The Color Purple: 4K UHD Review

Arriving this week on 4K UHD is Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film adaptation of Alice Walker’s acclaimed novel, The Color Purple.  While it didn’t win any Academy Awards, it was nominated for 11 of them, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay and more. While I am a fan of Spielberg, admittedly, I had never seen The Color Purple until now. With the new musical adaptation arriving in a few weeks and the release of this new 4K disk, I figured, now is the time for me to finally dive into this beloved classic.

Set in rural Georgia during the early 1900’s, Celie and her younger sister Nettie are separated when their abusive father (Leonard Jackson) gives away the older sibling to widower Albert Johnson (Danny Glover), who had his sights on Nettie first. The abuse doesn’t stop for Celie once she leaves her father. Albert, who she refers to as “Mister”, constantly beats her and his children show her little-to-no respect. When Nettie shows up at the Johnson home after getting tired of fighting off her father’s sexual advances, she stays for awhile with Celie, Albert and the kids. Of course, the stay is cut short when Albert tries to assault Nettie and she is forced to fight him off as well. Before being thrown from the home, Nettie promises her big sister that she will write. While Nettie does keep her promise, Celie never gets to see the letters because he has decided to keep them from her.

Years pass and Celie (now played by Whoopi Goldberg) has become a meek from all the abuse she has suffered over the years. However, she has found kindness and friendship from some of the most unlikely of places. First there is Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), Albert’s showgirl mistress who actually winds up caring about Celie, even though Albert doesn’t. Then there is the headstrong Sofia (Oprah Winfrey) who is the wife of Alber’s son Harpo (Willard E. Pugh). Both women help Celie bring out her voice, even if it happens slowly.  Unfortunately, Sofia’s life takes a tragic turn, which takes every big of her strength to just keep going.

It’s hard not to watch a film like The Color Purple and think about what it may have been like if it was directed by a person of color. Granted, this film was released nearly four decades ago and times in Hollywood were different. The new musical version coming out this Christmas brings in director Blitz Bazawule, but it’s also a very different take on the material. While I didn’t find The Color Purple to be a great film, I do believe it is a very strong one and a very good dramatic leap for a filmmaker who made his name with blockbusters like Jaws, E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Goldberg who was known as a comedian at the time gave a truly captivating performance for her feature film debut. Glover, Winfrey and Avery were also quite good.  Spielberg and screenwriter Menno Meyjes’ work here is admirable and at times quite emotional. People often complain about the filmmaker’s knack for sentimentality. I actually felt it works in the film’s favor.

As mentioned prior, this was my very first time watching The Color Purple, so I would not be able to compare it to the 2011 Blu-ray release. The new 2160p transfer with HDR10 looks absolutely beautiful. Allen Daviau’s cinematography really shines here. Much of the film is set during the day in Georgia, but was actually shot in North Carolina. The 4K presentation gives us great details in the various locations. From the fields surrounding Albert’s home to the lake and Harpo’s Juke Joint, which sits on top of a lake. Everything looks so natural, which is extremely important for a film like The Color Purple. Being a mostly dialogue-driven film, the DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix is more than adequate, especially when it comes to Quincy Jones’ score. While definitely not one of Spielberg’s best dramas, it is still quite an impressive film from the filmmaker and one that I highly recommend giving a watch, especially if you have never seen it.

Bonus Features:

  • Conversations with the 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
  • The Color Purple: The Musical
  • Teaser #1
  • Teaser #2
  • Trailer

By: Marc Ferman