The current reigning champ on IMDb, The Shawshank Redemption seems to switch places around with the likes of The Godfather for the top spot, but that isn’t bad company to keep. Although it didn’t make waves at the box office during its original release, the home video market helped spark further interest in this film and soon it jumped to movie critics lists as one of the most powerful films of all time. It’s no wonder that Warner Home Video has given the title their lavish “book” treatment for the Blu-ray release, as this is clearly not only a film to have in your collection but also one you want to stand out.
Few movies capture the triumph of the human spirit as memorably as Frank Darabont’s film The Shawshank Redemption, from the same Stephen King story collection that gave us “Stand by Me.” Morgan Freeman plays Red, a lifer who knows how to cope with the bleak hopelessness of Shawshank State Prison. Tim Robbins plays new inmate Andy, a quiet banker convicted of murders he didn’t commit – and whose indomitable will earns Red’s respect and friendship. Andy’s resourcefulness brings hope and change to the entire prison. He’s full of surprises. And the best comes last, leading to one of the most satisfying finales in film history.
Although I haven’t seen all of the greatest acclaimed films, The Shawshank Redemption was another in my list that I hadn’t seen. Of course I didn’t feel quite so guilty about not seeing this one as I had with The Godfather, partly because The Shawshank Redemption and honestly didn’t seem to be such a prominent force when talking about top 100s. It became just another movie that I wanted to see but never had a chance to. Now that I have seen it, however, it is definitely high-ranking on my list of favorite films, though not for the same reasons that movies of similar stature are.
At its core there is nothing wholly remarkable about The Shawshank Redemption. What makes it remarkable is that is undeniably perfect. There isn’t a speck of dialogue or story progression that is out of place; there isn’t a second of the film that causes you to glance at the clock and there isn’t an unbelievable storyline in it. Everything about the film is just so human that there isn’t a single moment on the screen that you yourself can’t relate to, which allows for it to be a very emotional film, with the least character turn in the film feeling completely natural.
I think that’s where the film garnered the majority of its praise. While it’s smartly written with an ending you have an inkling that may exist but are unsure of what its final outcome may be, The Shawshank Redemption’s strengths really lie in its characters and the interactions they have with one another. You really feel it when Brooks (James Whitmore) final scenes are shown on screen and it becomes especially difficult to watch the final sequences with Tim Robbins as you’re so unsure of what his true intentions are.
After such a knockout combination of a Stephen King story and brilliant direction by Frank Darabont, I’m rather surprised I disliked The Mist so much. Although I did greatly enjoy The Green Mile (yes I have seen that film), I guess The Mist was just too much of a massive departure from the emotional-driven works that The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption were for me to really get into it. But that’s another review (which I already wrote). I felt like mentioning it, however, as it seems as long as Darabont directs King stories about prison, I can get more emotionally involved with it.
In any case, The Shawshank Redemption is a remarkable film that will quickly jolted to the top of my list of favorites. It’s hard to believe I managed to put off seeing it (and to also avoid spoiling the bit of a twist ending) for so long, but I’m thankful for this Blu-ray release. Not only was I able to witness the film in full HD for the first time, but its release gave me an excuse to finally get off my butt and check it out. I feel like I’ve done the film a great injustice by writing so little about it, but it’s really just a film you have to see and experience. It’s not easy to criticize or analyze simply because there isn’t anything to scrutinize; it’s a brilliantly composed and constructed film and finding fault with it would be like finding fault with your everyday life. It’s possible, of course, but its life—it’s as real as it gets. Must See.
As previously mentioned this release comes in Warner’s special “book” packaging. For those who have yet to pick one of these up or see them in stores, the casing is a little bit taller than a standard Blu-ray case and is bound in thick cardboard, much like a standard book would be. Under the shrink-wrap is a thirty-three page booklet filled with images from the film, profiles on the actors and director and an essay regarding the film itself (I can’t seem to find an author for the piece though…strange). There’s also some trivia in there as well, although reading all of it makes it a bit hard; you don’t want to bend the pages or the spine, but it’s something you’ll have to do if you want easily read everything in here. At the back of the book flap is the digi-pak tray that holds the single Blu-ray for this release, which is covered in the same art as the cover (a brilliant painting by the incredibly talented Drew Struzan).
Video for this release is a VC-1 encoded 1.85:1 video transfer with a 22mb/s transfer that averages around 18/25. Although it has a fairly high bitrate, I can’t say I was blown away by the picture presented here. There is detail to be had certainly, especially when you get some close-ups of Freeman and Robbins and you really begin to pick up their facial details, but overall the film is a bit hazy in nature. I’m doubtful it’s anything caused by DNR or some kind of over-processing and more something to do with the natural look of the film. It’s not waxy or blurry in any way, it’s just not very crisp. There’s no real depth to the image which may turn some off, but very rarely was it anything that actually stood out to me. I only noticed it because I made a mental note to occasionally tear myself away from the film to make sure I wasn’t glossing over any transfer details, but there’s honestly not a whole lot here. It looks good, but it’s not a super detailed transfer by any means.
The audio, a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, sounds fantastic. Plenty of rear channel noise with prison yard chatter and some of the brutal elements brought about by Clancy Brown’s character have a lot of force to them courtesy of the subwoofer. It quiets down about an hour into the film, however, and we really don’t hear a whole lot of surround work until the final act which calls for a bit more of an emotional mix. I’m glad Warner actually included a TrueHD track here—so many of their releases are standard DD5.1 fare. Though that’s here too, as are French and Spanish 2.0 tracks. Subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Portuguese are available as well.
Extras for this release are all in standard definition, aside from the Theatrical Trailer (1:59) which is in 1080p. All of the extras are carried over from the previous 2004 special edition, but that’s not a bad thing—there’s plenty of good to check out here. First up is the Commentary by Director and Screenwriter Frank Darabont, followed by “Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption” (31:01) and “Shawshank: The Redeeming Future” (48:17) which both delve into the production of the film. “The Charlie Rose Show” (42:21) is an archive segment that includes interviews with those involved with the film and “The SharkTank Redemption” (24:46) is…I’m not entirely sure what this is; I assume it’s a parody. It lost me about halfway through as to what its true purpose was being here, though it boils down to an office parody. I think it cheapens the overall feeling of The Shawshank Redemption by parodying it, but I can see the appeal of it; certainly isn’t anything I’d watch again, however. The disc wraps up with “Shawshank Stills” (15:59) and “Shawshank Collectibles” (1:23).
Overall this is a great release if you don’t already own the 2004 release, but if you do then you won’t get anything new except for the technical transfer. While this is the core reason for the Blu-ray format, the VC-1 transfer really isn’t all that great, so you may be less than excited by the results. Regardless of whether you choose to rent or upgrade to this edition, this release comes Highly Recommneded. The book packaging is a little awkward on the shelf next to the rest of the Blu’s, but it’s the type of movie you don’t mind standing out in your collection.
The Shawshank Redemption arrives on Blu-ray on December 2nd.