Apparently, Robert Altman will be given a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars this year. I haven't seen all his films (it would probably take a few centuries), but I have seen a fair number of his more famous films. All in all I think Robert Altman deserves more than an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. He is truly one of the few directors who is willing to take risks and make films which many people may not like.
That said, I decided to rent one of his films the other night: Popeye. Popeye is probably one of the worst films I've ever seen. While watching it I kept thinking that this actually could be a good movie. There are many characteristics that would make it seem as if it might be a smashing success: lyrics by Harry Nilsson, elaborate sets, great actors (Robin Williams in the lead and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl), and a great director--Robert Altman. But I think that is the problem with this film.
Robert Altman's films tend to be meandering ensemble pieces with a very loose plot. Musicals, and especially musicals based on a comic-strip and cartoon character, don't seem to fit in well with loose plots. One of the big problems in Popeye was the fact that it is a musical, with very little musical direction. One of the things I liked about the recent musical of Chicago is how intrinsic the music is to the movie. I felt like it was an afterthought in this film and there was much time between the musical numbers. I thought the movie had changed for a second when there was too much silence.
The songs in the film are actually good. I thought many of them were charming. And Shelley Duvall's weird, whiny voice works perfectly for the songs she sings and for her character of Olive Oyl. And Robin Williams isn't too bad either when he sings his Popeye songs.
Plus, the two leads do very well as their characters. Robin Williams' mumbling throughout the film is a perfect mirror of the old Max Fleischer cartoons where Popeye always had some witty asides he would mumble in the background. And Shelley Duvall even mimics the cartoon Olive Oyl to the point of imitating her "hmmm"s after her statements.
The sets were elaborate. I like the colors in the film and the very good sense of an actual seaside village you get from the film.
The only thing I can think of that was really bad was Robert Altman. If he hadn't been the director this film might actually have worked.
To honor Robert Altman I suggest you go out and rent Nashville, M*A*S*H, Short Cuts, or The Player. But whatever you do, don't get Popeye. You'll be sorry.