Purple Rain (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jun 24, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Purple Rain (4K UHD Review)


Albert Magnoli

Release Date(s)

1984 (June 25, 2024)


Purple Films/Warner Bros. (Warner Home Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B-

Purple Rain (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


The late Prince Rogers Nelson was such a ferocious talent that it may seem like he must have sprung fully formed from the forehead of Zeus, but the reality is that he put in his dues to achieve what he did, both personally and professionally. He had already achieved no small amount of notoriety in the Minneapolis music scene thanks to his multi-instrumental gifts, energetic performances, and unique stylistic sensibility, but it took a few years for him to become a household name everywhere else. His music had developed over the course of four different albums that were almost entirely self-composed and self-performed, but it was really his fifth album 1999 that had him poised on the edge of superstardom. 1999 also portended things to come with a barely-perceptible bit of text that was hidden backwards on the album cover, reading “and the Revolution.” It was the first time that he credited his new band, and together they would soon begin an odyssey that would result in a successful feature film and its accompanying multi-platinum smash hit album, Purple Rain.

Purple Rain helped to smash racial and gender barriers as well, in more ways than one. 1999 had started to open doors in that regard, with its hit single Little Red Corvette landing higher on Billboard’s pop chart than it did on the R&B one—a first for Prince. The audiences at his concerts started to diversify more at that point, too. Yet Purple Rain was something else entirely. There are many reasons why, but the egalitarian nature of the Revolution was undoubtedly a factor in helping him to achieve crossover success. Inspired by one of his heroes, Sly Stone, Prince put together a multiracial and multi-ethnic band that looked like a cross section of his changing audiences—and it accurately reflected the diverse nature of the community in downtown Minneapolis as well. Yet it was the music in Purple Rain that really spoke to people of all sorts. Pop fans, rock fans, and R&B fans alike could all find something appealing in this impeccably crafted collection of songs. It didn’t hurt that Purple Rain landed in the early days of the music video era, but there’s no getting around the fact that it was the film that really put Prince into the public eye to a level that no amount of exposure on MTV could have achieved on its own. The rest, as they say, was history, although as with everything involving Prince, that history would prove to be complicated and ultimately tragic.

On a personal level, much of the film Purple Rain can be seen as autobiographical, but any details that were inspired by Prince’s own life ended up being filtered through a purely fictional lens. He had been keeping a purple notebook (naturally) with ideas about a feature film, and when the project finally came together, those ideas formed the foundation for the script that was written by William Blinn and director Albert Magnoli. Prince ended up playing a variation of his own persona rechristened the Kid, while current Revolution members Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Brown Mark, Dr. Fink, and Bobby Z. more or less played themselves, or at least thinly-disguised versions of themselves.

The same thing was true of rival band the Time, with Morris Day, Jerome Benton, and the rest all playing characters that were inspired by their own unique personas. (It’s easy to imagine Morris and Jerome really having their hilarious “who’s on first” conversation.) The rivalry itself was exaggerated in order to create dramatic tension, and that meant that Morris Day in particular was asked to play a character named Morris who shouldn’t be mistaken for the real person, no matter how much that he may seem to have all of Day’s distinctive quirks. Former Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson also makes a brief appearance in Purple Rain playing his song Modernaire, and Prince associate Jill Jones has a more significant role as a waitress at First Avenue. First Avenue is the primary setting for Purple Rain, though as with everything else in the film, it’s really a fictionalized version of the actual club. Musician Billy Sparks stepped into the invented role of the club’s somewhat mercenary manager, helping to set up the central conflict between the bands.

Where things get a bit murkier is in the area of the Kid’s personal life. Apollonia Kotero plays a purely fictionalized version of herself as the Kid’s love interest, although she ends up performing in the film as part of her real group Apollonia 6 (which was the new version of Vanity 6 after former lead Vanity stepped down). Where things get more complicated is in terms of the Kid’s family, with Clarence Williams III playing his abusive father and Olga Karlatos playing his victimized mother. It’s true that Prince’s own parents had a less than happy relationship, and they ended up divorcing when he was 10, but everything else in the film appears to have been an invention of Prince and the screenwriters. Yet it gave Prince the opportunity to explore the vicious cycle of abuse in Purple Rain, and he wasn’t afraid to have the Kid act out violently against Apollonia in the film. There’s no question that Prince had a monumental ego, but he also wasn’t afraid to explore the darker corners of his life, whether real or imagined. The treatment of women in general in Purple Rain hasn’t aged particularly well, with Jerome and Morris throwing a jilted groupie quite literally into the trash, but at least it shows that the vices of the father run on through the son (to borrow a phrase from Lou Reed).

Reality is heightened throughout Purple Rain, including the details of Prince’s actual family life, the rivalry between the Revolution and the Time, the nature of First Avenue, and even the locations. Purple Rain is a time capsule of Minneapolis in the Eighties, although the geography in it is just as creative as it has been in films that were shot in other major cities (and it freely intercuts footage that was shot in Los Angeles instead). When the Kid and Apollonia have their iconic Take Me with U motorcycle ride that ends up with him telling her that she has to “purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka,” their brief trip has somehow taken them halfway to Mankato, on the banks of the Minnesota River in Henderson. It’s clearly a river, too, so Apollonia’s mistake seems like a bit of a stretch—and ironically enough, they would have driven past Lake Minnetonka on their way to Henderson, so if the Kid really had reverence for those waters, why not just take here there instead? Still, as someone who was actually born in the Lake Minnetonka area, that scene has always been amusing for a variety of reasons.

Of course, the one area where Purple Rain doesn’t exaggerate anything in the slightest is in terms of the musical performances that Magnoli immortalized on film. That’s the real time capsule in Purple Rain, demonstrating just what kind of electrifying artists that Prince, the Revolution, Morris Day, the Time, and Apollonia could be. There’s no heightening of that particular reality, since Magnoli and his cinematographer Donald E. Thorin simply set up their cameras and captured those performances more or less “live.” From Let’s Go Crazy to Jungle Love, The Beautiful Ones, Darling Nikki, Purple Rain, and more, there isn’t a weak musical moment in the entire film (although opinions about the Apollonia 6 performance of Sex Shooter may vary). Everything builds up to the emotionally cathartic moment when the Kid finally acknowledges Wendy and Lisa’s contributions by performing their song Purple Rain to a stunned First Avenue audience. In reality, of course, the song was actually written by Prince, and yet the moment where the Kid leans over and kisses the tear-stained Wendy on the cheek still chokes me up every time. Still, the real conclusion of Purple Rain isn’t this iconic performance of the title song (there are actually two songs that follow it), nor is the closing credits scrawl, either. No, it’s actually a small line that Prince added to the very end of those credits:

may u live 2 see the dawn”

On April 21, 2016, Prince died from an accidental overdose, the result of a perhaps inevitable addiction to the opioids that were his way of dealing with the pain from the ravages done to his body by decades of performing. At the far too young age of 57, the star that Purple Rain had helped to birth had flamed out, and he no longer lived 2 see the dawn. Those of us who have survived our own brushes with death can only say, there but for the grace of God go I. Yet unlike the rest of us, Prince left behind a legacy that can never be taken away, with both the album and the film Purple Rain arguably providing the centerpiece of that legacy. Even if he had never produced anything else for the rest of his too-brief life, Purple Rain would still be a worthy epitaph on its own.

Cinematographer Donald E. Thorin shot Purple Rain on 35mm film using Panavision cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This new remaster is based on an 8K scan of the original camera negative, digitally cleaned up and graded for High Dynamic Range in HDR10 only. (The previous Blu-ray masters were reframed slightly at 1.78:1, but this version accurately reproduces the correct 1.85:1 ratio.) There are a handful of shots that are based off of a workprint instead, since the original lab mishandled the negatives and the footage was lost. It’s most noticeable during the scene where the Kid is listening to Wendy and Lisa’s demo tape and his battling parents burst into his room. The close-ups of Clarence Williams III start out from the negative and then switch to the workprint at roughly 48:30, so the difference between the two makes the drop in quality really stand out. The dupe footage was cut into the negative, so it’s nothing new, and the same issue has been present on previous home video versions as well. It’s just that the 4K resolution of the surrounding material now throws them into even sharper relief.

Aside from those few shots (and a bit of instability during the closing credits), everything else looks sharp, detailed, and immaculately clean. Between the lenses, stocks, filters, and an abundance of smoke that Thorin used, the level of fine detail on display isn’t quite as sharp as the best that the format can offer, but it’s accurate to how the film was shot. The grain is tighter than it’s been in previous versions, but it’s smooth and free from artifacts despite the fact that the average bitrate isn’t the highest on this BD-66. (As always, the quality of the encoding is just as important as the bitrate itself.) The HDR grade offers wonderful contrast, especially during the club performances, with a gorgeous array of colors on display. The overall palette of Purple Rain was intentionally limited to a few basic colors (with purple obviously being the dominant one), but there’s a lot of subtle variations within that palette, and they’re all reproduced perfectly here. The colors have been heightened, but they never appear oversaturated. Between the colors and the contrast, the image really pops in this version, but it still looks like film, and that’s the ideal for bringing older material into life on a newer format.

Primary audio is offered in a new English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, as well as the original theatrical Dolby Stereo mix in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. (It really is the theatrical version with encoded surrounds, too, and not just a fold-down of the new one.) The older 5.1 remixes were a fairly straightforward discrete encoding of the four channels from the Dolby Stereo mix, but this new 5.1 track has been significantly reworked. It’s sourced from the original 35mm magnetic source elements for the Dolby Stereo mix, with separate DME stems, although the previous 5.1 remix was used as a guide. That means that there still isn’t much in the way of split surrounds (although there are a few moments where there may be some steering, like the sound of a passing train when Prince and Apollonia are at the “lake”). The surrounds do maintain a consistent level of ambience, but the real improvements here are in the front soundstage. The music has more presence and depth, especially on the lower end of the spectrum. The bass is much deeper, which really stands out with the kick drum at the end of Let’s Go Crazy and the opening section of The Beautiful Ones. It’s almost too deep in the score by Michel Colombier, with a low drone that becomes overpowering during moments like when the Kid pushes his father away from his mother during the argument in his room. That’s a minor quibble, though, and for the most part this new 5.1 mix is a significant upgrade. The Dolby Stereo mix is here for those who prefer the original experience (and thankfully it hasn’t been relegated to lossy Dolby Digital, either), but don’t skip the 5.1 without at least giving it a try first.

Additional audio options include French and German 5.1 Dolby Digital, plus Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish (Spain), Dutch, Chinese, Spanish (Latin America), Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

The Warner Bros. 4K Ultra HD release of Purple Rain is UHD only—there’s no Blu-ray included in the package, so plan accordingly. There is a Digital Code on a paper insert tucked inside, and there’s also a slipcover that duplicates the artwork on the insert. The following extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary by Albert Magnoli, Robert Cavallo, and Donald E. Thorin
  • First Avenue: The Road to Pop Royalty (Upscaled SD – 12:22)
  • Music Videos:
    • Let’s Go Crazy (Upscaled SD – 4:04)
    • Take Me with U (Upscaled SD – 4:52)
    • When Doves Cry (Upscaled SD – 5:57)
    • I Would Die 4 U/Baby I’m a Star (Upscaled SD – 17:55)
    • Purple Rain (Upscaled SD – 7:04)
    • Jungle Love (Upscaled SD – 3:26)
    • The Bird (Upscaled SD – 3:48)
    • Sex Shooter (Upscaled SD – 4:39)

The extras were all originally created for the 2004 20th Anniversary Edition DVD release of Purple Rain. The group commentary teams Magnoli and Thorin with producer Robert Cavallo. It’s an invaluable track for local Purple Rain fans, because they spend a lot of time identifying the locations and the sets, including the parts that were actually shot in Los Angeles late in the schedule. (That’s why some of the locations have always looked unfamiliar, even to people who know Minneapolis like the back of their hands.) Whole scenes are broken up that way—during the “lake” conversation between the Kid and Apollonia, the shots of Prince were filmed at Henderson, MN, but the reverse shots of Apollonia were filmed later on in L.A. They tell plenty of stories about making the film, like how they redressed the real First Avenue (although most of the extras were wearing their own wardrobe), and how the bands came prepared with choreography by Prince, so they just set the cameras up and shot the performances. They also talk about how they softened the darkness of the original script (even the dumpster scene with the groupie was the subject of studio debate), including how they added small but significant touches like showing Morris Day’s remorse after his uncalled-for comment about the Kid’s family. There are a few gaps here, but there’s still plenty of interest for fans of Purple Rain.

First Avenue: The Road to Pop Royalty is a history of the club from its origins as a Greyhound Bus terminal to its evolution as a music venue, featuring interviews with managers, DJs, and various band members who played there. It also draws the important distinction between the main club and the 7th Street Entry. The various music videos included here have all been upscaled from their original standard definition roots, but they’re otherwise not remastered (the audio is lossy Dolby Digital only). They’re still a fascinating reminder of how music videos were still an evolving art back in 1984.

Unfortunately, typical for the slapdash way that Warner Bros. is handling their existing special features on new catalogue releases, the rest of the extras from the 2004 DVD and the various Blu-rays that followed it haven’t been carried forward to this UHD. That includes Purple Rain: Backstage Pass, which is a decent making-of documentary about the film, and Riffs, Ruffles and a Revolution: The Impact and Influence of Purple Rain, which was more of a fluff piece. The really fascinating oddity was the MTV Premiere Party hosted by VJ Mark Goodman. It’s equal parts priceless and cringe, with awkward interviews between Goodman and a variety of celebrities like Sheila E., Eddie Murphy, Weird Al, John Mellencamp, Lionel Ritchie, and Ann Wilson, as well as band members like Wendy and Lisa. Everyone looks uncomfortable during their interviews, and things go off the rails spectacularly when Little Richard appears to declare himself as the original, well, pretty much everything (something that Eddie Murphy riffs on later). He also shows off the inscribed Bible and devotional book that he plans to give to Prince in order to lead him to Jesus.

None of these missing extras appear on the Digital version, either (it offers no extras at all), so that’s a serious oversight on the part of Warner Bros. If you have the Blu-ray, you’ll want to hang onto it for those extras alone. In all other respects, this 4K release of Purple Rain blows all previous versions out of the water. It’s a significant upgrade in terms of video and audio quality, and it’s a must-own for fans of Prince and Purple Rain. We’re all used to double-dipping at this point, and this is a worthwhile double-dip.

- Stephen Bjork

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