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In front of a crowd at the Rotterdam Music Hall, Prince and his band bring to life his album "Sign O' the Times" that garnered him a Grammy nomination for "Album of the Year". This ground-breaking concert film has been completely digitally restored, enhanced and remastered in Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 in time for this DVD release! Directed with the raw energy of the Minneapolis rocker himself, the movie is punctuated with specially filmed, dramatic vignettes appearing occasionally between songs. Drummer Sheila E. rocks the house and Sheena Easton makes a special appearance to strut her stuff. You won't want to miss these sizzling live renditions of his hits such as "Little Red Corvette" and "U Got the Look". This is Prince unleashed!

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $25.95 (CDN)
Release Date: 1/25/2005

• None


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Prince: Sign O' The Times (1987)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 29, 2005)

As a live performer, Prince hit the peak of his very up and down career during 1987 and 1988. Before and since then, he’s put of plenty of good shows along with many bad ones. None can touch the level he reached during this brief period, as the 1987 Sign ‘o’ the Times and 1988 Lovesexy tours took him to a higher level.

US fans didn’t get a chance to see Sign in person, as Prince stayed overseas for all of that. He finally came back to America in 1988 with Lovesexy; those fall concerts marked his first US tour since the end of the Purple Rain trek in the early spring of 1985. It was worth the wait, as Lovesexy remains probably the greatest concert I’ve ever seen.

While we didn’t get Sign in person, at least we were able to experience it through this fantastic concert film. Also called Sign ‘o’ the Times, much of the movie wasn’t actually shot in front of a crowd. Prince replicated the concert back on a soundstage at his Paisley Park complex in Minnesota and interspersed some real live footage with the redone stuff. I don’t know what percentage is live and what’s in the studio, but I believe the latter elements dominate the flick.

In theory, that bothers me, as it feels like a cheat. However, with results this amazing, I don’t really care how they got them. Not that you’ll be able to tell that Sign was shot in a studio, as it replicates the concert experience well. If anything, the controlled conditions led to a more vivid film. Prince was able to stage things more concisely and use the cameras in a more specific manner without the problems inherent in a live shoot. I wouldn’t want to see all concert flicks done this way, but it works ridiculously well for Sign.

Nearly all of the material comes from Prince’s then-current Sign ‘o’ the Times. We find 13 songs, and all but two are off of that record. The only exceptions come from a cover of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time” and the short version of “Little Red Corvette” that pops up; it originally appeared on 1982’s 1999.

This means that Sign doesn’t represent the full setlist from the 1987 concerts. Although the Sign album dominated the performance, it also included a mix of earlier tunes like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Purple Rain”.

I don’t know if Prince never bothered to shoot those numbers or if they were simply left on the cutting room floor, but the movie actually benefits from the focus on Sign tracks. This emphasis gives the film more of a story, something that Prince ties loosely to the songs via interstitials about his relationship with dancer Cat. Those do look pretty silly, but they don’t mar the flick to any substantial degree.

Sign soars for two reasons: the amazing renditions of the songs, and the dynamic staging. Prince directed the flick and definitely made it look like a long music video, but for once I mean this as a compliment. He moves the film along at a brisk pace and makes the visuals lively and creative. He doesn’t indulge in unnecessary quick-cutting, though, as the movie jumps fluidly and never looks busy or abrupt. Prince uses the set nicely and gives the flick a distinctive look.

In addition, the music sounds simply amazing. Prince used the same band for the 1987-88 tours, and they were easily the strongest collaborators of his career. They certainly made the Revolution look like dog food, a fact amply demonstrated when we compare the rendition of “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” found in the movie to the one that appeared on the Sign album. Both are live tracks; the difference is that Prince used the Revolution in 1986 for the album take. I never liked the tune on the record, as it seemed stiff and clunky. Live in 1987, however, the song flies. It swings and prances its way and demonstrates a marked contrast to the flat effort done by the Revolution.

The 1987 band brings similar life to pretty much all of the tunes in the movie. I can’t think of a single one that doesn’t sound radically better in the live setting. For instance, the studio “Play in the Sunshine” is somewhat mechanical, but the concert version offers a vividness totally absent from the earlier rendition. Even good numbers like “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” elevate live, as they become much more involving and alive.

Is there anything bad to say about Sign ‘o’ the Times? As I mentioned earlier, I’m not wild about the interstitials, but I don’t really mind them. Even if they sucked, the insanely high quality of the live footage more than makes up for them. Concert films simply don’t get better than this stunning piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus F

Prince: Sign ‘o’ the Times appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Like many musical releases, Sign saw its first DVD life as a non-US edition of questionable legality. Whether or not it was legit, it got bad marks for quality.

When news of this Canadian Sign DVD hit the Internet, fans figured it was another semi-legal but unauthorized release. Apparently it’s as legit as it comes, at least in Canada, where Alliance always had the rights to the movie. That makes this the real deal, and we can tell that from the surprisingly high quality of the package.

Visuals fare best. Sharpness consistently looked quite good. Some shots exhibited minor softness, but not to a significant degree. The majority of the movie was nicely delineated and well-defined. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement appeared.

To my surprise, print flaws were virtually absent. Some darker shots exhibited a bit of grain, though most of what looked like grain actually came from on-stage smoke. Otherwise, I saw a couple of specks and that was about it. Sign looked very clean.

Colors mostly seemed quite dynamic. Like most concerts, Sign presented most of its hues via lighting, and those tones run the risk of turning too dense. That virtually never happened here, as the myriad of lights almost always remained smooth and distinctive. Again, smoke occasionally made things look slightly murky, but those examples were the exceptions to the rule.

Other elements like costumes also exhibited a lively quality not often found in concerts. Maybe I just watch bands with bland color schemes, but this show definitely offered a broader palette than usual. Blacks uniformly looked tight and firm, and most low-light shots displayed good definition. As with the other aspects of the image, smoke sometimes made darker bits appear slightly messy, but that was inevitable. Ultimately, I felt Sign exceeded my expectations and deserved a “B+” for picture.

One notable variation occurred when we saw the video for “U Got the Look”. I don’t know its production history, but it looked like it was shot on tape. It always existed as part of the Sign film, though perhaps Prince didn’t intend for it to show up and only included it to placate the record company. If he’d meant it to be a portion of the flick from day one, I’d think he’d have shot it on film and it’d better integrate in regard to picture quality. Here it looked like a video, as it showed a murkiness and a chunkiness not found during the rest of the flick.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Sign ‘o’ the Times, it presented a good mix but not one that’ll dazzle anyone. As we might anticipate, the soundfield stayed focused on the front. Like many concerts, this one went with stereo imaging for the music and not much else. Localization of the elements seemed unspectacular. They spread across the front in a reasonable manner, but they never came across as particularly well-defined in those realms. The surrounds occasionally added some reinforcement, such as an echo of the title tune’s drums, but they played a passive role for the most part.

Audio quality was somewhat erratic, though most elements sounded good. The biggest issue came from a too-active LFE channel. Bass response could become overwhelming at times, as my subwoofer boomed in an exaggerated way. Part of the time matters stayed reasonable, but in general the bass kicked too heavily for my liking.

The remainder of the mix sounded fine, though I might describe the elements as a little lackluster. Vocals and all the various instruments seemed clean and concise, and I can’t point to any particular flaws they displayed. However, I can’t claim that they were especially vivid and dynamic, either. The soundtrack replicated the music in an acceptable manner but simply didn’t come to life to a great degree. That wound it up with a “B-“.

I didn’t expect any extras from Sign and I didn’t get any. The package doesn’t present any form of supplement.

Frankly, I don’t really care. Sure, some goodies would be nice, but I’m just happy to get Sign ‘o’ the Times on a non-VHS format. This is its first truly legit DVD release in North America, and it also never came out on laserdisc in the US; fans had to settle for an expensive and less-than-inspiring Asian disc.

That makes this anamorphic widescreen Sign a real treat for fans. Sign is about as good as it gets in regard to concert films. They don’t get more exciting than this, as it depicts Prince at his absolute peak. The DVD presents very satisfying picture along with erratic but acceptable audio. It comes with no extras but that’s a minor quibble. Sign belongs in the collection of every music fan, as it’s one of the all-time greats.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5555 Stars Number of Votes: 45
3 3:
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