Purple Rain

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama/Music None
Year Released 1984
Running Time 106:42 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Albert Magnoli
Warner Bros
Warner Home Video
Starring Prince
Apollonia Kotero
Morris Day
Olga Karlatos
Clarence Williams III
Case Snapper (original)
Transparent Amaray (replacement)
RPI $24.95 Music Prince
Michel Colombier

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision ?Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    In the post-Christmas dearth of new releases, the opportunity is taken to return again to some of the unreviewed back catalogue releases here at Michael D's. This occasion sees a return to one of Warner Home Video's "middle" period releases. After the euphoria of their initial releases and some very fine follow-up releases, there came the "middle" period which was highlighted by a general decline in the standards of the releases, both artistically and technically. This is a fine example of that period that basically ran from the middle of 1999 to the middle of 2000, when there was evidence of a slow return to some quality in the releases. Still, I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky with Purple Rain, given what was inflicted upon Region 1. And, one of the reasons that this was pulled out for review is the fact that I had just had the chance to replace the original crappy snapper case with a nice new transparent Amaray case and a free replacement slick from Warners.

    Whilst Prince went out of his way to deny it, this is really a largely fictionalized version of his rise to fame during the late 1970s and early 1980s, culminating in the release of the film and its soundtrack album in 1984. After this, there was but one decent album from Prince And The Revolution before he descended into the darker depths of his musical fantasies and The Revolution were ditched and/or morphed into The New Power Generation. Whilst his lyrics were always quite sexual in tone, after this they became more fused with unnecessary foul language and slowly but surely he lost the general record-buying public. It did not help that Prince went through the phase of changing his name to some androgynous symbol and henceforth was referred to as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Still, 1984 was the height of his powers and this film, or rather extended music video, captures it all.

    There is really no story to the film, and it really is just an extended music video for the soundtrack album, one of the very best albums of the 1980s in my humble opinion. Basically it is about a young kid from Minneapolis trying to make the big break into the rock industry against a backdrop of an unsettled family life, where his father beats his mother. The Kid (Prince) has a musical vision that is very different to most of the period and his anger and frustration is channelled into his only relief - the music. It also covers his love affair with Apollonia Kotero, against the backdrop of her own musical aspirations and simmering problems within his own band The Revolution - as well as the business rivalry with another band The Time in a club known as First Avenue and 8th Street Entry. The whole film is set in and around Minneapolis, where Prince hails from.

   But really just forget about the story - I would seriously doubt that anyone would really want to see this film purely as a film. And because we are not going to worry about this as a film, I guess we can largely ignore commenting upon the acting (of which there is sadly very little here), cinematography (which to be honest is not the best) and direction (which to be honest is even worse). Still, I suppose it should be noted that apart from the music, one of the highlights of the film is to see the gorgeous Apollonia Kotero stripped down to her panties. But as for the music... The film won an Oscar in 1984 for Best Original Song Score, as well as picking up Grammys, and that is what the film is all about. The album sold by the truckloads and featured such unforgettable songs as When Doves Cry, Let's Go Crazy, Purple Rain and more. Even sixteen years later many of these songs are still making radio station playlists. I would not like to hazard a guess as to how many times I have listened to the album, but it was a rare gem and one of the truly great albums of the 1980s - the last decade to show any real musical worth in the last century.

    You are not going to buy this as a film to watch, you are going to buy this as a film to listen to, and on that basis it succeeds admirably - at least until you actually listen to the soundtrack on the DVD.

Transfer Quality


    I guess it would be fair to say that the budget for this film was not huge, and that is probably a reflection of how the film looks. This is not a truly exciting video transfer, and being kind the best one could say about it is that it is serviceable. The bad news is that it is all source material related and no one else has gotten any better in the video transfer stakes.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. Whilst trying to find definitive information about this film is a difficult task, I suspect that the original theatrical aspect ratio was 1.85:1.

    Given the fact that the film did not have a huge budget, and given the fact that the film was predominantly shot in a dance club environment, I would presume that you would not be too surprised by what the video transfer actually looks like. Whilst some of the external shooting is actually quite decent in sharpness and detail, the overall film is really nothing more than average in the sharpness stakes and detail is perhaps a little worse than that. Whilst the slightly diffuse image can to some extent be lived with, the main issue is the lack of overall detail in the image and most especially the shadow detail. The result is an image that really lacks any great depth to it and on occasions even lacks foreground detail. You really do miss out an a lot of detail in this transfer and that is regretted. Clarity is also quite average throughout, mostly due to some grain in the source material and compounded by stage and atmospheric lighting that does not aid the whole appearance. There did not appear to be any significant low level noise issues with the transfer.

    The colours are not especially wonderful either, and the overall feeling of the transfer is understated. I really would have expected a little more vibrancy and tonal depth to the colours, especially given that another moniker for Prince was The Purple One. This is not so much purple as mauve. There were some problems with respect to the lighting inside the night club and when the red lights come up the transfer has a hell of a problem keeping it under control - and fails to on a few occasions. A good example of the oversaturation in the red is around the 63:00 mark, but others do exist. The result is a major washout of detail and does detract from the film - but I would hasten to add that I suspect that this may be an inherent source material problem rather than being solely a mastering problem. The whole film though could have benefited from a lot more depth to the colours.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although pan shots did seem to have a problem holding resolution. I would again tend towards source material problems here rather than mastering issues. There was nothing too much in the way of film-to-video artefacts present in the transfer, although there was some moiré artefacting around the 22:50 mark and minor aliasing was noted on a few occasions (16:13 being a good example of how it really is not that bad). Unfortunately the transfer is somewhat plagued by film artefacts, although perhaps no worse than to be expected in an unrestored film of this era. None were really too distracting though.

    Whilst this is not an exceptionally good transfer, I would iterate that most of the problems are probably source related and I doubt that anything better is going to become available any time soon.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    If you thought the video transfer was bad, you ought to hear what they have done with the sound...

    There are two soundtracks on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Not wishing to hear the relatively banal dialogue in dubbed French, I stuck with the English default here.

    The dialogue comes up quite acceptably in the soundtrack and is generally easy to understand. There did not appear to be any significant audio sync problems in the transfer although once or twice the ADR work is less than stellar.

    The original music score comes from Michel Colombier, but really you would not know it is there at all as the whole film's purpose is to highlight the songs from Prince and company. Everything pales in the face of those great songs, which makes the problems with the soundtrack even more puzzling.

    The cover says this is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and you sit back in the obvious expectations of something blasting you out of your seat. Wrong. This is really a poor soundtrack, often lacking any sort of indication of any surround channel activity and some curiously forward balanced sound with mildly recessed vocals that really is quite unnatural sounding at times. The lack of rear surround usage is quite noted when it finally does come in, most particularly during the song Purple Rain. As the bass channel gets a decent run here, the overall effect is of a bass-heavy soundtrack that does not carry any power to the music - which is after all the entire purpose of the film. Compounding the bass-heavy feel to the sound is one section between 97:00 and 97:25 which is blessed with some grossly unnatural bass reverb that really is distracting. This is really a sadly underwhelming soundtrack and the mastering is quite poor indeed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Zippo, nada and nothing. You should note that the references to Production Notes and the Region 1 menu screen capture on the original snapper packaging are both grossly misleading and have been rectified on the new slicks.


    Just repeats the same image as the slick cover.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 release misses out on:     The Region 1 release misses out on:     The Region 1 release is part of the mid-price range from Warners, and nearly the entire series is highlighted by Pan and Scan transfer abominations. Actually trying to find online reviews of the Region 1 DVD is fraught with frustrations, and I failed to locate any review on the major reputable sites. However, given that it is only a Pan and Scan transfer, Region 4 is the obvious winner here since the trailer and production notes would hardly be considered as serious inducements. The only thing in favour of the Region 1 release is the fact that it can often be picked up for less than $10.


    As a film Purple Rain is no great shake but as a music video it is as good as it gets. However, mediocre video source materials work against the film and it is then pretty much sunk by a sadly underwhelming soundtrack that shows evidence of some poor mastering. Add in no extras, and you really do have to wonder what there is going for the package. That answer is simple - some of the best music of the 1980s. If you persevere with some fiddling of your settings, you can get the soundtrack to be a little better sounding, so that when you crank it up it really can get some action going.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
21st January 2001

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL