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The first DVD I ever bought was the Region 4 edition of The Green Mile, one of the early discs to reach Australian shores during the technology’s infancy. After shelling out for a DVD player, largely unknown in households until a couple of years later, I was proud to be able to have that disc as the first in my soon-to-be large collection. The extras were sparse (these were the days when interactive menus and scene selections were classed as special features) and the transfer pales in comparison to the visual quality on recent discs, but the quality of the film meant that I so desperately wanted to have this on my new favourite format.

Skip forward approximately six years later and The Green Mile has been revisited, released as a two-disc special edition which really pays tribute to the quality of the film with the best possible release Warner could muster.

Green Mile, The (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Feature
The film is based on a six-part series of novels written by legendary author Stephen King, who agreed to release the story once a month for six months so that it would force him to deliver a piece which otherwise may not have been written. Writer/Director Frank Darabont, fresh from the overwhelming success of The Shawshank Redemption a few years earlier (another King adaptation), was so keen on using this story as a basis for his next script that he basically agreed to write a screenplay before he had read the last parts of the series.

When Darabont did get around to making a screenplay out of King’s novels, the result was incredibly impressive. It is regarded in film circles as one of the most flawless film adaptations ever written, with King himself even giving it that title. And this script would form the basis for what would become an accomplished film by anyone’s standards.

The story surrounds a prison block in Louisiana dubbed The Green Mile; a series of death-row waiting rooms separated by a faded green strip of linoleum floor in between. Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is a veteran prison guard who has been numbed by years of watching hardened criminals brought to justice in the cruelest of fashion. Things change when he is introduced to a man named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a larger than life black man who has been accused and convicted of killing two young girls on a farm. Coffey might be large in stature but he has the mind of a child, coupled with an extraordinary healing power that captures the mind of Paul Edgecomb and the other prison guards on the Mile.

The film is an epic tale (the running time is just under three hours) of humanity, redemption, hope and the human spirit. It is captured incredibly beautifully by Darabont and his team considering the principal set was a dimly-lit cell block. Credit must go to the cast for keeping the focus on the incredible characters in the story, from Tom Hanks at the top of his game right down to the minor roles in what is an incredible ensemble cast. The likes of James Cromwell, Bonnie Hunt and Patricia Clarkson give incredibly measured performances in their relatively brief appearances, while the prison guard cast of David Morse, Barry Pepper and Doug Hutchison are absolutely brilliant in conveying the emotion of the situations they face.

Green Mile, The (Two-Disc Special Edition)
The most credit must go to Michael Clarke Duncan for his break-out role as John Coffey. While Sam Rockwell plays the lunatic inmate to perfection and the late Michael Jeter lightens the mood a little, Michael Clarke Duncan was a real find in this role. His emotion was as good as any seasoned actor could have produced, and it came as no surprise when he was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar in 2000. The beauty of it all is that the ensemble as a whole does the job so well that you’re never too caught up in one performance, such is the standard they all set.

I can’t speak highly enough of this film. The story translates perfectly to the big screen, and it’s a credit to Frank Darabont that he is able to construct such a beautiful piece without killing the sentimentality with over-the-top melodrama, something which often creeps in when there is a lot of emotion involved. You really need to be in the mood to see a film like this, particularly because of its running time, but when you settle down for a night with Tom Hanks and co the time will be of little importance.

Video
The running time also become a factor in bringing out the best possible transfer for the film. The minor inconvenience of having to split the film over two discs is forgiven because plenty of room is freed up to maximize the bitrate. And the transfer is definitely a marked improvement over the early release. The sharpness is much better, the colours are much more vibrant and the high level of grain present in the old release has disappeared in this one. If anything it shows you how far DVD has come in the past six years. We thought things looked great back then, and now with this release we now just take for granted the quality of the visuals we are treated to.

In all this is a very fine transfer, as it should be for a film spread over two discs. The 1.78:1 visuals look fantastic, even with the limited colour palette available. Lime green linoleum never looked so good.

Green Mile, The (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Audio
The audio has been given a little bit of a birthday as well, with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack adding a lot more punch and clarity than the previous release. The surrounds aren’t used extensively as this is a very dialogue driven picture, but they do come into their own when the orchestral score kicks in. It’s a brilliant musical arrangement that is enhanced greatly by placing the sound in the rear as well as the front. The rest of the soundtrack is top notch, though nothing outstanding to note.

Extras
While previous releases had only one documentary to add to the package, this two-disc special edition gives us a range of pieces covering all aspects of the production. First up is a commentary track by Writer/Director Frank Darabont, who is a very eloquent man with a voice that translates very well to a commentary track. The details he provides are incredible, with everything from where CGI was used, to the search for different locations, to the casting choices made for the film being covered. Darabont says he hates giving away his visual tricks, but I think he takes secret delight in being able to reveal his techniques in order to make the story convincing. A great commentary track that will delight fans of the film.

Next up are a couple of deleted scenes which were dug up after a big effort in tracking them down. The first scene involves Graham Greene confronting his daughter in a brief but emotional scene with no dialogue, while the second is a scene with John Coffey and the prison guards as they prey before he is sent to the electric chair. The optional commentary from Frank Darabont gives you a good insight into why the scenes were cut, as well as outlining the struggle in bringing these two the viewer in the first place.

Michael Clarke Duncan’s screen test is next on the list for disc one, and it’s a ripper. It’s great to see exactly how the test panned out, and it’s obvious to see why he was hired for the role of John Coffey. The piece runs for about eight minutes in total.

Also included is a make-up test with Tom Hanks, which runs for about five minutes overall. Originally Hanks was to play the older Paul Edgecomb thanks to the magic of elaborate make-up, and this is the result of the early experiments. Hanks, in his old-age get-up, reads a scene from the film, then we cut to another scene with Hanks in a different style of make-up as a last test before the filmmakers decided on a different actor. It’s interesting to see what it would’ve looked like, and the choice of finding an actor to play the older Paul Edgecomb is explained in one of the featurettes on disc two.

Green Mile, The (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Next up is the trailers section, with the first piece entitled The Teaser Trailer: A Case Study. The purpose for this small featurette was to explain the theory behind providing a teaser trailer for the film in order to let people know that the film isn’t just a prison movie, but more a Tom Hanks film with plenty of surprises in store. I won’t spoil it for you, but the end result is quite unexpected. You actually get to see the teaser trailer in this piece as well, or you can view it separately in the extras section. The theatrical trailer is also included, and is an incredible advertisement for the film.

Disc two contains a few more extras that shed even more light on the production process. The first piece is an original featurette from back in 1999 entitled Walking The Mile. This was the only feature included on the original release, so it’s great to see it back here in this definitive edition. It is basically an overall look at the whole process of making the film and briefly covers some of the ground the more in-depth pieces on the disc talk about in the rest of the extras section. That said, however, it’s still a good look at the making of the film as a whole.

The next feature is called Miracles and Mystery: Creating The Green Mile. This lengthy documentary is divided up into several sub-sections, dealing with Stephen King’s original novels, the art of adapting them into a screenplay, the work of the actors on the film, the design of the cell block set itself, the “magic” of the mile (creating realism through various film techniques) and the “tail of Mr.Jingles”, which deals with the little mouse who becomes a character in itself throughout the film. Possibly the more poignant aspect of these featurettes is an interview with the late Michael Jeter, who describes his on-screen death as a sad time because he knew the production would go on without him. Jeter applies that to life, and expresses his sadness that life will go on when he passes away and he might be forgotten. Thankfully his brilliant work in films such as this ensures his memory will always be with us.

Overall it’s a great extras package, and judging by the way Darabont describes the struggle of finding the deleted scenes for us to enjoy, it’s the best we’re ever going to get. Thankfully it’s enough to add some real value to the package.

Green Mile, The (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Overall
While it’s probably not the kind of film you’re going to revisit once a year, there is no doubt The Green Mile is a powerful piece and deserves it’s recognition of one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time. Everything from the look, to the pacing, to the performances is top notch, making this a near flawless piece of work that is, in my opinion, at least equal to that of The Shawshank Redemption, which it will always be inevitably compared to. The two-disc set itself is a marked improvement over the previous release, with a brilliant visual transfer, a great audio mix particularly in terms of the music, and a comprehensive extras package which is great for fans of the film. Go out and grab your copy right now. If you haven’t seen the film before you’re in for a real treat.  


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