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Warner Home Video presents
"...you have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka."
DVD ReviewMinnesota. It's one of those fly-over states that people on the coasts hardly ever bother to think about (except, of course, in election years). The thing about Minnesota, however, is that it actually has produced many individuals who have made substantial marks on America. Whether it is Bob Dylan, Charles Lindbergh, the Coen Brothers, Tim Pawlenty, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Judy Garland, Minnesotans have sneaked into the glow of America's limelight. It was 20 years ago that a Minneapolis boy sprang to superstardom by using his music to inspire a silly, yet engaging, movie. The boy is Prince, and his movie is Purple Rain.
In 1984 few people could have expected that a story mixing rock music with urban drama would prove to be a major hit. Yet here we are, two decades after Purple Rain's opening, and it still has the ability to strike a cord with its audience. Recently Independent Feature Project's Minneapolis chapter hosted a re-release party that drew an audience to the famed First Avenue club, where a major portion of the movie takes place. There is no doubting the fact that Purple Rain is extremely dated and will probably play like camp to younger generations. Really, take a look at the hairstyles and clothing that Prince and his co-stars wear. As tough as it is to imagine, some people really did dress like this. Thankfully the style of Purple Rain's fashion has dropped from the mainstream, but the energy of that style still remains intact today.
The story is rather clichéd, with the young, soon-to-be-a-big-thing musician, "The Kid" (Prince), struggling with a dysfunctional family, love, his band, and a rival band. The Time, led by Morris (played by Morris Day—the script has each character and actor share the same name), is the more successful band that competes with the Kid's band, The Revolution, for First Avenue's premier billing. As luck would have it for The Time, The Revolution is falling apart. Two of the band members, Wendy and Lisa (played by Wendy and Lisa Coleman, respectively), have submitted a new song to the Kid, but he refuses to perform them. Instead of working on his act, the Kid is focusing on the new woman in his life, Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero). The two of them fall in love, but she accepts Morris' offer to form her own band, which prompts the Kid to beat her, a pattern of behavior that he has learned from his father (Clarence Williams, III).
Of course, many hearts are broken and wounds exposed during the events of the movie, but—surprise, surprise! —everything works out for the best by story's end. The screenplay is obvious from start to finish. This is not a downfall, however, because it takes the audience on a ride that gives a wide range of emotional payoffs that the viewer can comfortably enjoy while watching the movie. The fact is, most people watching Purple Rain aren't truly interested in the storyline, but the scenes in which Prince sings his songs.
Watching Prince perform is the highlight of this movie. So much so, in fact, that it makes it difficult to believe that his career is in jeopardy, because his music and performances are a great deal more impressive than The Time's. Prince is not only a great musician—even people who aren't fans of his music will usually admit that he is a major talent—but he also does a stellar job of acting. Basically, Prince is just playing himself, which presents some challenges, but also is a great starting point for a non-actor who is making for a career in movies. The problem is, apart from Prince, the rest of the cast doesn't fair very well. Both Morris and his counterpart, Jerome, provide nice comic relief (though sometimes it feels tacked-on), but Apollonia Kotero does little to create a three-dimensional character.
Part of this might be the sexism of the movie. Twenty years ago, perhaps, audiences were more accepting of misogynistic behavior than they are today, but director and co-writer Albert Magnoli's treatment of women is offensive. Take the scene in which Morris has one of his ex-lovers thrown into a dumpster. The scene is meant to be comical, but such brutal treatment of people is hardly a laughing matter.
Despite the shortcomings of the movie in creating a believable drama, it is a major success in portraying the atmosphere of a rock concert. The choreography and Donald E. Thorin's cinematography are every bit as impressive as the musical numbers in Gimme Shelter and The Last Waltz.
The music, which earned Prince an Oscar, more than makes up for the silliness of the movie. The wardrobe is dated, the themes redundant, and the acting mixed. Regardless of these flaws, the movie still has the ability to capture a viewer and leave you with a smile on your face. After 20 years Purple Rain still is able to prove one thing: Minnesota is one hell of a good place to make a film.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: The original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is preserved for this DVD in an anamorphic transfer. This is the very first time Purple Rain has been shown in widescreen for home video. The image is pretty strong, with vibrant colors during the concert scenes. The image gets dark every now and again, probably as a result of some of the negative being mishandled over the years. Grain is noticeable in lowly lit scenes, which might be the result of the source material (it is hard to tell). There is a nice film-like look throughout the transfer, but it's not up to the usual standard of Warner's Two-Disc Special Edition line.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that Warner created for their prior release of Purple Rain is recycled on this set. The concert scenes sound great, with a nice simulation of an actual concert going experience. There is little in the way of sound separation or directionality, but the material doesn't provide many opportunities for such mixing. There also is a French mono track available.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Under the Cherry Moon, Graffiti Bridge
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Albert Magnoli, Robert Cavallo, Donald E. Thorin
Packaging: Amaray Double
Layers Switch: 01h:08m:53s
Disc two offers the featurette First Avenue: The Road to Pop Royalty (12m:21s). This is an historical account of the history of the music club, a staple of Minnesota music. It features interviews local musicians, Prince's former tour manager, and Wendy and Lisa Coleman. This featurette, like its counterpart—the documentary Purple Rain: Backstage Pass (29m:41s) —will not appeal to many who aren't fans of the music that came out of the First Avenue scene. The documentary gives a nice context the film, with interviews with Magnoli, Cavallo, and some of supporting cast. Most of the material discussed here is repeated from the audio commentary, however. There also is a rather amusing supplement of MTV's movie premiere party from 1984. The style and technology of this telecast are a nice touch of nostalgia and serve to remind one how much TV has advanced in just 20 years. Eddie Murphy and Little Richard are interviewed and it'll be difficult for the viewer not to laugh at their unintentionally funny comments. The final feature is a collection of eight music videos, for "Let's Go Crazy," "Take Me With U," "When Doves Cry," "I Would Die 4 U/Baby I'm a Star," "Purple Rain," "Jungle Love," "The Bird," and "Sex Shooter." The "Purple Rain" music video is actually only the scene from the movie in which it is performed, but the rest will be a delight for those who love watching old music videos.
The extras will be disappointing to those who are used to more film-centric special features, and Prince offers no interviews, which might prevent some of his fans from buying this DVD. However, the features are more than anyone would expect for a title that is, largely, just a mini-cult classic nowadays.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsFans of Prince will not want to miss this Special Edition DVD. It is the best presentation of the movie ever put out for home entertainment, with a good transfer and nice sound mix. The extras will not appeal to people outside of the Prince fan base, but are they really meant to?
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