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Steven Spielberg
Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey
Menno Meyjes


Set in the first half of the 20th century, Celie tries to overcome all forms of abuse.

Box Office:
$15 million.
Opening Weekend:
$1,710,333 on 192 Screens.
Domestic Gross:

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
German Dolby 2.0
Italian Dolby 2.0
Castillian Dolby 2.0
Spanish Dolby 1.0
Czech Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 153 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 12/5/2023

• “Conversations with the Ancestors” Featurette
• “A Collaboration of Spirits” Featurette
• “The Color Purple: The Musical” Featurette
• “Cultivating a Classic” Featurette
• Trailers


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Dolby Vision Blu-ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer

The Color Purple [4K UHD] (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 4, 2023)

With The Color Purple, we saw a filmmaker try desperately to break out of preconceived boundaries. Over the decade prior to that flick’s 1985 release, Steven Spielberg established himself as the master of action and fantasy films.

During that period, Spielberg directed a slew of absolute classics. 1975’s Jaws, 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and 1982’s ET the Extra-Terrestrial all stand as masterpieces.

1984’s Raiders sequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom remains good but not in that league. During this 1975-1984 period, Spielberg’s only dud came from 1979’s botched action-comedy 1941.

Even with 1941, Spielberg enjoyed a terrific run, but apparently he felt frustrated with his niche. As such, he took on The Color Purple, a novel by Alice Walker.

This seemed like an improbable project for the extremely whitebread Spielberg, as it involved the tale of a Black heroine. None of Spielberg’s prior to flicks featured any racial minorities in the lead, and his experiences with women remained limited to that point as well.

1974’s Sugarland Express featured Goldie Hawn in a co-lead role. However, Purple became the first occasion during which a woman would really need to carry a Spielberg film.

Purple focuses on the tale of two sisters, Celie Harris (played by Desreta Jackson as a child and Whoopi Goldberg as an adult) and Nettie (Akousa Busia). Celie’s father (Leonard Jackson) sexually abuses and eventually impregnates her.

After Papa Harris refuses to allow Nettie to marry Mister (Danny Glover), she runs away from home and eventually spends time with Mister and Celie, who does wed him. Because Nettie rejects him sexually, Mister eventually boots her from the house, and she joins some missionaries to Africa who coincidentally adopted Celie’s two children.

Celie remains behind and suffers a rough existence. Mister abuses her and also cheats on her with Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), a blues singer who comes to stay with them when she takes ill.

After some tough periods, Shug and Celie eventually fall in love with each other, although the movie doesn’t do much to explore that relationship. We also find Celie’s stepson Harpo (Willard Pugh) who marries Sofia (Oprah Winfrey).

The latter’s a tough broad who doesn’t take any guff from anyone until she refuses to defer strongly enough to the town’s white mayor (Phillip Strong) and his patronizing wife Miss Millie (Dana Ivey). An imprisonment – with multiple beatings – ensues, and this seems to turn Sofia into a meek shadow of herself.

In the meantime, Celie continues to have an occasional relationship with Shug as she also deals with some self-exploration and growth. She believes that she may someday meet up with her sister and children again.

Will she? I won’t say – I don’t want to ruin the whole story!

Purple tackles a number of important and rough issues, as it looks at incest, child and spouse abuse, and racism. Critics feared that Spielberg would be unable to free himself from his generally sentimental and sugary attitudes, and they had good reason to worry.

As noted, I loved Spielberg’s 1975 to 1982 run – minus 1941 - and I really wanted for him to succeed with his expansion into serious drama, but he couldn’t pull off the necessary grittiness. In Spielberg’s hands, Purple becomes an innocuous and simple tale with little punch.

The film version of Purple seems intended to tell us a few basic points. For one, sisters need each other! They have mystical bonds that transcend time and distance, and their connections will overcome even the strongest obstacles.

In addition, we learn that women are good and men are bad. Actually, I need to clarify that point, as Black women are good, but white women are bad, as demonstrated by Miss Millie. Men seem to be evil no matter what skin color they sport.

This may sound like an oversimplification of the plot, but it’s really not, as Spielberg makes the Black female characters relentlessly positive. Even when they appear slightly negative – such as our early impressions of Shug and Sofia – they inevitably end up as role models for us.

As for the men, Purple portrays them as abusive, buffoonish or both. Even a relatively innocuous character like Harpo doesn’t escape the anti-male wrath, as he eventually develops into something of a bad guy too.

The lack of balance borders on offensive, and the treatment of whites comes across just as harshly. The Caucasian women seem stupid and vindictive, while those men feel harsh and nasty.

Being a white male himself, I doubt Spielberg felt he would generalize these attitudes. However, because we see no one positive who isn’t a Black female, such an overall tone turns into exactly what comes across during Purple.

It doesn’t help that Spielberg shows little stomach for the rough stuff. Visually, he casts Purple in a lovely golden glow that undermines most of the grittier elements.

At times, the story appears moderately coarse, but these tones quickly dissipate. In their place we end up left with sugary and sweet depictions that fail to deliver a significant punch or impact.

Spielberg even manages to wrap up the incest bits into such a neat and tidy package that they make the entire message much less powerful. Quincy Jones’ sappy and sugary score doesn’t help matters, as it renders even the nastiest scenes gentle and innocuous.

On the positive side, Purple does benefit from some fine performances. Goldberg became a star after her lead performance as Celie, and the role demonstrated that the comedienne could ably handle dramatic work.

Despite the almost unilaterally nasty tone applied to Mister, Glover helps make the part much more rich and compelling than it should have been, and he offers a terrific presence.

Probably the biggest surprise comes from the person who eventually would become the most famous and successful member of the cast, though not as an actress. Prior to Purple, Oprah Winfrey was known only as a local TV host, and back then I knew her from a late-Seventies stint on a Baltimore station.

As the tough-talking and aggressive Sofia, Winfrey seems quite convincing, and she tends to steal the scenes in which she appears. Oprah also becomes believably tame and subdued when appropriate, and her fine performance helped kickstart the bigger things that would eventually come her way.

Unfortunately, Spielberg undermines the solid work of the actors with his heavy-handed attitudes and easily sentimentality. The character development of roles like Shug and Sofia comes across as relentlessly simplistic and magical.

When Celie emerges from her cocoon, it feels ridiculously abrupt and easy, and I don’t buy it. Ultimately, The Color Purple fails because it seems more like a fairy tale than a believable and realistic drama.

The Disc Grades: Picture A- / Audio B / Bonus B

The Color Purple appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. Across the board, the film looked strong.

Sharpness seemed very good for the most part, as the majority of the film appeared to be crisp and accurate. A smidgen of softness occasionally crept into a few shots, but those instances remained minor and likely impacted by some intentionally gauzy photography. Most of the time, the image remained concise and well-defined.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized; both edge haloes and obvious use of noise reduction failed to appear as well, so I saw light but natural grain. Source flaws seemed to be absent.

Colors looked consistently warm and vibrant. Spielberg gave the proceedings a rather lovely tone – sometimes inappropriately so for this story – and these hues seemed to be nicely vivid and lush.

Sensibly, purples were best of the bunch, as they came across as quite gorgeous. Red dresses also presented lively and rich hues. HDR added range and impact to the tones.

Black levels seemed to be deep and dense, and shadow detail was clean and appropriately opaque with no signs of excessive thickness. HDR gave whites and contrast extra power. The 4K UHD presented a consistently appealing transfer.

I didn’t expect a slam-bang soundfield from this kind of drama, but the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix of the film complemented the story well. The track featured a fairly strong forward emphasis, and the front channels added a very nice layer of ambience and involvement.

Music displayed fine stereo separation, and a variety of effects also cropped up in the front side areas. These sounds could be a little “speaker specific” at times, and they didn’t always blend together terrifically well, but I still found them to offer a clean and engaging atmosphere.

Surround usage seemed to be less positive, but it appeared good for a film of this era and scope. For the most part, the rears provided little more than general reinforcement of the music and effects heard in the front spectrum.

During a few scenes, they came to life more forcefully, such as in a thunderstorm, but as a whole, they functioned as environmental elements. Overall, the mix complemented the film to a nice degree.

Audio quality also seemed to be good for its age, though a few concerns existed. Dialogue showed occasional signs of edginess, but most of the speech sounded rather warm and natural, with no problems related to intelligibility.

Music appeared bright and vivid. Effects were a little thin at tmes, but they came across as reasonably accurate and distinct, and I heard no signs of distortion or other issues. In the end, the audio of The Color Purple worked well.

How did the 4K UHD compare to the 2011 Blu-ray? Both came with seemingly identical audio.

The 4K’s visuals came across as more distinctive and warmer. While the Blu-ray looked great, the 4K kicked up the quality a notch.

Most of the BD’s extras repeat here. We get four featurettes, and we start with Conversations with the Ancestors: From Book to Screen.

It lasts 26 minutes, 40 seconds and focuses on writer Alice Walker for the most part. We find interviews with Walker, director Steven Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy, producer/music producer Quincy Jones, and producer/second unit director Frank Marshall.

The first portion of “Conversations” focuses on the novel. Walker discusses her familial inspirations as well as other aspects of the book, and she gets into reactions it provoked, both good and bad.

From there, Spielberg discusses his involvement and how the story got to the screen. We learn of Walker’s power of approval over the director, her initial attempt to adapt the story into a script, changes made between the two and other elements.

We even get a little material about an unused “forgiveness scene”. Some may find “Conversations” to seem a little heavy on “talking heads”, but it conveys a lot of information. It gets across all these notes in a concise manner and seems like a useful discussion of the topics.

After this comes A Collaboration of Spirits: Casting and Acting The Color Purple. The 28-minute, 39-second program gives us info from Spielberg, Walker, Jones, Kennedy, casting director Reuben Cannon, and actors Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery, Danny Glover, Akosua Busia, and Rae Dawn Chong.

“Acting” stays true to its title, as it concentrates wholly on that side of the production. We find out how Goldberg, Winfrey, Avery and Glover earned their parts, and we get lots of good information about the challenges they faced on the set.

This includes various anecdotes as well as insight into the characters. Compelling and lively, “Acting” covers its subject well.

Next we find Cultivating a Classic: The Making of The Color Purple, a 23-minute, 35-second program that covers more of the technical aspects of the movie. We get remarks from Kennedy, Spielberg, Marshall, production designer J. Michael Riva, costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers, and director of photography Allen Daviau.

Not surprisingly, they mostly delve into sets, locations, clothes and cinematography. We learn about challenges related to the period costumes, Spielberg’s initial idea to film Purple in black and white, lighting the dark-skinned actors, the importance of Mister’s mailbox, Spielberg’s reactions to the public attitude toward the movie, and more.

The driest of the three documentaries to date, “Classic” seems a little flat and slow at times. However, it offers enough interesting details to make it worth a look.

For the final featurette, we get The Color Purple: The “Musical”. No, this doesn’t discuss the Broadway adaptation of the story or the 2023 version of the film.

Instead, it discusses some of the movie’s music. We listen to material from Spielberg, Jones, Avery, Walker, and Kennedy in this seven-minute, 36-second program.

At times, we find some nice details about the songs and their connection to the material. Unfortunately, too much of the program simply relates praise for Jones and his work, and “Musical” ends up as the least useful of the four documentaries.

The disc ends with three trailers. The 4K loses some stillframe collections from the Blu-ray.

Though The Color Purple enjoys a positive reputation, I fail to comprehend why, as the movie suffers from a vast number of flaws, most of which result from the work of its director. Steven Spielberg desperately tried to escape his reputation as an action-fantasy auteur, but the sweet and sugary vision of Black sisterhood seems less plausible than anything seen during ET or Close Encounters. The 4K UHD delivers excellent visuals, good audio and an informative batch of supplements. This turns into the best presentation of the movie on home video.

To rate this film visit the original review of THE COLOR PURPLE

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main