part. All of the other cast members are discussed as well, including the baby who played “Swee’pea” that just happened to be related to the director.
  • Popeye‘s Premiere” (2:40 – HD) is comprised of these beautiful high-resolution still photographs from the film’s original theatrical premiere.
  • The Sailor Man Medleys” (HD) allows you to go (skip) to each song in the film directly, similar to how the scenes menu’s chapters work. The songs included here are as follows:
    • “Sweethaven”
    • “Blow Me Down”
    • “Everything is Food”
    • “He’s Large”
    • “I’m Mean”
    • “Sailin'”
    • “I Yam What I Yam”
    • “He Needs Me”
    • “Swee’pea’s Lullaby”
    • “It’s Not Easy Being Me”
    • “Kids”
    • “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:53 – HD) looks pretty impressive to be from a 1980 film.

Overall the bonus materials here are impressive, even if they are rather short. You get two new featurettes that use both archival interviews from 1999 with the film’s director Robert Altman and one of the final interviews with Robin Williams from January 2014, as well as new (July 2020) interviews with Stephen Altman (prop master) who happens to be the son of the director. Then there’s a photo slideshow of the original theatrical premiere and the theatrical trailer (both in HD). You add all that up and you have almost 30 minutes of supplemental material. That alone should leave the fans of this film pleased. Plus, you even get a digital copy of the film.

Bonus Materials Rating: 2.75 (out of 5)

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Closing Thoughts

“Popeye” was considered a box-office flop — undeniably even by the late filmmaker (Robert Altman) and even by the late star (Robin Williams). However, the 1980 musical film adaptation of “Popeye” proved to find itself a cult-following on home video over the years. Plus, as more and more as Robin Williams, the star of this motion picture, become more and more of a household name and known for his other comedic roles people started to give the film a revisit or finally the first viewing.

Critics were harsh on this film during its original theatrical release and that played no doubt a part in how well it did upon its initial release. Still, though, the movie itself ended up making 49 million roughly at the box office worldwide according to Box Office Mojo and take into consideration that it reportedly had a budget of around 20 million. That might not have been a huge profit but I don’t think it was a complete loss. Plus, the film offered up unforgettable performances from Robin Williams as the cartoon character pretty much come to life (“Popeye”), Shelley Duvall (“Olive Oyl”), Paul Dooley (“Wimpy”), Paul L. Smith (“Bluto”), and Ray Walston (“Poopdeck Pappy”).

This is a movie that, admittedly, I only mildly liked growing up, as I was and I honestly still am more of a fan of the original cartoons. Now, however, I’ve come to really learn to appreciate the movie itself a whole lot more as I’ve become an adult and especially now that I am able to revisit it in HD. Popeye, even if it’s not the most respected of his work, also makes me truly miss and cherish the late great Robin Williams and what magic he could truly bring to any role he ever played on screen. Even this one!

In terms of video quality, this looks great. It’s wonderful to see that some visual imperfections have been left in and no alterations have been made to the original film print. It’s just a very impressive new scan that comes with a solid black level, bright colorful set pieces, and wardrobe, accurate flesh tones, and some very high bitrates for a Blu-ray. It looks really impressive and I’m glad that Paramount decided to do things this way.

In terms of audio quality, this is a musical after all and it manages to get a 5.1 lossless surround mix that makes full use of the original songs and music written by Harry Nilsson, as well as for the other original music composed for the film. Dialogue is precisely spot-on all through and you will not be having to make any volume adjustments here. Just sit back and behold. This is the best I’ve ever heard this film sound and I also never really imagined, honestly, that it could ever sound this exciting. The musical numbers finally really are able to grab you here, if you’re like me and do enjoy this film. Again, it is nice to see that Paramount did this right for the sound mix. Plus, there’s even a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix for those who are purists out there.

The bonus materials here include two new featurettes produced this year (2020). You’ll get to see some clips from one of the final interviews with Robin Williams here, along with archival interviews with the film’s director Robert Altman. Both the film’s lead actor and star have since passed away. Altman’s son also chimes in during some interviews and we get some beautiful photos from the original 1980 film premiere as well as the original theatrical trailer, both in HD. This all totals up to roughly around 30 minutes or so and proves to be a must-see for any fans of the film. Then there’s a feature to jump directly to each musical number (song) from the film instead of just the typical scenes (chapters) and also a digital copy of the film (in HD).

“Popeye” (1980) makes for an impressive debut to the Blu-ray Disc format with both very impressive video and audio presentations. The fans of this film, and especially those of the late Robin Williams, will be very pleased with this release. Paramount did this film justice and I’m happy to be able to say that.

In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
4.75 (out of 5) for video quality
4.75 (out of 5) for audio quality
2.75 (out of 5) for bonus materials

Overall Verdict:
“(Well) Blow Me Down!

Available As:

2020 Blu-ray Release

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Blu-ray Screenshots:


Blu-ray Technical Specifications:

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Exact Runtime: 1:53:57
Audio Format(s): English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (with a Dolby Digital 5.1 core), English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mobo
Language: English
Subtitles: English
Disc Size: BD-50
Disc Use: 41.58GB total / 34.2GB for the film