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Frank Darabont
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, Mark Rolston, James Whitmore
Writing Credits:
Stephen King (short story), Frank Darabont

Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.

In writer-director Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison for the murders of his wife and her lover in the late 1940s. However, only Andy knows that he didn't commit the crimes. Sent to Shawshank Prison to do hard time, Andy - a taciturn banker in the outside world - has to learn to get by in the brutal, cutthroat confines of prison life. His quiet strength slowly earns the respect of his fellow inmates - most notably, Red (Morgan Freeman) - and even much of the prison staff. But Andy's seemingly stoic acceptance of his unjust imprisonment hides a fierce determination for freedom. This beautifully crafted movie features touching and sincere performances from the entire cast, with an uplifting message about humanity's indomitable spirit and the redemptive value of hope. Based on the novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King, Darabont's intriguing adaptation is easily one of the finest films of the 1990s.

Box Office:
$25 million.
Domestic Gross
$28.341 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 142 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 12/21/1999

• Production Stills
• Trailer
• Biographies
• Awards


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 13, 2004)

From small things, mama, big things one day come! When The Shawshank Redemption first hit movie screens in the fall of 1994, it received a rather underwhelming reaction. Audiences largely avoided it, as the film grossed less the $30 million. While it got good reviews, there wasn't a whole lot of enthusiasm over the picture.

10 years later, the movie has somehow metamorphosed into being regarded by many as a classic. Huh? How did that happened? To be honest, I'll be damned if I know.

I guess it must have been some form of popular groundswell. Shawshank first received significant attention in the winter of 1995 when it gained a decent number of Academy Award nominations. It lost out in all seven categories for which it was considered but definitely was one of those movies for which the nominations were a victory in themselves. After all, this was a small, quickly forgotten film; its Best Picture nomination came as a major surprise.

And somehow, the train kept on a-rolling until now, where you can go on IMBD and see that its readers have voted Shawshank as the second best film of all-time, behind only The Godfather. I don't know about you, but I find this to be absolutely amazing.

And absolutely off-base. Don't get me wrong: The Shawshank Redemption is an excellent film and is a topnotch production from start to finish. I'm one of those people who was taken by surprise by it. I love movies and I've gone to see more than my share of films I normally might have skipped just because the urge hit me. Some days I wanted to see a movie, and it didn't really matter which one.

Shawshank happened to be playing at a local bargain cinema when the urge hit, and since I'd already viewed all of the other selections, I gave it a look, though I wasn't excited about it. Much to my surprise, I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable and even inspirational film. I'm normally not much of one for those "triumph of the human spirit" kind of movies; they tend to be hokey and melodramatic. That wasnít the case with Shawshank, as it managed to evoke the appropriate feelings in me. Although I wanted Pulp Fiction to capture the Best Picture Oscar, I wouldn't have minded at all if Shawshank had taken the prize. (Too bad Forrest Gump was the eventual victor.)

As much as I like Shawshank, for it to reign as anyone's fdfsdfdsf best movie of all-time is simply absurd. Hell, it wasn't even the best movie of 1994! (For the record, Pulp Fiction made number 15 with IMDB voters, and Forrest Gump doesn't show up until number 112; the other Best Picture nominees for 1994 - Quiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral" - didn't make IMDB's top 250.) But I probably shouldn't waste time engaging in such debates; I'd rather talk about what makes Shawshank as special as it is.

That's actually a very good question. Overall, it's not a terribly original film. It's got an awful lot in common with all those other "triumph of the human spirit" movies - most of which star Robin Williams - and the story never goes beyond the limits imposed by that genre. In fact, it's usually quite predictable. I won't spill the beans, but one glimpse at some of the characters and you know exactly what their fates will be. It's like the new crewmembers on the Enterprise - those poor red-shirted bastards didn't stand a chance.

But the film ultimately is able to transcend the confines of its genre. Much of the credit for this is due to the fine actors who play in it. Is it just me, or is there something wrong with a world in which Sally Field owns two Oscars for acting but Morgan Freeman possesses none? What a sad, silly joke that is. Freeman is at the top of his game here as Red, longtime inmate of Shawshank Prison. The role's not much of a stretch for Freeman - he's played similar parts in other films - but he still brings an extremely wide range to the occasion. No one can manifest quiet dignity and strength like Freeman, but he still makes all of his characters seem real and avoids the sanctimony of a Williams.

Tim Robbins is also excellent as Andy Dufresne, a man who's been imprisoned wrongfully but never gives up hope. No, that's not the most original character you'll ever see, but Robbins manages to keep him from becoming a clichť. It's the estimable chemistry between Robbins and Freeman that largely makes the film work; they're a strong duo.

First-time director Frank Darabont doesn't do anything terribly special in telling this tale, but he lets it unfold at a natural and appropriate pace and he maintains a fairly objective distance. Part of the pleasure of Shawshank stems from the lack of obvious sentiment or forced emotion. Darabont is able to restrain any "shove it down the audience's throat" tendencies that would mar many other films. He does a quiet but strong job of guiding the movie to its conclusion.

Actually, that conclusion is one of the few gripes I have about Shawshank, the other big one being the predictability of much of the movie. I won't give away what occurs, but I think that Darabont shows far too much of what happens to the characters at the end of the film. No, it didn't have to be an O. Henry story, but the picture simply spells out too clearly what happens. Some like that, but I would prefer to see something left to the imagination. I think the ending would resonate more strongly without such a literal conclusion.

Despite some missteps, The Shawshank Redemption remains a powerful and moving film. It shows a strong Capra feel and delves into its characters lives with emotion and depth. Itís not the second greatest movie ever made, but itís a very good one.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus D

The Shawshank Redemption appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although much of Shawshank looked solid, a few too many problems popped up to qualify it as a great transfer.

The image appeared quite sharp and well-defined. Virtually no softness interfered with the presentation. Instead, the flick was concise and detailed. I saw no problems with jagged edges, but a little shimmering and some mild edge enhancement appeared. Print flaws never became prominent, but enough occurred to cause distractions. I saw occasional examples of specks, dirt, streaks and minor debris throughout the movie. In addition, a little digital artifacting seemed apparent.

Colors weren't much of an issue for Shawshank, as the blue-gray prison environment didn't exactly suggest "Technicolor spectacular". Muted though they were, the hues seemed consistently solid and accurate. Black levels appeared strong and shadow detail was good. Many scenes occurred in low light, but they never looked murky or too opaque. Despite some source concerns and a little too much edge enhancement, Shawshank mostly looked good.

The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was decent but not up to the level of the image. It's a very front-oriented mix, with a fairly active forward soundstage but little use of the rears. Some filler music here, some ambient effects there - that's about the extent to which the rear speakers were used. By comparison, the front channels received much better delineation. All three speakers offered a lot of information, and it's fairly well integrated, although the mix sometimes seemed a bit too "speaker specific." Nonetheless, it broadened the environment nicely.

Audio quality appeared fine. Speech was acceptably natural, with good intelligibility and no issues connected to edginess. Music came across as reasonably lively and bright, with pretty positive range. Effects stayed subdued throughout the film. They were accurate and concise; they didnít pack much of a punch, but they were clean and distinctive. Not a lot occurred here to make the audio stand out from the crowd, but the soundtrack seemed more than satisfying for this sort of film.

Donít expect much from the DVDís supplements. All we get are a decent gallery of 30 production stills as well as a trailer and pretty good biographies for actors Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman plus director Frank Darabont. One screen also displays a couple of Awards won by the flick.

The Shawshank Redemption will surely find its place in many homes just because it's such a good film. While it doesn't deserve the hallowed status it now seems to enjoy, it's definitely an excellent movie and is one that happily avoided the obscurity that normally would have befallen it. The DVD offers decent picture and sound with almost no extras.

I originally recommended this DVD, but now Warner Bros. have produced a Special Edition version of Shawshank. With a list price of sdsadasa, itís more expensive than this old one, but it offers the superior release. It provides a distinctly superior visual experience as well as many useful supplements. Iíd advise fans to skip this bare-bones Shawshank and go with the SE instead. It doesnít cost much more money and it delivers a substantially stronger package.

To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION