"The Color Purple" (1985)- Movie Review

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Menno Meyjes (based off novel by Alice Walker)
Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey

‘Spielberg at His Finest’

Adapting books into movies can be an extremely challenging job. Filmmakers have to be able to get across the message of the novel in a sufficient running time that isn’t too long or short. Also, characters need to be properly brought to the screen in a way that’s faithful to the source material. An even more demanding job could be adapting a novel that’s widely regarded as a classic.

Steven Spielberg seamlessly accomplishes the near impossible with “The Color Purple”, one of his most underrated films. Based on Alice Walker’s novel, the movie tells the story of a young African American girl’s struggle through a society of overpowering men, racism and injustice. Spielberg is at his finest hour, weaving together a defining classic for the ages. Given how respected and beloved the novel is, it seems unthinkable that a movie adaptation could live up to it’s spirit. Spielberg’s film surprisingly does since its crafted with undying passion and love for the source material.

The director, himself, is regarded as a great filmmaker due to his ability to tug at the heartstrings. With a filmography that consists of war period-pieces, science fiction stories, and summer blockbusters, Spielberg has experience in nearly every genre of movies. And that’s what makes him so unique and different from other filmmakers today. He’s willing to take risks and challenging subjects in order to succeed in life. “The Color Purple” is yet another strong film in his already diverse career that solidifies his skills as a director. Here, the audience gets the rare treat of watching a movie that not only does justice to a novel but also stands alone as an important proposition about racism and equality.

Its a moving, heartbreaking and powerful motion picture that represents filmmaking at its very best. Mostly every aspect of it rings true and honest to its source material, and the film never comes across as being too exaggerated or sappy. Most movies of this type get too carried away with their subject, and often present themselves as self-indulgent. “The Color Purple”, however, is far from self-indulgent. Director Steven Spielberg forms an unbreakable bond of love with each of his cast members, which allows him to get the very best performances out of them.

The most important task that all directors face is the challenge to manage both the technical and storytelling departments. Spielberg expertly weaves his way through both areas of interest, faultlessly handling them like he was born for the job. In terms of visuals, “The Color Purple” is filmed beautifully capturing the essence of the novel’s setting with great ease. The opening scene of the film is a wonderful way of introducing the viewer to the characters, time period, and setting. This specific part of the film captures the feeling of being a child and the innocence that is associated with it. Its these moments that allow Steven Spielberg to shine the most as a director of the technical department. He definitely has an eye for detail, yet he also knows how to catch the viewer’s attention in the beginning of a film.

Spielberg is without a doubt a masterful storyteller as well. Filmmakers of book-to-movie adaptations usually face dreary challenges such as the inability to fit a certain amount of material in a specific period of time. Although the novel for “The Color Purple” is nearly 300 pages long, Spielberg manages to make every second of his film adaptation count. He mostly stays true to the novel, but what’s fascinating is his decision to add in material that isn’t included in the book to make the film more deep and profound. Its a bizarre choice that somehow pays off as the viewer gets to experience different layers to each of the characters, particularly Shug Avery, who has an interesting relationship with the preacher of a church. Each and every one of the characters are portrayed on screen in a way that’s faithful to the novel. Screenwriter Menno Meyjes deserves awards for developing and characterizing the characters; he manages to make as larger-than-life and memorable as they are shown in the novel.

Another great achievement that Steven Spielberg manages to reach is the ability to convey a wide range of emotions in the movie. The film is funny, sad, depressing, joyful and at times even solemn. These emotions create a real attachment between the viewer and subject, making the movie quite personal like the book. There’s no denying the fact that the novel’s mood is different, as it maintains a depressing feeling throughout. However, this doesn’t detract from the quality of the movie because it works in it’s own special way. Spielberg certainly takes risks by creating a different mood from the book, but in a sense, it unexpectedly enhances the film to another level.

Quincy Jones’ soundtrack is a notable thing to gape at. It has a fitting presence that matches the emotionally resonant mood of the movie. Each song from the jazzy “Miss Celie’s Blues” to the main theme of the film adds an entirely new dimension that allows the movie to work. And something tells me that without a soundtrack like this, “The Color Purple” would not be nearly as effective as it is.

The cast is phenomenal with each performer completely immersed into their role. At times it feels as if the actors aren’t just playing characters, but real people who interact and contemplate.

Whoopi Goldberg gives a fantastic performance as Celie, the protagonist that suffers through abuse and troublesome times to transform into an independent woman. Never has any character from a book seemed so riveting and perfect on screen. Goldberg impressively portrays the pain, tolerance, and unconfidence that shape up Celie as a character. Her expressions, demeanor and tone of voice are all under extraordinary control. A scene where this actress completely steals the show is when she stands up for herself against her husband near the end of the movie.

Who ever thought that Oprah Winfrey would fit into the character of Sofia? I had my doubts before watching the film, yet the actress is magnificent in what was at the time her debut role in Hollywood. Its a compelling, star-making performance that shows Winfrey’s rare ability to grasp a character’s personality with ease. Sofia is a demanding character not only because she is so strong and forceful, but also due to the fact that she is a very prominent figure in the novel. Its impressive if an experienced actress pulled this role off, yet it would have been more plausible if a first-time actress succeeded. And that’s what really propels this performance as a great one. Winfrey was at the time new to the filmmaking industry, but nothing could stop her from doing justice to a beloved character.

Taking everything into account, “The Color Purple” is a magnificent film that stands today as a defining classic of American Cinema. Viewers that are unfamiliar with the novel may find themselves struggling to understand the power of this movie as it is very faithful to its source material. However, its still a prominent film about controversial topics that reside in our everyday lives. Steven Spielberg has accomplished enough to remind the world that movies can be more than just a form of entertainment.

5/5 stars

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