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How can a movie with atrociously bad acting, a wafer thin script and haphazard direction be released as a two disc Special Edition DVD? Well, for all its flaws, and there are many, Purple Rain is a gloriously entertaining film and one of the films that personifies the "me" decade that was the 1980s.

The year 1984 was supposed to be the ominous year of Orwell and big brother, but instead, 1984 was ruled by the Purple Prince. In 1984, Prince managed to have the number one album, number one single and number one film at the same time, something that only the Beatles and Elvis Presley had accomplished before him. Prince was the king in 1984 and this movie is what propelled him to the heights of superstardom.

Purple Rain: 20th Anniversary Special Edition
Film
Purple Rain is the story of the Kid (Prince), a Minneapolis musician who fronts the rock group The Revolution (keyboard players Lisa Coleman and Matt “Doctor Fink, bassist Mark “Brownmark” Brown, drummer Robert Zajonic and guitarist Wendy Melvoin), one of the house bands at the First Avenue Club and Seventh Street Entry. The crowds at the club are not really fans of The Revolution and the band itself is falling apart due to in-feuding, mainly between the Kid and the women of the band who want to write and perform their own songs. But the Kid has no interest in material other than his own.

The Revolution's internal fighting is not helped by the popularity of the rival house band The Time, fronted by Morris Day (himself) and percussionist Jerome Benton (himself). Rivalries reach breaking point when Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero) arrives in town and catches the interest of both the Kid and Morris. Apollonia is interested in the Kid, but Morris can offer her a start in the music business. The Kids jealousy abounds when Apollonia joins Morris’s all girl group, Apollonia 6.

The Kid’s situation isn’t much better at home, with his parents constant abusive fighting and then heart-warming reconciling creating a spin cycle on the Kid’s mind. With his would-be girlfriend working for his rival, his parents fighting, his band falling apart and the owner of the First Avenue Club threatening to cancel the Revolution’s slot at the club, the Kid is in major trouble. Will everything work out in the end?

Purple Rain is a flawed film, but every flaw cannot diminish the fact that it’s a great film. No really, it’s a great film! Prince has said that the whole Purple Rain situation was a time period and he’s right; if Purple Rain had been released in say 1987, it may not have been as successful. MTV began in 1981 and by 1984, the music video was just becoming a bona-fide art form and artists were becoming known for their style rather than their music. Purple Rain was released at the perfect time when music videos were just becoming a major part of popular culture. Purple Rain fuses a superb soundtrack, an immensely talented (with an ego to match) musical star with a groundbreaking visual style to make a gloriously entertaining 'rock musical' that is unrivalled in its success.

Purple Rain: 20th Anniversary Special Edition
Video
Purple Rain has been digitally remastered and presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16:9 enhanced. There are incidents of grain and numerous film artefacts, but these small imperfections aren’t a major disadvantage for this release. The overall image is clear, crisp and details are exceptional. The only major complaint is the colour saturation during the scenes at the club. The reds and purples, which light the concerts, create major problems with shadow details and skin tones. But I don’t think any digital remaster could have solved this colour problem. The way this film was produced (with very little money and time) has meant that shortcuts were made and therefore the poor lighting in the club scenes is a film making issue, not a DVD issue. This is the best the film is ever going to look and I’m sorry to say that if you purchased the bare bones release of this film a few years ago, this release eclipses the video quality of that release. Overall, this is an impressive video transfer that really can’t be faulted.

Audio
The sound for this release is probably more important than the video. The Purple Rain soundtrack is a killer from the '80s and it's central to the appeal and success of the film. Advertised as a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 surround package, you would expect exceptional sound for this release. Unfortunately, the overall soundtrack is very disappointing and the major problem with the audio is apparent within the first few minutes of the film. The film begins with the track Let’s Go Crazy, which is spread across all the channels, albeit at a low volume. Turn the volume up and the song sounds fantastic, but all other sound effects and dialogue only come through the centre channel at an extremely low volume. The uneven nature of the audio is very distracting and continues from the first scene to the final scene. It’s a major issue that the sound is so patchy and although the songs sound fantastic blaring through all the channels, the almost mono soundtrack that the rest of the film is afforded is unforgivable.

Extras
The 20th Anniversary release of Purple Rain includes some fantastic extra features. It should be pointed out that Prince has not taken part in the any of the new material produced for this release. While Prince is prominent in the archival footage, there are no reflective interviews with the main creative influence behind the film. I don’t think any Prince fan would have expected his involvement in this project and without his participation the newly produced featurettes, while interesting, lack the substance that Prince could have added.

Purple Rain: 20th Anniversary Special Edition
First up is an audio commentary by director Albert Magnoli, producer Robert Cavallo and director of photography Donald E.Thorin. This commentary is actually quite intriguing with all voices offering wonderful nuggets of information and enchanting memories. The commentary combines a nice balance of technical film making information and amusing stories. If you a big fan of the film, this commentary is definitely worth a listen, but most of the material covered is repeated in the various featurettes.

Theatrical trailers for Purple Rain, Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge are also included. I love theatrical trailers of '80s films and these trailers could have easily been forgotten on a special edition release, which includes so much other content. Thankfully, someone remembered and three trailers for the entire Prince film collection are presented here.

‘First Avenue: The Road to Pop Royalty’ is a 10 minute look at the history of the real First Avenue club. The importance of this club to the Minnesota music scene and the success of the many bands that started there like the Revolution and The Time is discussed and some recent video footage of what the club looks like today makes for interesting viewing. ‘Purple Rain: Backstage Pass’ is a 30 minute retrospective featurette about the making of Purple Rain. This featurette manages to comprehensively cover all aspects of the production of both the film and the soundtrack. While a contribution from Prince would have invaluable, the various interviews with cast and crew are nonetheless informative. ‘Riffs, Ruffles and a Revolution: The Impact and Influence of Purple Rain’ is the best of the three newly produced featurettes and it looks at the impact of the music and style of Prince and Purple Rain. Although only running 10 minutes, this featurette is jam packed with information and includes some great concert footage.

‘The MTV Premiere Party’ for Purple Rain is the first extra that I took a look at because I couldn’t believe it was actually going to be included on this release. This is a perfect 30 minute slice of '80s nostalgia and is a major treasure on this DVD release. Prince was a major star on MTV and therefore MTV made the premiere of Purple Rain a significant television event. This footage combines the red carpet arrivals for the premiere of the film as well as some vintage TV spots advertising the film and the videos for Let’s Go Crazy and When Doves Cry. Hosted by original MTV VJ Mark Goodman, the nostalgia buzz from this feature is overwhelming. Showcasing big hair, purple outfits and interviews with Eddie Murphy, Sheila E, Little Richard and Lionel Ritchie, this footage is all fluff and nostalgia, but you have to love it. Where else can you see Pee Wee Herman arriving on a red carpet in a mini car!

Purple Rain: 20th Anniversary Special Edition
The last extra is a collection of eight music videos from the three main musical groups of the film. Prince & the Revolution music videos for Let’s Go Crazy, Take Me With U, When Doves Cry, I Would Die 4 U and Purple Rain. The Time music videos for Jungle Love and The Bird and a Apollonia 6 music video for Sex Shooter. Ultimately, a nice collection of extras. The only thing missing from this release is Prince himself.

Overall
The reprehensible screwing up of the audio transfer is the only thing that stopped me from giving this release a better score. Purple Rain has never looked better and the various extras, including the outstanding MTV Premiere party footage, make this release a must buy for every Prince fan and anyone, like myself, with a 80s pop culture fixation.


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