Sparkle DVD: Review By Dodd

A well-meaning story with terrific tunes
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
A well-meaning story with terrific tunes
A lack of extras and little character depth
You gotta love the DVD market. Once a film makes it in theaters, every possible title within the same arena is resurrected for possible niche marketing tactics. Recently all the rage has been over the musical Dreamgirls. The box office numbers are lucrative and the Academy is raving about the performances from Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy. Based on the original 1980's Broadway musical, there is not a predecessor film to be released simultaneously on DVD. Or is there? Before Dreamgirls, there was Sparkle!

The 1976 film tells a similar story to Dreamgirls, but is not an exact replica. Rather than best friends, Sparkle revolves around the rise of three sisters. In fact, their group is fittingly called Sister and the Sisters (how original). Coming out of Harlem, the sibling trio wishes to become the next big thing to hit the soul scene. Sister (Lonette McKee) is the lead singer while Sparkle (Irene Cara) and Delores (Dwan Smith) provide backup. Sparkle's supportive boyfriend Stix (Philip Michael Thomas) even has a hand in promoting the girls.

As most stories about success go, this one is saturated with the ups and downs of vanity, indulgence, and unhealthy addiction. As Sparkle gratefully plays a supporting role, Sister focuses on making the right connections. Her naivety leads her into an abusive relationship with crime kingpin Satin (Tony King) who showers her with cocaine and bruises. However, Sparkle proves that in low times, there is always the chance to stay strong and rise again.

Sparkle is a promising melodrama that comes through with soulful tunes, strong performances, and a well-written screenplay from Joel "I Ruined Batman" Schumacher. The truth is I really enjoyed Sparkle's earnest depiction of three sisters pursuing the big dream. It is even unique enough to not be constantly compared with Dreamgirls.

So what exactly is the problem? Sparkle is full of many positive qualities that are not defended enough in its 98-minute runtime. Sister and the Sisters experience a roller coaster ride of success and failure, but everything simply unfolds too quickly. There are some films that run too long and can be handled in a shorter run time. Sparkle is the complete opposite as it houses an array of complex characters that are not explored nearly enough. When tragedy and happiness strike, it is the same feeling as trying to empathize with someone with whom you have just been acquainted. These interesting characters are not explored nearly long enough to be understood. While on the subject, their singing talents are not demonstrated nearly enough either!

While the characters are slightly hollow, the performances are strong. There are not many familiar faces here. Philip Michael Thomas is the most famous of the cast as he later went on to play Detective Tubbs in the 1980's hit series Miami Vice. Here there is a similar parallel between his character and Jamie Foxx's in Dreamgirls. The leading ladies also chew up the scenery. While Lonette McKee is stunning in a Donna Sommers-like turn as Sister, Irena Cara is the real heart of the film as Sparkle; the underdog sister who overcomes hardships for the sake of her dream. It is no surprise that she later appeared in the film version of the musical Fame.
There are no extra features on the DVD. However, it does come with a CD complete with five tracks from the film soundtrack composed by Curtis Mayfield. This is better than nothing, but the overall extras are rather bare.
Widescreen. The magic of DVD can really shave a decade from a film print. The picture quality here upgrades this 1970's flick to something more in the vein of 1980's picture quality. While not perfect, it is certainly a step in the right direction. The vibrant colors of the music clubs and the seedy shadows of Harlem all come through clear.
Dolby Stereo. The DVD is complete with a 2-speaker track. While this is better than Mono, I still expected better from a musical. However, the distortions of 1970's recording equipment lead me to believe that this could be the best option.
Standard DVD keep case. The sibling trio is pictured on the front cover to intentionally attract fans of Dreamgirls. A print tagline even states that this is what came before the hit blockbuster.
This film is obviously intended to bring in those who could not get enough of Dreamgirls. While this is a clear-cut marketing tactic, the film itself is not bad. It does not make use of extra needed time to acquaint the audience with its characters, but it still makes for a retrotastic musical experience. I won't suggest buying this immediately, but Sparkle certainly deserves a rental for curious movie-lovers.

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