Continuing the 100th Anniversary of Warner Bros. Pictures and timed with the awards season release of a new interpretation, the studio has released 1985’s The Color Purple for the first time in 4K-UHD disc. Arriving to retailers on December 5th, the Steven Spielberg film is also available on digital platforms for purchase. Film Obsessive was graciously provided a copy of the 4K disc for our successful and ongoing “Off the Shelf” physical media series.
Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from 1982 and adapted by Menno Meyjes, The Color Purple tells the tragic and ugly experiences beset upon a Black girl in the early 20th century named Celie Harris, played in adulthood by Whoopi Goldberg in her breakout film role. From 1909 to 1949, Celie gradually gained self-respect as she strives to educate herself and to find love, despite an abusive spouse and a society biased against her race and her sex. The dramatic epic also stars Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey in her film debut, Margaret Avery, Akosua Busia, and Rae Dawn Chong.
The Color Purple was a solid box office hit grossing $98 million against $15 million budget. The movie scored 11 Oscar nominations, including selections for Best Picture, Best Actress for Whoopi Goldberg, two Best Supporting Actress nominations for Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfre, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Original Score by Quincy Jones, and Best Original Song for “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister).” It would win none of those categories against more favored winners like Out of Africa, Cocoon, and Prizzi’s Honor.
As reflection time grew and audiences arrived, The Color Purple garnered more controversy and contention than acclaim. Opponents, including James Baldwin, Jesse Jackson, and a boycott from the NAACP, called into question the acts of brutal violence conducted by African-American males that matched maligned stereotypes and, in the end, were washed over in sentimental fashion. Maybe new eyes, new viewers, and attention from the musical-centered new film from director Blitz Bazawule (and reviewed by our own Tina Kakadelis) can open that discussion again.
We keep saying this in this “Off the Shelf” space with the numerous 100th Anniversary Warner Bros. 4K discs that have graced retail shelves: Where’s the new and special stuff? As usual, the basics are here and, well, basic. The plain bottom-third menu introduces a proper 4K with High Dynamic Range picture and excellent sound. Quincy Jones’s score does not lose any lushness from its original source. Still, that’s not what people are coming for, especially with a movie looking for a historical reappraisal.
The Color Purple contains the same previously released special features as prior disc editions of the 1985 title. As many physical media fans know, Steven Spielberg doesn’t do director commentaries, so the closest audiences get to a look at the master at work have to come from production featurettes. There are four on this disc between “Conversations with the Ancestor: 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.”
The “Conversations” piece runs 27 minutes and features Spielberg’s developmental collaboration with the novel’s author Alice Walker. The mutual admiration and Spielberg’s deep commitment come through. The casting featurette actually features a casting director (Reuben Cannon in this case) describing the real process of their work. The 29-minute doc gives the proper bouquets to the notable leads played by Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey while still shedding light on the sizable supporting cast of lesser-known and essential players. Those folks always make the movie.
“Cultivating,” plays like your usual studio behind-the-scenes diary of location setups and project progress. The smallest element is the last one highlighting the musical involvement of Quincy Jones. That trait has always been one of the more unique aspects of The Color Purple, but that small mini-doc only runs 8 minutes. Once again, those looking for anything new will be disappointed. The only little thing is a preview featurette of the new musical film titled “The Color Purple: A Bold New Take.” Unfortunately, it is only available with the digital release and not the 4K disc.
This re-issue of The Color Purple feels like a missed opportunity to bring back the intent and support that made the movie before criticism came over it. It’s not like the likes of Whoopi Goldberg or Oprah Winfrey are camera shy or disown the film. Let them come back and put a new stamp on this. The retrospective steps would go a long way to make this a must-buy improvement beyond the technical aspects.