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It has been ten years since the film The Shawshank Redemption first hit movie theatres. Although it did not make a huge splash at the box office, the movie has continued to thrive and even grow in reputation through its many airings on cable television and a huge following in the video and DVD market. Now, in celebration of its tenth anniversary, Warner Brothers has re-released the film in a two-disc special edition, and it is something to behold!

Shawshank Redemption: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, The
The year is 1947. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a prominent Maine banker, is on trial for killing his wife and her lover in a fit of jealous rage. Although he maintains his innocence, he is convicted of the crimes and sentenced to two life sentences at Shawshank Prison. It is there that he meets and becomes friends with Ellis Redding (Morgan Freeman), “Red” for short, and the two develop a bond which goes beyond words. Red has the ability to get almost anything for anyone inside the prison—for a fee. Meanwhile, Andy has developed a knack for bucking both the official prison system, and its “unofficial” system. He refuses to give in to the bullies in the penitentiary, and he also rebels against the established regulations governing the facility. Funny thing though, after almost each incident of rebellion, both his reputation and his worth inside the prison seems to increase.

Soon Andy finds himself aiding the shady prison warden, Warden Norton. A deeply religious man, the warden lives by the Good Book, unless it involves hiding ill-gotten gains in false bank accounts. When Norton finds out that Andy is a banker, he recruits Andy to handle his bookkeeping functions, making sure that there are no traces back to him.

Meanwhile, as the years pass, Red comes up for parole on different occasions, and in each instance, his petition is denied. When Brooks, an elderly inmate who runs the prison library (James Whitmore) that has been in prison for the majority of his life, is finally granted parole, he suddenly and mysteriously turns a knife on another prisoner, hoping the offence will keep him in jail. It turns out that he is deathly afraid that he will not fit in with the rest of the free society, and he only knows the life of the prison. It is a true piece of exceptional writing and acting that you feel sorry for him when he walks out of prison and into the free world. His story comes to a sad and tragic ending and it left me speechless.

Back inside the prison a young inmate, Tommie Williams, has just arrived and through his discussions with Red, it is believed that he has previously served with the man who was really responsible for the murder of Andy’s wife and lover. When Andy informs the warden that Tommie has such information, Andy is politely dismissed and told that prisoners will say anything to get on the good side of another inmate. Andy is persistent however, and when he continues to pursue the situation, the warden reluctantly agrees, until Tommie is mysteriously shot to death trying to escape from Shawshank. Andy’s only chance for hope comes crumbling down around him as he remembers the words of Red which were spoken when he first arrived—that hope was something that most people in prison do not dare to have.

Shawshank Redemption: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, The
Shortly thereafter, as the prison’s morning rituals are being played out, Andy’s cell is found empty. A thorough search of the prison yields no results, and once it is determined that Andy has escaped, the entire regime of the crooked warden comes to a sudden end as state police descend on the facility. One of Andy’s parting measures to the warden was to make a local paper aware of the warden’s illegal actions, and also put the warden’s many illegal bank accounts to good use.

The final scenes of the film involve Red as he is finally granted parole by the state. He attempts to adjust to life in the free world but finds that in many ways he too only knows about life behind bars. He follows instructions that Andy had given to him before his prison escape, and the two are finally reunited.

I have to tell you, this is one of the finest films that I have ever seen. Based on the Stephen King short story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”, the only way I can describe this film is with the word “lyric”. It seems to flow with an almost melodic pace to it. It hits the right notes in each and every instance. For me, films based on Stephen King works are either unbelievably good or incredibly bad. Happily, this film, like The Green Mile (which also happens to have been adapted and directed by Frank Darabont), and Stand By Me falls into the former category. It seems to me that the films that deal not with the horror aspects of King’s works, but with the human condition and fortitude of the human spirit, are the ones that endure.

Robbins and Freeman give masterful performances in their portrayals of the two inmates whose lives become so intertwined that the bond between them cannot be broken by anything any outside forces could possibly throw against them. The story is told from the viewpoint of Red, who narrates the tale. Freeman’s narration is somewhat soft-spoken but unbelievably powerful. As noted, Darabont’s direction is more akin to a great conductor, making sure that all the right pieces are heard at just the right time, and when everything is put together, it produces beautiful music. One of the highest praises I can give the film is that as I was watching, it so engrossed me that I forgot that I was watching a film, and further, this happens each and every time I view it. Words alone cannot express the impact of the film; it must be experienced to truly be enjoyed.

Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, I can honestly say that the film has never looked better. The video transfer is great, with colours bright and vibrant outside the prison, but fittingly dull and muted inside the walls. Black levels are done just fine and do not bleed into any other colours. There is little to no artefacting, dust or edge enhancement to see. Although probably not a reference copy, the film has withstood the last ten years in fine fashion.

Shawshank Redemption: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, The
Sporting a Dolby 5.1 Surround track, the audio sounds spectacular. This is not to say that it has the most impressive use of all of the channels, or that the full complement of bells and whistles are there. But, much like the rest of the film (the acting, the directing, the visuals), the audio brings you in until you become so absorbed in it that you don’t realise how much the music adds to your experience. It is at times uplifting, at other times haunting. Thomas Newton does a phenomenal job with capturing the underlying tones and emotions of the film in the music.

This tenth anniversary edition is jam-packed with several supplemental features. There is not one, but two, count ‘em two ‘making of’ documentaries. The first, entitled ‘Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption’, does a good job of going behind the scenes to show how Darabont went to Stephen King specifically to look for one of his works to adapt for the big screen. It also shows how the critical success of Stand By Me made it relatively easy to sell the film once he had adapted it. There are stories about the old abandoned prison located in Ohio which was used in the film, and how the shooting of the movie there saved it from the wrecking ball to the point where it still stands today and can be visited as a tourist attraction. The best part of the feature though are the many reflections of all of the major characters about how they knew they were involved in something special at the time of the making of the film, and just what the outpouring of support for the film has meant to them. Coming in at just under thirty minutes, it offers up a very good back-story to the filming of the picture.

The second ‘making of’ feature runs a bit longer (about forty-five minutes), and is a British made documentary entitled ‘Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature’. Much of the same information from the first documentary is present here as well. This one does go a bit further though to discuss the impact of the film, and goes into the concept of the prison as a character of the film as well. There is much more present here on the facility itself, including interviews with several former inmates of the prison.

Shawshank Redemption: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, The
An interesting inclusion is a forty-five minute segment of the ‘Charlie Rose Show’, an interview program on American public television. Originally broadcast in the summer of 2004, it features a round table discussion with Darabont, Robbins and Freeman. Although once again much of the information is found elsewhere in other features, it is interesting to have the three principal creative figures present in one place where they are discussing their work, and it is made more interesting since these include their most recent recollections.

Classic works often generate parodies, and there is one included on the supplemental disc. Entitled ‘The Sharktank Redemption’; it is a small independent film set in the ‘sharktank’ world of talent agencies. In it, the principal character is trying to get promoted to agent (much like Red was trying to get paroled), and here the main character endures performance appraisal after performance appraisal a la Red’s parole hearings. Some of the dialogue is almost identical to the film, and it is surprising (and amusing) how fitting the dialogue is here. Of course, the main character meets another person in the assistant pool and the two develop a friendship, until one manages to finally set himself free from the talent agency and challenges his friend to join him if/when he ever leaves. It is a very amusing piece.

Besides a still gallery, storyboards and the inclusion of the theatrical trailer, the other main inclusion is the commentary by director Frank Darabont. Darabont has a very easygoing manner, and his commentary comes across well. One thing that impresses me about Darabont, is that he does not try to speak above the viewer. He does not go on about how impressed he is about this scene or that scene, but does got into a very casual discussion about the filmmaking process, and throws in a few titbits that many people do not know. For example, whenever you see a scene involving Andy’s hands, they are fact Darabont’s hands, as he prefers to shoot his own hands in what are called ‘insert shots’. Darabont offers appropriate praise for the many different creative folks, both in front of and behind the camera, and truly gives the listener the correct impression that the success of the film is based upon hundreds of people doing their jobs in an extraordinary manner. As film commentaries go, this one is first-rate.

Shawshank Redemption: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, The
I cannot heap enough praise upon the film The Shawshank Redemption. Like a fine wine, this film gets better with age, and as a DVD, this tenth anniversary edition is an appropriate celebration of both the achievement of the film and its impact on cinema as a whole. I would suggest that everyone “get busy buying and get busy watching.