Warner Bros. // 1985 // 152 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 12th, 2003
It's about life. It's about love. It's about us.
We have, in my esteemed opinion, two things to thank The Color Purple for: Steven Spielberg's first foray into the world of "adult" drama, and Whoopi Goldberg. In 1985, director Steven Spielberg adapted Alice Walker's much loved book to the screen in a 2 1/2 hour epic that was showered with both accolades and controversy. This would be a film void of any pretense, heavy special effects, or, most surprisingly, John Williams normally bombastic music score. Now available on a new two-disc set from Warner Home Entertainment, The Color Purple is back for a new generation to discover.
Based on Alice Walker's book of the same name, The Color Purple is set in the early 1900s and follows the shy Celie (Goldberg) through her often rough and violent life. Starting off at her childhood home, we see young Celie (Desreta Jackson) bond with her sister Nettie (Akosua Busia) and find sexual abuse at the hands of her cruel father (Leonard Jackson). Through her father's horrendous actions Celie bears two children, both of which are given away to anonymous families. As Celie grows into a woman, she's quite literally given up to the widowed Albert (Danny Glover, Beloved) as his "bride," though this mostly consists of her cooking and cleaning, as well as lying still as he gruffly has sex to her. Albert is cruel to Celie, both physically beating her and verbally berating her at every turn while his other children look on. Through Albert's possessiveness Celie losses touch with her sister Nettie -- not even a letter from her sister is allowed to pass through her hands. As the years pass, Celie finds comfort in Shug Avery (Margaret Avery, White Man's Burden), a nightclub singer who Albert desperately pines for. At first Shug finds Celie ugly and frumpish, but soon sees in Celie a warm and caring soul. Along the way, viewers are introduced to a number of other characters, including Albert's son Harpo (Willard E. Pugh) and his on again, off again sassy wife Sofia (Oprah Winfrey, Queen of Daytime Talk), the Old "Mr." (Adolph Ceaser) and the upper-crusted Miss Millie (Dana Ivey, The Addams Family). Through her ups and downs, Celie attempts to find her place in the world, hold her head up high, and overcome almost insurmountable obstacles in a time when doors were closed to most all African Americans.
I think if I were to travel back to 1985, Steven Spielberg would have been my least likely choice as a director for The Color Purple. Up until this point, Spielberg had shown great poise and talent with big budget hits like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. However, there wasn't much that pointed to Spielberg being the capable hands of directing a sometimes stoic tale about early 20th century African American people and the hardships they faced.
That being said, I think many folks were surprised at how good The Color Purple turned out to be. Upon the film's initial release, there was some controversy about the adaptation from book to movie -- some say the lesbian relationship between Shug and Celie wasn't explored thoroughly enough, while others just the adaptation was too "loose" -- and to those people I say, "Get over it." Though The Color Purple may not be completely in line with the book it's based on, this version is excellent. From the sweeping cinematography by Allan Daviau to Menno Meyjes' screenplay, The Color Purple enthralls us with characters that practically leap off the screen. The story is one that we all can relate to: overcoming our past to embrace our future. What a wonderful message and movie amongst all the junk and hate Hollywood is putting on the screen these days.
Whoopi Goldberg in her feature film debut is a find. Though she'd go on to star in such craptacular bombs as Jumpin' Jack Flash, Sister Act II: Back in the Habit, and Theodore Rex (her stinkers far outweigh her good movies), Goldberg is restrained and dignified in a character role that must have been hard to fill. Danny Glover plays Celie's husband Albert as more than just a brutish thug -- though we don't like him, we can at least understand where he gets his anger and violence from. After getting a long, hard look at Albert's father (played exceptionally by the late Adolph Ceaser), it's clear that all Albert knows is to beat down those who are weaker than he. It's almost a wonder what Margaret Avery's Shug sees in him -- then again, she seems to have father issues as well. Avery's portrayal earned her an Oscar nomination for good reason -- her character is both life affirming and complex, just like the movie she inhabits. Other standouts include Oprah Winfrey (also nominated for an Oscar) and Willard E. Pugh as her sheepish husband Harpo (which is, interestingly enough, "Oprah" spelled backwards).
During the 1985 Academy Awards, the film was nominated for a startling 11 awards, and won none. It's a bit of a shock that Quincy Jones' touching score didn't win, nor Margaret Avery for Best Supporting Actress as the indomitable Shug Avery. Then again, The Color Purple didn't have to win oodles of awards for it to be known as a great film. Director Steven Spielberg has crafted a very emotional, funny, and poignant experience that is well worth a recommendation.
The Color Purple is presented in a very attractive looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The Color Purple was one of the first discs available years ago in the early stages of DVD, and it came as one of those horrid "flipper" discs. It's nice to see Warner give the film a new transfer (on a single disc, no less) with all the bells and whistles one could want. The colors levels all look fantastic -- the picture is filled with vibrant blues, greens, and whites without any compression artifacts marring the image. The black levels are sharp and solid and the whole thing is void of edge enhancement or pixilation. In other words, this is a top notch image that should please fans. Kudos to Warner!
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, as well as Dolby Digital Stereo in English and French. Much like the video portions of this disc, Warner has done a great job on the 5.1 audio mix. Those who love Quincy Jones' poignant music score will thrill to the great surround sounds throughout this track. Because this is a mostly dialogue driven drama, there aren't a ton of directional effects to be found here. However, the ambiance and background noises are in full effect with great dynamic range. Once again Warner has come through with a great mix that will work well on any home theater system. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Though this two-disc edition of The Color Purple isn't jam packed with supplements, there are a few well produced extra features to be found on this set. The bonus materials were produced by Laurent Bouzereau who has worked on many Spielberg DVDs, including Minority Report, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, and the Back to the Future trilogy. Known as one of the best producers of DVD bonus materials, The Color Purple doesn't disappoint. Here's a rundown of what's included on this set:
Conversations with Ancestors: The Color Purple from Book to Screen: This 26-minute documentary is a look at author Alice Walker and the history of the book "The Color Purple" and its eventual transition from page to screen. Walker appears to be a gentle, amiable woman who has a lot to say about her book and Spielberg's take on it. There are some very interesting stories about the characters and the real life people they're based on, Walker's influences (she had some mean ancestors as a child), and defends the controversy around her misunderstood opinions about black men and relationships. Overall this is a nice overview of not just the movie, but also its source material.
A Collaboration of Spirits: Casting and Acting The Color Purple: The featurette focuses on the casting of the film and how it all came to be. There are a lot of interviews here with (but not limited to) Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg, casting director Rueben Cannon, music producer Quincy Jones, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Alice Walker, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, and various others. Some of the stories are a bit blasé (the casting of Whoopi Goldberg), some are very entertaining (Oprah is especially personable and funny), and still others very surprising (Spielberg originally wanted rock and roll singer Tina Turner in the part of Shug Avery!). Like the other documentaries on this disc, this is a fine look at the history of the movie.
Cultivating a Classic: The Making of The Color Purple: This is a basic "making of" look a the making of the film featuring interviews with Spielberg, producer Frank Marshall, director of photography Allen Daviau, production designer J. Michael Riva, costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers and others. Stories range from the birth of Spielberg's first child Max during the filming (around the same time of the birthing scene in the film) to the snafus incurred during the filming (getting those dark pink flowers to look deep purple).
The Color Purple: The Musical: This was my least favorite of the features, if only because it was so short! It does include some interesting tidbits on composer Quincy Jones, his music score, and the winning musical numbers. This was one of the first and only times Spielberg worked without longtime collaborator John Williams, and it would have been interesting to have heard his thoughts on that matter. Otherwise, this is relatively short and light featurette on the art of movie music. And just in case you were wondering, no, they aren't taking this film to Broadway.
Also included on disc two are two photo galleries ("Behind the Scenes" and "The Cast"). Going back to disc one, you'll find a teaser trailer, a re-release trailer, and a theatrical trailer, plus a cast and crew listing and some award notes.
A marvelous movie that has stood the test of time. The Color Purple shows Steven Spielberg at his most emotionally riveting. Though this may not be the drama to end all dramas, it is uplifting and worth the watch. Warner's work on this two disc set is very fine with excellent audio/video portions and a nice array of extra features.
The Color Purple free to go and spread its message of tolerance and hope to moviegoers everywhere!
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 152 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Conversations with Ancestors: The Color Purple from Book to Screen" Documentary
* "A Collaboration of Spirits: Casting and Acting The Color Purple" Documentary
* "Cultivating a Classic: The Making of The Color Purple" Documentary
* "The Color Purple: The Musical" Documentary
* Cast and Crew Information
* Award Notes
* Theatrical Trailers
* Photo Galleries