Edition - 1985 (2003) - Warner Bros.
by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
Disc One - The Film
153 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced,
Digipack packaging with slipcase, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered
(layer switch at 81:03 in chapter 21), cast and crew bios, awards
listing, 2 teaser trailers, theatrical trailer, animated film-themed
menu screens with sound, scene access (39 chapters), languages:
English (DD 5.1 and 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English,
French and Spanish, Closed Captioned
Two - Special Features
NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer
switch), 4 documentaries (Conversations
with Ancestors: The Color Purple from Book to Screen,
A Collaboration of Spirits: Casting and
Acting The Color Purple, Cultivating
a Classic: The Making of The Color Purple and The
Color Purple: The Musical), 2 photo galleries ,
film-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (DD 2.0
Considering the amount of flak I usually receive whenever I start
to give my opinion on the films of Steven Spielberg, I must be some
kind of stupid to ever agree to review any of his films again.
Perhaps someday I'll devote an entire column to a film-by-film
examination of my extremely mixed feelings toward Spielberg. But for
now, the focus is on his 1985 effort, the multi-Oscar-nominated (and
multi-Oscar-snubbed) The Color Purple.
At the time, Spielberg was considered a controversial choice to
adapt Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for the screen.
Partly, of course, due to the fact that he was a white Jewish guy
from Southern California and the book is a classic piece of
African-American feminist literature. But another reason (and I
suspect a deeper one) was that all of his previous films had
revolved around humongous sharks, spaceships, and bullwhip-wielding
archeologists. Clearly, Spielberg was attempting to branch out as a
filmmaker. But fans of the novel wondered why he couldn't experiment
with someone else's story.
The fact that Walker herself was on board as a consultant eased
minds to some extent. As did the casting, which by and large proved
to be beyond reproach. Danny Glover receives top billing as Mr., the
domineering man who takes in young Celie to cook, clean, raise his
children, and perform the duties of a wife. Glover is great in the
role, as is Margaret Avery as Shug, the singer who Mr. pines after
but will never marry him. But top acting honors go to two future
household names in their film debuts, Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi
But for good or ill, credit or blame for the finished product would
never be assigned to any cast member, nor to producer Quincy Jones,
screenwriter Menno Meyjes, or anyone other than Spielberg himself.
Even in 1985, the words "A Steven Spielberg Film" in the
credits were not to be taken lightly. He had already proven himself
to be one of the most commercially successful directors of all time.
If critics and audiences had sharpened their knives and had wanted
to take Spielberg down a notch, this would have been the ideal time
to do it. That didn't exactly happen. Audiences responded to The
Color Purple, turning it into a somewhat unlikely
blockbuster. Critics, for the most part, enjoyed the film,
commending Spielberg on taking a risk and attempting something
different at this stage in his career. In fact, there was only one
area that seemed to be directed as a personal affront to Spielberg:
the Academy Awards. The Color Purple
was nominated in a whopping 11 categories. Best Director was notably
not one of them. And when awards night came around, The
Color Purple lost every single award it was up for,
including losing Best Picture to Sydney Pollack's epic romance Out
Even at the time, I felt that The Color
Purple was a better film than Out
of Africa. But almost twenty years later, Spielberg's
movie looks and feels very much like the transitional piece it was.
There are certainly some powerful individual moments and, thanks to
Allen Daviau's cinematography, it's an uncommonly good-looking film.
However, there is a sense that Spielberg didn't quite trust himself
with the material. There are a number of scenes that are
considerably toned down from Alice Walker's novel, including the
attraction between Celie and Shug Avery. But apart from that, one
gets the feeling that Spielberg was trying to sugarcoat the more
dramatic moments by overplaying all the lighter ones. Particularly
in the early scenes, moments of comic relief are given all the
subtlety of a Laurel and Hardy short. Quincy Jones' score does
nothing to relieve these broad strokes. The songs, both original and
existing, are used very effectively throughout. But the incidental
score verges dangerously close to Mickey Mousing, especially during
comedic moments. And when the story becomes sentimental, Jones
ladles on the syrup as generously as John Williams ever did.
Once again, Warner's special edition re-release marks an improvement
over their original attempt. The Color
Purple was among the very first batch of discs released
by the studio and, as with almost all of the over-two-hour movies
originally released by Warner, was a flipper disc. Obviously that
has been rectified in the new version, with the movie running
uninterrupted on the first disc. Picture quality is very, very good,
with excellent color shading and a high level of detail. The Dolby
Digital 5.1 soundtrack is fine, though not as active as it could be.
Not surprisingly, it springs to life primarily during musical
numbers. The gospel accompanied church scene toward the end of the
film is typical of the track at its best.
To the surprise of no one, there is no audio commentary provided and
most of the extras are reserved for the second disc. For better and
worse, the only really major bonus is a making-of documentary
typical of the Laurent Bourzeau/Steven Spielberg collaborations.
Basically, this is one approximately 85-minute piece chopped into
four different segments. Conversations
with the Ancestors focuses on Alice Walker's novel and
its journey to Steven Spielberg's hands. This is one of the more
interesting pieces on the disc, primarily because it really gets
into the book, Walker's reasons for writing it, her reactions to its
praise and to Steven Spielberg, and Spielberg's reactions to the
book and his reasons for wanting to film it. Typically, the "before
it was a movie" segments of such documentaries are dispensed
with in five cursory minutes. Appropriately, Bourzeau gives The
Color Purple the time and space it deserves.
A Collaboration of Spirits
focuses on the performances, interviewing Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah
Winfrey, Margaret Avery and many others. It too is well worth your
time, as the diverse group of interviewees each provides unique
insight into their experiences on the film and what it meant to them
in the long run. Cultivating a Classic
is a fairly routine piece on the production of the film while The
Color Purple: The Musical dispenses with Quincy Jones'
contributions in under ten minutes. The music featurette should have
been much more in-depth than it is, and Cultivating
a Classic, while not uninteresting by any stretch,
doesn't suggest that the production of The
Color Purple was demonstrably better, worse, or even
different from the production of any other film. The remaining
extras in the package are nothing more than a few trailers and a
couple of photo galleries (and it should be noted that although the
packaging suggests there is a storyboard gallery, I found no such
animal on the disc itself).
While most people, including Spielberg himself, seem to mark E.T.
as the turning point in his career, I believe that point can be more
accurately placed at The Color Purple.
Those who feel that E.T. was
his first successful melding of fantastic and distinctly human
elements need to watch Close Encounters
and Jaws more closely. But
The Color Purple was the first
time Spielberg felt confident enough in his skills as a director to
put aside completely his toys and models and tell a story based
completely in the real world. It's no stretch to say that his films
were never quite the same after this one. Whether you feel that's a
positive or a negative is up to you.