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1994 was a big year for movies.  Most notably, 1994 brought us the Jim Carrey trilogy (Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber).  But it also was also simply a great year for movies.  Best Picture nominees of that year included Forrest Gump, Quiz Show, and The Shawshank Redemption.

The Shawshank Redemption is a movie that’s almost impossible to miss.  Literally--I think it’s federal law in America that every cable movie channel airs The Shawshank Redemption at least three times a week.  I don’t watch it every time it’s on, but I know I will never get tired of this movie.  It’s a classic prison film adapted from a Stephen King short story.  Shawshank is certainly one of the best films of the last ten years and arguably one of the best movies ever made.

The Movie
I deeply regret having missed The Shawshank Redemption in theaters.  I remember the first time I saw it--on TV.  After watching it, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t made an effort to see this movie before.

Shawshank Redemption, The

Most people already know the story of The Shawshank Redemption, but I’ll recap it for anyone who doesn’t.  In 1949, a banker named Andy Dufrense (Tim Robbins) is wrongly convicted of murdering his estranged wife and her lover.  He’s sentenced to serve two back-to-back life sentences in Shawshank State Prison in Maine.  Once there, Andy befriends a small group of prisoners.  He forms a strong friendship with a con named Red (Morgan Freeman, who scored an Oscar nomination).  Andy must adjust to prison life and learn to survive under the harsh rule of Warden Norton (Bob Gunton), who runs Shawshank and uses the place as a front for his own corrupt and illegal operations.

This movie was written and directed by Frank Darabont (writer of the upcoming Indiana Jones sequel).  Darabont adapted his screenplay from a short story by Stephen King.  I’ve read the short story, and it’s pretty good, but this is one instance where the screenwriter vastly improved upon the source material.  King’s short story, published in his book Different Seasons, takes place over a much longer period of time--one in which different wardens of Shawshank come and go.  Darabont wisely went with only one warden, and made him a very involving villain by weaving new twists and turns into the story.  It’s a good story adapted into an excellent movie.

The cast is perfect, and Darabont keeps this long film moving at a surprisingly fast pace.  It’s a story about hope and friendship and all that good dramatic stuff, but the last act of The Shawshank Redemption is a fun thriller through and through.  This is just a classic--there’s no other way to put it.  Not too long ago, DVDAnswers reported that Frank Darabont and the studio seem to be planning a ten year anniversary party for The Shawshank Redemption that will reportedly include a new Special Edition DVD.  But more on that later...

The Shawshank Redemption has a fine transfer here.  Fans of the movie will be happy.  This is a beautiful movie to look at.  The cinematography was done by Roger Deakins, who also shot O Brother, Where Art Thou?.  Shawshank’s main color scheme consists of grays and browns, but there are a few bright outdoor scenes that stand out from the gray look of the rest of the movie (see Chapter 9).

Shawshank Redemption, The

Some edge enhancement is evident in certain scenes, like on the blinds on the windows in Chapter 3, and on the edges of the buildings in most of the overhead shots of the prison.  But there’s really not enough to distract from the positive points of the transfer.

A few of the darker scenes are kind of grainy.  I noticed grain in the very beginning of the film (Chapters 1 and 2), but those two chapters are the worst of it.  It’s a very clean transfer.  The minor problems are nothing to gripe about, though, because even if this was a bad transfer, the movie would still look better than it does on cable TV.

The Shawshank Redemption is presented in its original 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen aspect ratio.

Shawshank’s got a new remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.  It’s a skillful mix.  In the opening of the film, the music in the first scene dominates the front and center speakers--but then when we realize the music is coming from the radio of Andy’s car, the sound fades from the front speakers to only the center.  Cool.  That’s the joy of watching this movie on DVD instead of on cable TV.

It’s a fun movie to listen to, with a few basic cool points.  Prison bars open and close and you can hear the metallic rolling sound move from the left side of your system to the right and vice versa.

The sound of The Shawshank Redemption is made up mainly of dialogue and music.  Thomas Newman’s score is surprisingly heavy with bass.  It’s great to hear the music so full and so clear.  Audio-wise, the movie’s climax is the highlight of the soundtrack (Chapter 32).  The music in that sequence is spectacular.

The movie also comes with a French Dolby 2.0 track and subtitles in French and English.

Anyway, about that special edition... this movie was one of the most in-demand DVDs ever.  Warner Bros. finally released it in December of 1999.  However, with that much talked about 10th anniversary coming next year, we’ll have to wait until then to see any real special features.

Shawshank Redemption, The

Here, we get biographies for stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and writer/director Frank Darabont; the theatrical trailer; a stills gallery; and a screen labeled “Awards” that lists a few of the awards the movie won.  That’s it.  Patience is a virtue, I guess.

The Shawshank Redemption should not be missed.  It’s a fantastic movie.  The unblinking portrayal of harsh prison life is met with an equally strong message of hope and survival.  And you gotta love that third act, when the story unravels...  Great movie.

Fans waited a long time for this disc, and the audio and video don’t disappoint, but the lack of extras does.  If you’re a fan of the movie, the constant airings on cable TV should keep you happy until that special edition comes along.