When The Color Purple hit theaters back in 1985, I didn’t quite know how to feel about it. I had read Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name and I was conflicted about some of the changes made. Age and time have softened my stance. While I still don’t care for some of the sentimental touches applied to the story by director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Menno Meyjes’s adaptation, it’s hard to argue that The Color Purple shouldn’t be considered a classic and was unjustly snubbed at the Oscars.

Whoopi Goldberg made her film debut as Celie Harris, an uneducated African American woman forced to endure tremendous physical, sexual and emotional abuse in rural Georgia in the 1920s and ’30s. At just fourteen, her father gives her to a much older widower named Albert Johnson (Danny Glover); a big, short-tempered fellow who shows the girl little kindness and little mercy, beating her regularly. As the years pass, she forms important friendships with her younger sister Nettie (Akosua Busia), jazz singer Shug Avery (Margaret Avery) and defiant housewife Sofia (Oprah Winfrey)  that sustain her through the years of cruelty. Most importantly, she finds the courage to escape the men who have kept her captive all her life.

More than a tale of female empowerment, The Color Purple is a deep, complex tale about the African American struggle in the early 20th century. While slavery was a thing of the past, the scars of that time—poverty and bondage—still ran deep. Celie’s life is a mass of physical abuse and imprisonment. At times, it’s difficult to bear witness to Celie’s torment, which makes the story more effective.

On the rare occasions that Spielberg and his screenwriter don’t quite reach the emotional core of Walker’s novel, Goldberg and Winfrey fill in the blanks. Both actresses do a tremendous job, capturing every emotion of their characters. With the help of their performances, Allen Daviau’s cinematography and Quincy Jones’s jazz-addled score, Walker’s words leap off the page and onto the screen. The shift from written correspondence (the original story is told via a series of letters and diary entries) to a more traditional film narrative hardly matters and, if anything, allows Spielberg to avoid potential pitfalls.

In the end, The Color Purple is an inspiring story that resonates as much today, as ever. Aside from the obvious plot, Walker’s story is about us and the ways we treat each other. While there are a few flaws, this is a film that transcends race and time, in favor of a wider message about humanity.

While not advertised as being from a new 4K scan, Warner Bros.’ new 2160p/HDR10 transfer, is an obvious upgrade from a strong 2011 Blu-ray release. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, fine detail has been given a boost as expected. Spielberg’s warm, lush palette is expertly captured, and depth is wonderful throughout. Occasionally, the image is a bit soft, but this is likely because of the way the film was shot. No flecks or specks are present. Viewers should be very pleased with this presentation.

DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is similar to the 2011 Blu-ray release, but does sound a bit fuller in spots.  Quincy Jones’ sentimental score sounds very good. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise.

English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included.

The following extras have been ported over from the 2011 Blu-ray:

  • Conversations with Ancestors: The Color Purple from Book to Screen (26:40)
  • A Collaboration of Spirits: Casting and Acting The Color Purple (28:39)
  • The Color Purple: The Musical (7:36)
  • Trailers – Two teasers and the film’s original trailer.

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