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The Shawshank Redemption(1994)
Framed for murder, upstanding banker Andy Dufresne begins a new life at Shawshank prison, where he slowly comes to be admired by the other inmates -- including an older lifer named Red -- for his integrity and unquenchable sense of hope.
For more about The Shawshank Redemption and The Shawshank Redemption Blu-ray release, see The Shawshank Redemption Blu-ray Review
Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler (I), Clancy Brown, Jeffrey DeMunn
Narrator: Morgan Freeman
Director: Frank Darabont
» See full cast & crew
The Shawshank Redemption Blu-ray Review
"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 2, 2009
Few films broach the subject of true male friendship. We have buddy movies, sure, but these are often just action flicks that mine an odd-couple style pairing for comedic gold. Even war films, with their Band of Brothers, one man willing to lay down his life for another mentality, rarely tackle the subject in more than a cursory way. What I'm talking about is a deep-seated, platonic, emotional bond between two men—I believe bromance is the term used in the modern vernacular—a lifelong link that can stretch vast distances and weather all storms. Most guys I know have at least one such relationship, but admittedly, we don't like to talk about it. Pride gets in the way, insecurity and machismo too, and so the camaraderie that can exist between two men goes largely unappreciated, both in our own lives and in the sex-fueled machinery of pop-culture. The Shawshank Redemption, then, is a strange cinematic enigma, a film that trades guy/girl sexual chemistry for nonphysical friendship and male-pattern emotional baldness. It's also one of the most uplifting films of the past twenty years, a fact that has left some critics wary of it's so-called sentimentality, while moving a whole generation of audiences to tears and exaltations.
Director Frank Darabont (The Mist, The Green Mile) adapted The Shawshank Redemption from a non-genre novella by horror hound Stephen King. Set initially in 1947, the film follows Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker who is wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife and her illicit lover, and sentenced to a double life term in Maine's Shawshank State Penitentiary. Also in for life is Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), the story's narrator and, as a smuggler of contraband, the prison's always-open general store. The two men strike up an almost immediate friendship, and the remainder of the film chronicles their relationship over 19 years together in the pen. Andy is innocent, but he accepts his fate, at least initially, by pursuing tiny acts of normalcy. He carves a chess set from soapstone, helps a guard with tax problems in exchange for beers for his roof-tarring crew, builds a better prison library, and eventually ends up cooking the accounting books for Warden Norton (Bob Gunton), a vile tyrant who has his sticky fingers in a number of illegal financial pies. When Andy chooses to act out his "get busy living, or get busy dying" ultimatum, he enacts a plan to take what life owes him, leaving provision a-plenty for his old pal Red.
One of the criticisms leveled at the film is that it is nonrealistic, and that certain elements of the prison experience, and certain facets of the friendship between Andy and Red, are implausible and overcooked. Fair enough, the film simply isn't a realist drama, and while I was thinking about this review, I was reminded of the introduction for Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, a play that, like The Shawshank Redemption, is a reminiscence of the long ago and far away. "The scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic," Williams writes. "Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominately in the heart." If there's a better description for The Shawshank Redemption's memory play aesthetic, I haven't found it. Red recalls his prison days, the good, the bad, and the brutal, through the foggy lens of emotion. Prison guards, like Captain Hadley (Carnivale's Clancy Brown), are remembered as one- note titans of disciplinary terror, swinging night sticks unrelentingly. Fonder moments—the rooftop beer scene comes to mind—are recollected through an amber glow of triumph and nostalgia. So, no, this is not a patently realistic film. In reality, hundreds of prisoners probably wouldn't have stopped to stare at a loudspeaker when Andy plays opera from the warden's office, but that's certainly what it felt like to Red.
Working within this memory play structure allows The Shawshank Redemption's themes to take on an almost mythic resonance. It's a prison movie, sure, but there are more kinds of imprisonment than the brick and mortar, bars and stripes variety. The film deals with institutionalization, but who hasn't felt simultaneously confined and comforted by the institutions—marriage, work, religion, etc.—of everyday life? And let's not forget hope, which Andy calls "a good thing, maybe the best of things." The film's overarching message, if you want to call it that, is that no matter how bad things may get, and how unfair the world may be, life can and will get better, provided we allow ourselves a little hope. This might sound like a platitude —and I'm the first to balk at cinematic pandering—but The Shawshank Redemption, in the breadth of its journey, is one film that actually earns the boldness of its message.
This seems to be why there's often such a dichotomy between critical reactions to Shawshank and audience response. There's no doubt that people have latched onto this film as a kind of celluloid talisman, a bit of moviemaking magic that can carry them through the tough times. And critics simply don't know what to do with that. If the film had been made in the 1940's, I think it would be universally regarded as a classic, but we're a bit too hesitant today to equate "feel good crowd pleaser" with "artful and important." And perhaps rightly so. There's a lot of emotionally manipulative tripe out there—say, The Notebook or ahem, Coldplay, ahem —that gets gobbled up by the indiscriminating maw of pop consumerism. Getting voted #2 on IMDB's Top Movies of All Time is a bit of a stretch, but with The Shawshank Redemption the masses have thoroughly and rightfully befuddled the tastemakers, and I have a feeling that the film will continue to be enjoyed for years to come. In my book, at least, that's more than enough to call it a classic.
The Shawshank Redemption Blu-ray, Video Quality
The look of Shawshank certainly needs no redeeming, as I found the disc's 1080p VC-1 transfer to be practically faultless. The early sequences of the film—like the arrival of the "new fish"—are toned in sober blues, with pulled back colors and an intentional dimness that immediately sets the atmosphere for a double life sentence. As the film progresses, the palette opens up appropriately, as Andy's meager triumphs—like scoring some ice cold brew for his rooftop workmates —are rewarded with rich, honey-brown hues. This is a film where color is definitely entrenched— however subtly—in the narrative, and the transfer rarely restrains Darabont's intentions. Black levels and contrast are strong throughout, and the only time I sensed any overt crush was when Brooks was releasing his crow Jake, as for a few brief seconds, the shadows in the library swallowed up the bird entirely. While there are a few, scattered soft scenes, the majority of the film shows a spectacular sense of clarity and sharpness, clearly rendering each pinstripe of the prison work shirts and every sad line in the prisoners' browbeaten faces. And topping off the transfer is a thin stratum of pleasingly cinematic grain, almost so thin as to be unnoticeable, but present enough to give the image a warm, living quality. Though it's likely based on the same transfer, this Blu-ray is definitely worth the upgrade from DVD.
The Shawshank Redemption Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Shawshank Redemption is finally set free with a lossless, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that's light on immersion but otherwise wonderfully broad, dynamic, and clear. As a 140+ minute prison movie about friendship, you'd be correct in assuming there aren't many whiz-bang-pow, pan and cross sound effects in The Shawshank Redemption. And if there were, I'd be worried. That said, there were times when I found myself craning toward my rear speakers, wondering if perhaps the wires had come undone and hoping for a bit more interaction. Take the scene when the "new fish" arrive, for example. The camera is placed squarely in the middle of a bustling prison yard, filled with murmuring inmates, but not a sound is heard from the rear channels. Scenes in the cellblock are similar; there are plenty of opportunities for directional ambience, but nary a "mouse fart," as head guard Byron Hadley would so eloquently put it, is heard from the rears. This is my sole complaint though, and in all other respects, this mix broadcasts Andy and Red's passing years with steadfast clarity and warmth. Voices come through cleanly—important for a film that relies so heavily on Morgan Freeman's narration—and Thomas Newman's superb score accents the emotion of each scene without once turning manipulative or gaudy. There's even some surprising LFE use that underscores a few of the more devastating moments with a throbbing low-end pulse. While the track won't set anyone's speakers ablaze with audio intricacy, I was more than pleased with The Shawshank Redemption's newly lossless sound.
The Shawshank Redemption Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption (480p, 31:01)
Frank Darabont and members of the cast and crew initially talk about how the film's under-the- radar box office debut and confusing title (Scrimshaw Redaction? Shinkshank Reduction?) led the film to sneak up on people, ingraining itself in pop culture over the years through video rentals. The rest of the feature covers nearly all elements of The Shawshank Redemption's production and themes, including the casting, the set design, the script, and the score. More affecting though, are the cast member's ruminations on the film's themes of institutionalization, hope, friendship, and freedom.
Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature (SD, 48:17)
British film critic Mark Kermode, who hosts this segment for the BBC, begins by asking, "just what the hell is so great about The Shawshank Redemption?" Like the previous feature, this documentary features interviews with director Darabont and many members of the cast, each providing anecdotes and insights about the film's production and themes. As some of the material is rehashed, I'd probably hit this one first, as it's the longer and more engaging of the two. Much of the running time is devoted to the film's meteoric rise in public awareness after its release on video, and we even get to see Col Needham, the founder of imdb.com, discussing Shawshank's unassailable place at the near top of the site's Best Films list.
The Sharktank Redemption (SD, 24:46)
This parody stars Morgan Freeman's son Alfonso as Fred Redding, a lowly assistant in a Hollywood production company who is routinely denied during his promotion "hearings." Mostly unfunny and unnecessary, the short film is easily the weakest link in The Shawshank Redemption's bonus offerings.
The Charlie Rose Show with Frank Darabont, Tim Robbins, and Morgan Freeman (SD, 42:21)
I'm a sucker for Charlie Rose, so this 10th anniversary interview was right up my alley. Honestly though, much of the material is more than covered by Darabont's commentary track and the two rather long featurettes that are included on the disc. It's good, however, to see the three men fielding questions together around a single table, and the conversation is certainly filled with laughs.
Commentary by Director Frank Darabont
Darabont recorded this commentary track—his first—for the DVD of the film, and like the rest of the special features, it makes its way to this Blu-ray release. Darabont talks constantly and at a pretty rapid clip, so this track is jam-packed with behind-the-scenes information. I only wish we had been given a second track with Freeman and Robbins to balance things out.
Shawshank Stills (1080p, 17:20)
This section contains around 150 stills that are partitioned into six sections: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Supporting Cast, Tim & Morgan, Behind the Scenes, Shawshank Storyboards, and Shawshank Collectibles. Do note that while these are video slideshows encoded at 1080p, the photos themselves only take up the middle portion of the screen.
Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 1:59)
I believe this is the trailer for the film's 10-year anniversary theatrical re-release.
The Shawshank Redemption Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
After all that talk about memory, myth, and critical response, I never got around to mentioning how absolutely fantastic the film is from an acting/directing standpoint. Tim Robbins strolls through his scenes like a man in a park, at one with his surroundings but clearly engaged mentally with some deep secret. Morgan Freeman, over the course of his three parole hearings, goes convincingly from subservient to resigned. And director Frank Darabont wrings every bead of lifeblood from King's story, frequently elevating the material into something poetic and grand. The Shawshank Redemption's box office disaster was redeemed by video sales, and this Blu-ray release will continue the tradition with stellar visuals, strong audio fidelity, and a decent package of extras, all housed within a tasteful digibook. Highly Recommended.
The Shawshank Redemption: Other Editions
The Shawshank Redemption Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - December 2nd - December 2, 2008
Author Stephen King is generally known as the king of horror, and many of his novels have gone on to become very successful horror films. And it is that generalization that catches most people off-guard when they find out that one his short stories was the inspiration ...
• Shawshank Redemption Gets Detailed - October 24, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'The Shawshank Redemption: Special Edition', which is due to hit store shelves on December 2nd. Receiving the Digibook treatment, video will be presented ...
• The Shawshank Redemption Delayed... Again - September 12, 2008
Warner Home Video has revealed that the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'The Shawshank Redemption' has been delayed from its November 4th release date by a month, and will now hit store shelves on December 2nd. Technical specs and special features have still yet to ...
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