Purple Rain appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This marked the first widescreen release of Rain, as the prior DVD came only with a fullscreen rendition. Despite my fondness for Prince, I never saw that set, as I heard too many bad things about it. As such, I can’t compare this version to the original.
In any case, I felt pretty pleased with the image seen on this DVD. Shot on a low budget, Rain showed some rough edges but mainly came across well. Sharpness presented the main complaint, as some shots looked surprisingly soft. Not many of these occurred, but I saw more than a few, and they created some distractions. No problems with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and only some light edge enhancement manifested itself. Print flaws remained mostly absent. I saw the occasional speck or mark, and both the budget and general darkness of the film made it moderately grainy at times. However, the latter issue seemed less substantial than I expected, and the source defects stayed minimal.
Many Eighties movies featured murky hues, and given the surfeit of stage shots that featured colored lighting, Rain presented a challenge in that regard. It succeeded acceptably well, though never a lot better than that. The colors fell somewhere between the level of natural accuracy and the era’s muddier tendencies. For the most part, the tones came across as a little flat but not badly so. The movie occasionally mustered pretty lively hues, and it reined in the colored lighting well; those shots were reasonably concise and distinctive.
Black levels weren’t exceptional, but they were adequately dark and dense. Between the shows and club shots, lots of low-light sequences appeared, and the movie handled them surprisingly well. Take the date between Morris and Apollonia, for example; the whole thing looked quite dim, but it maintained our view of the actors very nicely. I flip-flopped on my grade for Rain and thought a “B+” might be a little high, but I felt that when I considered the film’s age, difficult lighting conditions and low budget, it merited the higher grade. Rain didn’t look great, but it presented a generally very nice transfer.
On the other hand, I anticipated a lot more from the audio, and the mix usually lived up to what I expected. Not surprisingly, music dominated the soundfield. The audio emphasized the forward channels, where the songs and score presented very fine stereo imaging. Other effects spread out the image acceptably well, though they didn’t play a substantial role in the proceedings. Nonetheless, they gave the mix a good feel of atmosphere, despite some moderate “speaker specific” tendencies for the effects. The surrounds didn’t do much. They added general reinforcement of the front channels and created a decent sense for the club scenes. Not much occurred there, but given the film’s age, they worked fine.
The quality of the audio also appeared good for a 20-year-old movie. Dialogue occasionally sounded slightly flat, but not often, as the speech mostly came across as fairly natural and distinctive. I noticed no issues with edginess or intelligibility. As I already mentioned, effects didn’t have much to do in Rain, but they were reasonably accurate and clear, and they occasionally added good life, such as with the rumble of the Kid’s motorcycle.
Of course, we expected the most from the music, and it delivered. I worried that the stems might not be up to snuff; I believe that Prince owns the master tapes of his stuff from his years with Warner Bros., and considering his continued bitterness toward that group, I kind of doubt he’d offer up their use for the DVD.
Nonetheless, both score and songs sounded quite good. I’ve listened to the Purple Rain album eight jillion times over the years, and I felt the DVD replicated that material accurately. The mix presented the music with bright highs and some outstanding low-end. Bass response really thumped at times, and those elements always stayed tight and lacked any looseness or boominess. I found little about which to complain from the quality of the music on the DVD, and that factor led me to give the audio of Rain a “B+”.
For this two-disc special edition, DVD One opens with an audio commentary from director Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo, and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. They mostly stay with technical issues. We hear a lot about locations and sets as well as the cold weather conditions in which they shot. We also learn about deleted shots, editing, and visual design. They chat a little about working with Prince but don’t provide much insight there; you definitely shouldn’t expect that they dish dirt about him. More than a few instances of dead air as well as the mostly dry content make this commentary drag at times. I don’t think it’s a bad discussion, but it lacks much zest and doesn’t give us a great feel for the production.
Otherwise, all we find on Disc One is Prince: The Trailers. This includes promos for Rain as well as Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge.
Over on DVD Two, we start with First Avenue: The Road to Pop Royalty. This 12-minute and 15-second program looks at the famous nightclub via archival materials, movie clips and interviews with producers/former members of the Time Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, First Avenue manager Steve McClellan, Revolution members Dr. Fink, Bobby Z, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, Suicide Commandos member Chris Osgood, Suburbs member Chan Poling, First Avenue DJ Mike Bosley, Prince’s former tour manager Alan Leeds, radio DJ Walter “Q Bear” Banks, club promoter “Cowboy”, author/journalist Neal Karlen, and Jim Walsh of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. They go through the club’s history as well as its layout, its attached club Seventh Street Entry and acts who played both, the diversity of the audience and acts, Prince’s appearances at the club, and the place’s representation in the film and the way the flick affected it. It’s too bad we don’t get footage of Prince there, but otherwise this provides a good look at the subject. We receive a nice feel for the location and its facets in this tight little piece.
Next we go to Purple Rain: Backstage Pass, a 29-minute and 35-second documentary. It uses the same format as the prior show and includes interviews with Jam, Lewis, Coleman, Melvoin, Fink, Leeds, Bobby Z, Robert Cavallo, Albert Magnoli, Time member Jellybean Johnson, actor Jill Jones, journalist Kurt Loder, Minneapolis filmmaker Craig Rice, and co-writer William Blinn. They go into the development of the film, finding a director, acting challenges and the reality behind the story, the film’s music, casting Apollonia, shooting in Minnesota, working with Prince, real-life band rivalries, ‘When Doves Cry” and some of the other songs, filming the performance shots, and the movie’s reception. A smattering of material repeats from the commentary, and more than a little happy talk pops up, mostly from the relentless praise for Prince. Nonetheless, the show gives us a reasonable amount of good information. The notes about the music seem cool, and the perspectives of the musicians open up the topic. It’s not a really deep documentary, but it seems useful and fun.
The DVD follows this with Riffs, Ruffles and a Revolution: The Impact and Influence of Purple Rain. It goes for nine minutes and 55 seconds as it presents remarks from Rice, Leeds, Fink, Banks, Bosley, Coleman, Karlen, Melvoin, Bobby Z, Lewis and Jam, Loder, costume designer Marie-France, costumer Sonya Berlovitz, musical artist Macy Gray, and music journalist Amy Linden, They discuss the tour that followed the album and movie, the immense popularity of all this, the impact on fashion and music, A lot of this comes across as little more than praise for the whole project, but we get some good notes on other subjects. The discussion of fashion seems particularly interesting, especially when Melvoin says what we’re all thinking about how absurd the outfits now look. While you shouldn’t expect much insight, it’s still an entertaining look back at the era.
A more direct evocation of that occurs in the MTV Premiere Party. It fills 27 minutes, 48 seconds with the original 1984 broadcast. Hosted by VJ Mark Goodman from Hollywood at the after-party, we see shots from the Mann’s Theatre premiere, where Goodman briefly chats with Eddie Murphy and Shelia E. Back at the party, he talks with Melvoin, Coleman, Little Richard, Sheila E, Murphy, John Mellencamp, Weird Al, Lionel Richie, and Ann Wilson of Heart. Not surprisingly, we get much praise for the Purple One and little substance. Sheila becomes possibly the worst interview subject ever; when asked if Rain is autobiographical, she replies, “whatever you think”. Murphy provides a funny bit, though, especially when he mocks the egotistical Little Richard. Though glossy and superficial, this still is kind of cool to watch as a period piece.
The set ends with eight music videos. We find clips for Prince’s “When Doves Cry”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Purple Rain”, “I Would Die 4 U/Baby, I’m a Star”, and “Take Me With U”. We also get pieces for the Time’s “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” as well as Apollonia Six’s “Sex Shooter”. Truthfully, only a couple of these count as true music videos: “When Doves Cry” and “Sex Shooter”. The former tosses in some film clips but mostly consists of footage - lip-synch and otherwise - shot specifically for the video. The latter tries to tell a story in which Apollonia tells off Prince and moves on, but it mainly shows lip-synch shots of Apollonia 6, ones not taken from the movie.
”Let’s Go Crazy”, “Purple Rain”, “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” consist of nothing more than conglomerations of film clips and aren’t very interesting. “I Would Die 4 U/Baby I’m a Star” comes from a 1985 concert in Syracuse that came out on video back in the Eighties. At 18 minutes, it’s way too long and becomes pretty tedious, but it’s still nice to get a look at part of that show since it’s not out on DVD. “Take Me With U” is even more intriguing. It’s another live performance, and I assumed it would be from the Syracuse show, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t. I’m too lazy to drag out my laserdisc from that concert, but I definitely don’t recall it including this version of the song. I could be wrong, but I think this is from something different; I don’t know the origins, but it’s a great addition to the set.
A career-making success, Purple Rain seemed great in 1984 but now comes across as dated and fairly silly. The performance scenes still rock, and a few glimmers of good moments appear due to the banter of Morris Day and Jerome Benton, but otherwise the flick’s something of an amateurish mess. The DVD presents surprisingly strong picture along with very good audio and some nice extras. Prince fans will definitely want this one, as it represents his milestone work well, but I can’t push a recommendation to others.