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Acclaimed horror writer Stephen King has had many of his books made into movies over the years, with varying success. Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining features a powerhouse performance by Jack Nicholson, and then there’s the haunting interpretation of Misery, one of his most claustrophobic tales, but his longer stories have mostly been made into TV mini-series, like It and The Stand, and have often suffered from anti-climactic ending sequences (as did the recent Morgan Freeman-starring Dreamcatcher). But King is not only capable of horror/drama, he was also the man behind such classics like Stand By Me and another Freeman movie, the Shawshank Redemption. The Green Mile definitely falls into the latter category.

The Green Mile: Special Edition

Feature


The Green Mile is the story of a group of guards who run death row in a 1930s prison. Told in flashback from the perspective of the veteran senior guard, Paul Edgecomb, we get to know these characters and the men they patrol on the row. There’s Brutus, who always has Edgecomb’s back, a tough second lieutenant, the newcomer Dean, and then there’s Percy, a twisted, sadistic little runt who appears to be on death row purely to execute his own perverted punishment on the inmates.

Edgecomb holds it all together with wit, experience, power and presence. He is a kind and fair warden, capable of just about holding in check the twisted passions of Percy and controlling the myriad inmates, who include the Frenchman Delacroix, the frustratingly disobedient ‘Wild Bill’ Wharton and the first on the death row line-up, the American Indian Arlen Bitterbuck. Aside from a rather curious mouse, there is also one other inmate on the row, a rather gentle giant, the contradictory John Coffey. A huge, towering brute of a man convicted of having brutally raped and slain two young girls, it is clear from the outset that there is something more to his plight on death row.

For starters, he is afraid of the dark, and he also has the kind of utter politeness and friendliness—and innate, almost child-like sense of what is good and bad—that seems totally out of place for such a supposed monster. He appears to have an enhanced sense of empathy, truly feeling what others go through and sharing their pain—and more. Before long the guards of this particular death row learn that John Coffey has a unique gift, and start to wonder how such a seeming miracle-man could have committed the heinous crime that he has been sentenced to death for.

The Green Mile: Special Edition
The Green Mile is a powerful, moving prison drama, which paints a rich character-study of these particular death row individuals—both in and out of the cells—and tells a tale of justice, redemption, sacrifice and friendship, in the style that you would expect from the author of Stand By Me and the Shawshank Redemption (and the director of the latter, Frank Darabont). It is utterly compelling, from start to finish, and will more than likely have you in tears either from feelings of joy or sadness in key moments during its three-hour runtime.

Tom Hanks, an actor who I have not really liked that much since his comedy days in fun movies like Big, is on top form in the central role of Edgecomb, the man who holds the who row together. Sure, it does not ostensibly feel like much of a stretch for Hanks as the hero, he seems to suit this particular tale, not least because of his counterbalance against some of the other characters. His friend and fellow guard, Brutus is portrayed solidly by the reliable David Morse ( Proof of Life), with the new guard embodied by Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada’s Barry Pepper and the sadistic little scumbag Percy played by the creepy guy who played the liver-eating Eugene Victor Toombs in X-Files, Doug Hutchinson. We get superb cameos for Gary Sinise ( Forrest Gump), Harry Dean Stanton ( Alien) and James Cromwell ( LA Confidential), as well as inmate actors Michael Jeter ( Jurassic Park III), Graham Greene ( Thunderheart) and Sam Rockwell ( Matchstick Men), in a particularly despicable role as ‘Wild Bill’.

The Green Mile: Special Edition
However, the real credit should probably go to the hulking brute of a man who plays the would-be child killer, John Coffey—Michael Clarke Duncan. I’ve seen him in Armageddon, The Island, Daredevil and The Scorpion King, but normally only in roles that generally require him to literally throw his weight around. He’s a walking tank, but he is simply perfect as the gentle giant here, and rarely gets to show off the sheer power than he is normally typecast for.

The Green Mile is amazing, an 18-rated heartbreaking, heart-warming drama, that treads softly on its religious undertones and has some truly memorable moments at the opposite ends of the spectrum—showcasing both hate and love. It will likely become (if it has not already) widely regarded as a timeless classic, a movie that you can recommend to pretty-much anybody and everybody and know that they are likely to find something rewarding about watching it. For those who loved King’s Shawshank Redemption, this beautiful film richly deserves a place besides it in your collection.

The Green Mile: Special Edition

Video


The Green Mile is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced transfer. Detail is generally good but the movie has been given a slightly soft rendition perhaps to suit the almost fairy-tale nature of the narrative. Thankfully there are no really bad issues associated with the presentation, with no signs of grain and no edge enhancement. The colour scheme is largely sepia-drenched, again playing to the more fantastical elements of the story, and blacks are largely solid and deep. Overall it is a decent enough presentation that could have done with a little bit more sharpness.

Audio


We get a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track to accompany the movie. The dialogue comes across clearly, rarely requiring the use of the surrounds, but there are plenty of little atmospheric effects that allow for more track depth. The electrocution sequences sound particularly realistic and harrowing. In terms of score, Thomas Newman’s aural effort is quite pleasing all around, bringing out most of the emotions in the pieces, although never really making it a memorably soundtrack.

The Green Mile: Special Edition

Extras


The movie is split over two discs, with a commentary by writer/director Frank Darabont across both halves. Although he is quite animated in terms of tone, the content is really quite dry, with plenty of discussion of locations, how scenes were shot and so forth. He discusses just how many of the cast members he carried across from The Shawshank Redemption, the CGI used to enhance the backgrounds to some scenes, the sets built and the changes made from the book to the screen. He’s a fast and frantic commentator, which makes you occasionally feel like you are just not absorbing 100% of the movie, but you probably won’t be interested in everything that is offered (particularly the comments he makes which most people who have already seen the movie will have figured out) and overall it is a commentary worth dipping in and out of.

On the first disc we also get two deleted scenes with optional commentary by the director. They are both fairly poor in terms of quality and neither of them really adds a huge amount to the proceedings. Still, it is nice to see more film footage included in the extras here. We also get Michael Clarke Duncan’s screen test, which shows why they picked him for the role. He is working opposite Hanks, I think, although the voice comes from off-camera. It is quite interesting to see this addition, and the screen test scenes play very closely to the final edit versions. The Tom Hanks makeup tests are also quite revealing. Originally Hanks was going to be done up to portray the older version of his character in the scenes that bookend the movie, and these scenes show how well they did at making him older. I don’t fully see why they did not use him for them after seeing this footage. Finally on the first disc we have two teaser trailers and a theatrical trailer for the movie.

The Green Mile: Special Edition
On the second disc the commentary continues, but we also get the real meat of the additional material. ‘Walking the Mile’ is a twenty-five minute making-of documentary that features lots of behind the scenes footage, b-roll shots, location shots, footage of sequences being filmed, and comments from the cast and crew. Author King himself pops up to discuss it, as well as the director—who talks about how he got involved in the project - and overall it is quite an interesting offering.

‘Miracles and Mystery’ is a section devoted to six featurettes on the creation of this movie. The first chunk dissects the life and works of King himself, with the second looking at adapting it for the big screen, then the cast chosen, the set design, the effects and there is also a whole featurette devoted to the mouse, Mr. Jingles. Each offering lasts between fifteen and twenty-five minutes, the end result being a lot of background information into this production. This section is probably the highlight of the extras, with no wasted promotional material here and plenty of information to take in.

The Green Mile: Special Edition

Overall


For the director and author, The Green Mile is a fantastic follow-up to the acclaimed Shawshank Redemption and as such it has similarly received recent deluxe treatment on DVD. Video and audio are generally good, but it is the wealth of extras—that cover pretty-much every possible aspect of the production that you could want to know about—that will really sell this disc. Fans will already have it; newcomers will not be disappointed by this tragic yet heart-warming piece. Highly recommended.


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