The Shawshank Redemption, 1994.
Directed by Frank Darabont.
Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, and James Whitmore.
The Shawshank Redemption arrives on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. The film looks beautiful, but no new bonus features were commissioned for this edition, so all of the extras were ported over from past releases. A Blu-ray disc and a code for a digital copy are included too.
No one in Hollywood knows anything, as screenwriter William Goldman once mused. The Shawshank Redemption, written and directed by Frank Darabont, is a great example of that maxim. The prison movie was a box office flop during its initial theatrical release in 1994, only to go on to earn seven Oscar nominations (winning none) and post modest ticket sales during a re-release before becoming the top video rental of 1995.
Based on Stephen King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” the film largely stays faithful to the source material as it tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker convicted of killing his wife and her lover, through the narration of Red (Morgan Freeman), a grizzled convict who’s known in Shawshank for being able to smuggle in just about anything, for a price.
Andy and Red strike up a friendship, with the former endeavoring to make improvements to the prison, such as getting funding for a better library, while the latter awaits the denial that he is sure will come at his next parole board hearing. Andy’s financial acumen comes in handy when the guards need their taxes done and the warden begins laundering money, and eventually it turns out that this quiet banker is capable of much more than he seems.
The Shawshank Redemption first appeared on VHS in the home video world, later coming to DVD in a bare bones release and then in a two-disc Special Edition for its tenth anniversary. Unfortunately, that last DVD’s bonus features, while great, were ported over to Blu-ray and not updated for this new 4K release, which is a shame since this is a movie that seems to be perfect for a nice long retrospective documentary and perhaps a new scholarly commentary track. More on that below.
I’m not sure if the film was remastered for this new release, but the print looks beautiful in 4K. While this was never going to be the kind of movie used to show off what 4K can do, given its muted color palette, it still benefits greatly from the additional detail provided by the format. For example, the production team actually built a cell block in a warehouse for many of the interior scenes, but if you didn’t know that, you’d likely think they filmed in an actual prison that’s been in use for decades. The railings have missing paint spots, the bars are grimy, and the walls feel like they hold the stories of hundreds or even thousands of people who have resided there.
Other little details like that are noticeable throughout the film, and the print retains a light amount of grain, as you’d expect for a movie shot the old-fashioned way. The only bonus feature on the 4K platter is Darabont’s commentary track, with the included Blu-ray housing the rest of the extras. I’m not sure if the Blu-ray is the same one that was previously released or if the print it contains is improved too. A code for a digital copy is also included.
Regarding the director’s commentary, it was the first one Darabont ever recorded, doing so for the 10th anniversary Special Edition DVD way back in 2004. It still holds up well, and he does a nice job of talking through the movie and giving plenty of interesting anecdotes and thoughts. Given the film’s stature, it would have been nice to get an additional track with a film critic, or even Robbins and Freeman, but I realize a lot of movie studios are wary of putting too much money into new discs when sales continue to decline.
Darabont’s track is found on the Blu-ray too, along with the rest of the bonus features:
- Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption (31 minutes): This short documentary features Darabont and the cast and crew looking back on the making of the movie. Darabont notes that it was in development under King’s original title, which led a lot of people to think it was a Rita Hayworth biopic. He recalls with bemusement that one agent even claimed to have read the script and said that their client would be perfect to play Hayworth. (Perhaps no one in Hollywood reads anything, either.)
- Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature (48 minutes): Produced by the BBC, this is an overview of the movie hosted by film critic Mark Kermode. Most of the same folks from the first featurette show up here. Some of the anecdotes about the making of the movie are repeated, but the bulk of this piece is more about the film’s impact on its many fans who have voted it near the top of IMDB’s greatest movies of all time list.
- The Charlie Rose Show with Frank Darabont, Tim Robbins, and Morgan Freeman (42 minutes): This is an episode from Rose’s talk show that was shot for the film’s tenth anniversary. There’s a fair amount of repetition from the commentary track and the two featurettes, but it’s still worth a watch to see the director and his stars play off each other in a group setting.
- The Sharktank Redemption (24.75 minutes): This parody stars Freeman’s son Alfonso, who has a brief cameo in the movie (Darabont points him out during the commentary), as a Hollywood production company assistant trying to get promoted. It’s not that amusing, and it feels a bit tone deaf today, especially in light of the accusations made about producer Scott Rudin, former studio chief Harvey Weinstein, and others in positions of power who have abused and assaulted people.
A batch of still photos, storyboards, and the theatrical trailer round out the disc.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★★