Blu-ray Review: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

Warner Home Video
Release date: December 2nd, 2008
MSRP: $34.99

Director: Frank Darabont
Stars: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown

Tim Robbins stars as Andy, an accountant that has been found guilty of murdering his wife and her lover. His sentence is to two live terms to be served in Shawshank penitentiary. Andy starts to bond with Red, a man that has been in prison for decades and has become quite used to it, even developing a profitable little business as the guy that can get things.

When I think about Tim Robbins, I see a solid actor that has done some good work. But looking at his career, I can’t help but notice that when he shines, it is brighter than almost anyone in the biz today. The Shawshank, Bull Durham, Mystic River, The Player…each of these films were notably better simply because of the quality of the performance that Mr. Robbins (I don’t know him well enough to call him Timmeh) delivers. Morgan and the rest of the cast do a fine job, but Robbins’ performance is at the heart of TSR.

But even the finest acting can’t save a film if the material is weak. Writer/director Frank Darabont does a masterful job of transferring not only the words of King, but the nuances and the very magic that the author is known for. How many times has King’s work been wasted on the silver screen? Darabont seems to get into King’s mind and heart in a way that no other director or screenwriter has been able to.

Darabont’s films have an almost capraesque feel to them. Here, despite the harsh setting, we can’t help but feel a sense of hope. Andy’s refusal to sink to the level of his surroundings rubs off on his fellow inmates, especially Red. In the end, the film is about maintaining not only your hope, but also humanity in even the darkest of places. Instead of altering Andy, the place itself undergoes a bit of a transformation into something not so horrible. Don’t get me wrong, the prison does not become Shangri-La, but the light shines a little more into this dark place.
Visually, the film is solid but nothing special. The blacks are deep, but there is film grain throughout the film. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the transfer, but the print they used clearly was suffering from wear and tear. Don’t get me wrong, the film looks nice, but is simply not a perfect image. The film is presented in 1.85:1 windscreen with a VC-1 encode.

This release contains all of the extras from the standard DVD release. Director Frank Darabont provides an excellent commentary track, full of info and anecdotes. One of the more amusing comments was regarding the lack of deleted scenes…apparently the ones that do exist suck.

Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at the Shawshank Redemption runs around 30 minutes and talks about how the movie emerged, on home video, as a classic after little or no fanfare early on. We hear from the cast and crew, as well as Mr. King. King talks about his working relationship with Darabont. Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature” was produced by the BBC. Part of it is a behind the scenes piece, but it also talks about what a great film it is. We hear from the usual suspects, along with British film critics and even some former inmates of the prison used for the film. A very nice piece that has a little more depth and is the stronger of the two featuettes. Both of these are around the turn of the century (I still have trouble using that phrase).

We also get a 2004 Charlie Rose show segment that has Freeman, Robbins and Darabount.

The Sharktank Redemption is a parody of TSR and Swimming with Shark. It features Freeman’s son and is somewhat entertaining, but not a must watch. Also included are a variety of storyboards, photos and whatnot, as well as an HD trailer.

The packaging deserves a mention here. We get a book format with over 30 pages of pictures, cast bios and more. A pleasant surprise that makes one feels like they are getting something special.

This is, in my opinion, the best Stephan King adaptation to date. Stand by Me and The Green Mile (also Darabont) are good, but Shawshank stands above them. Full of humanity and more than a little humor, The Shawshank Redemption is a must own. The Blu-ray release is an excellent opportunity for those of you that still have not picked up a copy of this film.

Order the Blu-ray of The Shawshank Redemption from Amazon.

Jeremy Lynch
For more reviews from myself, and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.