Category Archives: Movies based on Comic Books

Popeye (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He doesn’t like spinach.

Popeye (Robin Williams) is a sailor who travels to the seaside village of Sweet Haven in search of his long lost father (Ray Walston). It is there that he moves into the upstairs room of the Oyl residence and becomes attracted to their daughter Olive (Shelley Duvall). Olive though is engaged to the gruff Bluto (Paul L. Smith) whose bullying ways is giving Olive second thoughts. When she tries to leave town in order to avoid the impending marriage she meets Popeye and they get into a relationship while also coming upon an orphaned baby that they name Swee’pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt), but Bluto becomes determined to destroy their union by kidnapping the child.

I remember watching the Popeye cartoons growing up and while I was never much of a fan this film version fails to replicate the original storylines. In the cartoons the relationship between Olive and Popeye seemed in constant flux and many times Olive would be ‘stolen away’ by Bluto’s courting and Popeye would have to win her back. Here the confrontations between Bluto and Popeye are played down significantly and there’s only two fight sequences between them and they last for only a few minutes.

The biggest difference though is that here Popeye doesn’t like spinach even though in the cartoons his spinach consumption was the whole reason he got his strength. Apparently when Popeye was introduced in 1929 he got his strength from rubbing the hairs on a magical whiffle hen named Bernice, but modern day audiences equate Popeye with spinach and changing this concept makes it seem like the film is not staying true to form. Kids who enjoyed the cartoons come to the movie expecting the same theme not watching something that’s going to take what they love into a completely different direction. What’s worse is that here there’s no explanation for how Popeye gets his amazing strength, which makes the already loopy storyline even dumber.

Williams gives a great performance, but his presence gets drowned out by the introduction of too many other characters including Paul Dooley as Wimpy who almost seems to have more screen time. Watching Walston play an older version of Popeye as the father is not funny, but instead incredibly annoying and again only helps to overshadow Williams’ great work.

I originally thought the casting of Duvall was inspired as I don’t think there’s any other actress living or dead who shares the physical traits of the Olive Oyl character quite as well as Duvall and in fact she admitted in interviews that she was nicknamed Olive Oyl by the school kids growing up. However, she overplays Olive’s nervous mannerisms which become repetitive and irritating while her attempts at singing are beyond bad.

The town of Sweet Haven, which took seven months to construct and consisted of 19 buildings built off the cost of Malta that still stands today, are the film’s strongest element, but everything else from its unfocused script evaporates into a mass sea of boredom. Robert Altman, who can be a great director at times, was the wrong choice for this type of production. He excels at doing existential adult dramas not kiddie flicks and children watching this thing will most assuredly become bored and the adults will too.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Howard the Duck (1986)

howard-the-duck-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A big budget disaster.

Howard (Chip Zien) is a duck living on another planet that is quite similar to earth except it’s run by ducks and not the ‘hairless apes’. One day while he is relaxing on his easy chair he gets sucked up into outer space by a laser beam that brings him to earth where meets up with Beverly (Lea Thompson) who is a lead singer for a punk band. She takes a liking to him and has him meet up with her geeky friend Phil (Tim Robbins). Phil in turn introduces Howard to Dr. Jennings (Jeffrey Jones) who offers to return him to his planet via a laser spectroscope, but as the procedure is performed it malfunctions and turns Jennings into a dark overlord out to destroy humanity.

This was produced by George Lucas and based on a Marvel Comic book character created by Steve Gerber, which is where it should’ve stayed. I know this movie has been shredded by many other filmgoers and critics and I don’t mean to pour more fuel onto the fire, but it’s as bad as its reputation says and I tried valiantly to give it a chance. Right away though there are problems including the fact that the planet Howard lives on looks too similar to ours. In fact it looks exactly like ours except it has two moons otherwise it’s impossible to tell the difference on anything. Same type of buildings, cars even the money is the same as American dollars except for a picture of a duck on them instead of Washington. There’s also a barrage of visual gags that make light of the subtle differences between the duck’s world and ours which the filmmakers clearly think are quite clever, but instead they’re just annoying.

The appearance of the duck is a problem too. If it had been animated it might’ve worked, but here it looks like a dwarf in a duck costume and has so many human characteristics that you ultimately forget that he’s supposed to be a fowl at all. Although I do realize that the comic strip character is anthropomorphic as well I still would’ve liked a little more ‘duck logic’ put into it. What sense does it make to create a duck type character if it ends up sharing literally NO characteristics to the actual mammal including the fact that it can’t even swim! The scenes showing him becoming aroused by Thompson’s human body and even talking about one day getting married and having kids was downright creepy.

The second half is where the story really goes off the hinges. The story pivot involving the Jones character becoming possessed by a ‘dark overlord’ is about as generic as it gets and leads to a nonstop assault of special effects and car chases that is both mind numbing and pointless. I never read the comic of which this is based but in researching it I found that it had a lot of unique and interesting villains and those should’ve been implemented into the script.

Thompson gives a terrific performance, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing 1 point, but her character is a little too sweet and lacks the streetwise edge a singer in a punk band would most assuredly have. In the comic book version Beverly was a model and I’m not sure why her profession got changed, but it was a mistake. Robbins is engaging too and Jones has one funny bit during his exchange with a waitress inside a late night diner, but otherwise this thing fails at all levels and is too obnoxious to be enjoyed even in a so-bad-it’s-good category.

howard-the-duck-2

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Willard Huyck

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube