- May 7, 2001
The Shawshank Redemption
Two Disc – Special Edition
Studio: Warner Brothers
Film Length: 142 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1
Languages: English & French
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Package: Two discs/Keepcase
Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.
Personally, I’m not one to throw around the term “classic” without giving the title some thought. Oftentimes, people gratuitously refer to any B&W film as a classic or just about any modern day release that lasts longer than a week or two and manages to gross more than $20 million at the box office. In my opinion, a film that was produced more than thirty years ago doesn’t necessarily qualify it as a classic, nor does a modern title that shows adequate staying power or one that earns a kajillion dollars at the box office. However, when referring to modern day classics, one film quickly qualifies; The Shawshank Redemption.
To commemorate the film’s ten year anniversary, Warner has released a three disc Limited Deluxe Edition as well as a two disc Special Edition of the highly regarded film, The Shawshank Redemption. The picture is an impressive and incredibly moving piece of film-making from director/screenwriter Frank Darabont who adapted Stephen King's 1982 novella, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (a title that eventually becomes obvious later in the film). The inspirational and life-affirming film is a combination prison drama film and character study which takes place at Maine's oppressive Shawshank State Prison (in actuality, shot at the condemned old Mansfield Ohio Correctional Institution and State Reformatory).
Similar to a bottle of wine, this film only seems to get better and more appreciated with time. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Morgan Freeman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound - but it failed to win a single Oscar – even the film's director failed to receive a nomination. The picture was thought to be too long and the film’s own title (which was also thought to be weak) purporting to be a prison film about redemption was shunned by theater goers. Instead, Forrest Gump won the coveted statue and we won’t even go there…
During a quiet night in a wooded area near a cabin, a driver reaches for his gun in the glove compartment. In an attempt to fortify himself, he guzzles a mouthful of bourbon from a bottle held in his lap. Shortly after in the courtroom, the driver is identified as Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins). Andy's wife (played by Renee Blaine) was having an affair with Glenn Quentin (played by Scott Mann), the golf pro at the local golf and country club. Needless to say, they both wind up dead – shot to death. According to Andy, he was drunk and disoriented and intended to commit the crime, but then after quickly sobering up, he had second thoughts. Andy is charged with the murders and is found guilty of the crimes and sentenced by the judge (played by John Horton) to serve two consecutive life sentences - one for each of his victims.
As Andy arrives at the dilapidated old prison facility, he is greeted in the admitting area, by the self-righteous, Bible-thumping, hypocritical Warden, Mr. Samuel Norton (played by Bob Gunton), who welcomes the new inmates by telling them: “I believe in two things - discipline and the Bible. Here you'll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord. Your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.”
Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (played wonderfully by Morgan Freeman) is the real hero of the story, and after serving twenty years of his sentence, receives his cursory annual review. He consistently vows his rehabilitation has been accomplished – by which he swears to God – but is continually rejected by the parole board. Following the hearing in the prison's exercise yard, Red begins his omnipresent and wise voice-over narration of a world-weary, downtrodden man who has all but given up hope at eventual freedom. He is the prison's highly respected smuggler with many connections who successfully obtains contraband for the inmates from outside sources – ”a regular Sears and Roebuck”.
Andy soon meets fellow, but elderly inmate Brooks Hatlen (played by James Whitmore). As Andy discovers a maggot in his soup, he’s asked by Brooks if he can have it; "are you going to eat that?" In a moment similar to another memorable prison film, The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Brooks wants the maggot to feed his companion, a baby crow (named Jake) which he has nestled in the pocket of his sweater.
Andy, who’s thought to be rather aloof and slightly conceited, is assigned to work in the prison laundry room, where he keeps pretty much to himself. After learning that Red knows how to get things, Andy officially meets Red and makes a simple request for a geological rock hammer to resume his hobby, although Red seems concerned and questions whether the tool will be used instead, for tunneling out of the prison.
Now friends, Red and Andy are selected from volunteers to begin work resurfacing the roof of one of the institutional buildings. In the fresh air of the outdoors - without fences or bars, Captain Byron Hadley (played by Clancy Brown) complains bitterly about exorbitant government inheritance taxes that he is going to owe after receiving money from a wealthy family member’s estate. Andy overhears Hadley’s concern and boldly approaches the Captain and asks him if “he trusts his wife”. Enraged with Andy’s audacity, Hadley grabs him and drags him to the edge of the roof to throw him off, dangling him there precariously. Quickly, Andy (who’s an ex-banker) proposes a resolution that would free up much of the taxes he was going to be required to pay. All Andy asks for in return is three beers apiece for each of his co-workers. Needless to say, from that point on, Andy not only earned the respect of his peers but that of the brutal and dim-witted prison guards.
Considered to be new meat, Andy is constantly being threatened and sexually brutalized and is eventually beaten within an inch of his life to a point of having to spend a month in the infirmary. However, knowing a good thing when he sees it, Captain Hadley is there to protect his new financial advisor. Upon his recovery, Andy is transferred from the laundry area and is reassigned to Brooks, the prison's librarian. Invaluable as a financial planner, Andy is allowed to set up an office in the library where he does tax returns for most of the guards at the prison. Eventually, he even does the Warden’s books which afford him access and opportunity to see Norton’s personal papers and accounts.
Andy learns of a tale through a new inmate, Tommy Williams (played by Gil Bellows) who claims to know who really shot the victims – the crime he’s been accused of. The Warden doesn’t believe the story and he believes that Williams fabricated the revelatory tale to cheer Andy up – to offer him hope. With the inmate’s testimony, Andy knows that he could get a new trial, but the Warden isn't convinced nor does he want to believe Tommy's story, probably because the end result would be losing his invaluable creative accountant. That evening, he is shot and killed by prison guards who claimed the young man was observed trying to escape.
With any and all hope but dashed, Andy is continuously inspired by a dream of winding up in the small town of Zihuatanejo, Mexico after getting out of prison and eventually opening up a coastal beach hotel with a charter fishing boat. He constantly recounts to Red how it would be a forgiving and tranquil place with no haunting memories of the past. After a third attempt, Red, who has all but given up, finally makes parole but will the two finally meet up at that beautiful and serene coastal town in Mexico…?
Perhaps one of the main reasons I so highly regard this film is the presence of Morgan Freeman, in not only his physical presence, but throughout the course of the film and his voice-over narration (of his personal recollections) all of which seem to add to his sense of doom and destiny at the prison, even though he seems to have reconciled the thought of ever being released. But what we seem to appreciate is his laissez-faire attitude which, in the end, serves as his only survival mechanism – an attitude which has allowed him to survive over several decades at Shawshank. During the course of the film, you’ll also hear and see many references to a number of classic films such as Gilda (1946), Harvey (1950), The Seven Year Itch (1955), and One Million Years, B.C. (1966), some of which are used to tie in the leading lady to show the passage of time (Hayworth, Monroe and Welch).
And finally, the discs are housed in a keepcase and really, my only actual criticism (albeit a rather petty one) is the cover art that was used for this re-release. In my opinion, it is not representative of the film and does nothing to convey the feeling or emotion of this wonderful movie unlike the original poster art as Andy stands in the middle of the creek with his arms fully extended to the sky – in a triumphant and liberated stance. I really think this set would have been better served with something along the lines of the similar and brilliant original poster art. Oh well. Essentially, the Two Disc Special Edition is the same as the Deluxe Limited Edition, minus the soundtrack CD and a book and the Deluxe Edition will run you about $15 more.
The Feature: 5+/5
The problem with a disc like this is that the bar is already high. Even though this was an early release, the original transfer is actually quite good. It’s one of the few older releases I plunk in my player at least twice a year and I’m still very much pleased (or impressed) with the A/V presentation. So when a new release comes out under similar circumstances (particularly a title of such high profile), I think expectations might be a tad on the high side.
Having said that I do believe the new version of The Shawshank Redemption is better but only marginally and only in certain places. Let me explain. Colors are somewhat vibrant (perhaps even slightly more so than the original version) but they are slightly darker. Similar to the original film, blacks are superb and whites are stark. Skin tones also looked slightly darker but again, in some scenes they look better, in others, I prefer the original version.
In terms of image definition, the newer version appears to be slightly sharper, which in my opinion never really was a concern with the original release. There are some facial close-ups that appear throughout the course of the film and they are gorgeous. Even the wider and longer shots stay relatively sharp and rarely become soft.
There is a minute amount of fine film grain present throughout the course of this film and it definitely has a pleasing amount of depth and dimensionality – no change from either version really. The print, as we would imagine, is virtually immaculate and is pretty much free of any dust or dirt.
The image is rock solid and free of any shimmer of jitter. The disc is also free of any artifacting or edge enhancement.
I’d be lying if I said there were some scenes from the original version that I didn’t prefer, for example there are several courtyard scenes. The newer version looks darker, changing the look (and the mood) of the film entirely. I do prefer the look of the colors in the newer version, but the more I look at the newer version, the more I’m inclined to be just as happy with my previous one.
I’m still giving the video portion a relatively high score as it is indeed a superb transfer. I think my analysis of the new version would be misleading if I were to call it better or vastly superior – better in some places, not in others. But it does look different. And from my standpoint, it’s difficult to tell what was intended.
I don’t know if there have been any changes made to the DD 5.1 track but if there have been, I am unable to find them. My best guess is that nothing has been changed - not necessarily a negative comment in that the original version is a fine track, just don’t be expecting a superior presentation on the newer one.
The entire track is clean and free of any hiss or other distractions such as crackling or popping. The overall tone and fidelity is natural and pleasant. I wouldn’t necessarily call of the track aggressive but it can become forward when it needs to i.e. some of the fights, slamming cell doors etc.
Dialogue was handled to perfection and was always clear and intelligible even during many of the pieces that were used to score and accompany the film.
The soundstage is satisfactorily wide with a pleasing sense of separation. As for the dynamic range it is better than average but falls short of many of the recent modern releases.
The surrounds are deployed tactfully and are on hand to basically enhance the envelopment with ambient noise of the cellblocks, the mess hall and the courtyard etc. But the soundstage is mostly anchored to the front. There are a few occasions when the .1 channel kicks in but only to enhance the slamming of doors etc.
Typical of Warner’s Two Disc Special Editions, the set includes a host of special features. The feature film is located on disc one as well as a:
[*] Commentary by director Frank Darabont. The director goes into great detail about the film which includes everything from the conceptual process to various cast & crew information. He offers up a lot of terrific behind-the-scenes information about the film and he is extremely easy to listen to with little to no dead time at all. Overall, I was quite pleased with the commentary and found it entertaining and instructive. Great job..!
[*] The only feature on disc two is a Theatrical Trailer which is oddly presented in P&S. Hmmm. Duration: 2:11 minutes.
[*] Disc Two starts off with Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at the Shawshank Redemption, which includes a number of comments and reflections from various cast & crew members as they offer up some of their personal experiences during the production of the film. Duration: 30:59 minutes.
[*] The next feature is Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature which is a British made for TV documentary. Director Frank Darabont discusses many of the greats that influenced him over the years such as George Lucas and Frank Capra as well as an in depth discussion about his inspiration for some of the film’s characters. Duration: 48:13 minutes.
[*] Next up is an interview on The Charlie Rose Show featuring a roundtable discussion with host Charlie Rose who discusses the film with Frank Darabont, Tim Robbins, and Morgan Freeman. As always, Rose does a superb job, asking a number of great questions and elicits a lot of informative responses from the guests pertaining to the film. Duration: 42:18 minutes.
[*] There is also a parody entitled The Sharktank Redemption which chronicles the life of two actors trapped within the Hollywood establishment as they discuss and plot the escape from the office confines. The spoof was directed by Natalie Van Doren and written by Doug Van Doren in 2000. Morgan Freeman’s son, Alfonso, plays the same character his father did in the 1994 film. Duration: 24:43 minutes.
[*] Also included is a collage of photos from a gallery, storyboards and promo art work from the film.
[*] Shawshank Collectables is a short clip showing some of the commissioned artwork by artist Drew Struzan. Duration: 1:04 minutes.
[*] And last, but not least, you’ll find a DVD-ROM Web link.
Special Features: 4/5
**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**
Despite two hours of wrongful incarceration, atrocious living conditions, brutal violence and rape, one simply cannot watch this feel good film and walk away uninspired and unmoved by the resilience and fortitude demonstrated by Andy and Red. In fact, I can’t think of a single character study film which equals the qualities shown by the two main characters of this film – qualities all of us would like to possess and through their dogged determination, we root for these underdog like characters as much as any sporting team we’ve ever cheered for.
Crucial to the film is the relationship and friendship that has been forged between Andy and Red. Not only do we see Andy and the way he reacts within the confines of the prison, but his persona is brilliantly and perfectly narrated by Red – who, regardless of his past criminal doings, is a man we like and trust. This is a truly remarkable film which is only now getting its due after being ignored by the Academy and theater goers years ago. This film has become engrained in our soul and in our culture and it’s no wonder it is as highly regarded as it is, placing very high among my list of personal favorites.
Since my priority is the presentation, rarely, if ever, will you find me recommending a disc or set based on the special features. And such is the case with this Special Edition of The Shawshank Redemption. I’ve laid out the details as best I could; it’s up to you to decide if you want to shell out the extra clams for the new release. Therefore, if you don’t already have this title in your library, this version based on the special features alone is the way to go. However, I’ve always considered the original release to be a better than average presentation and I’d be hard pressed to recommend the Special Edition based on the newer presentation alone, so factor that into your decision.
This set was one of my most anticipated releases of the year and frankly, I’m a little disappointed. I don’t know, perhaps even my own expectations of the new release were unrealistic. The cover-art is unappealing and even the new menus are ghastly in comparison. Add to that, the fact WB sent out the screeners days after the street date, all add up to me thinking, perhaps not a lot thought or preparation went into this new version. My score is based on the film (most importantly) and a presentation that is, for the most part, only slightly better (if not only different..?) than its predecessor which was already great to begin with.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)
Release Date: October 5th, 2004