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. While not totally flawless, the picture of Shawshank generally looked excellent.
The image appeared very 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 or shimmering, and only a smidgen of light edge enhancement appeared. Nary a print flaw popped up in this clean presentation. The movie remained free of defects from start to finish.
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. I felt very pleased with this solid transfer.
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 didn’t 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.
So how did picture and sound of this new Special Edition compare to those of the original DVD? The audio seemed identical, but the new version’s image provided a definite improvement over that of the old one. The prior edition suffered from a smattering of print flaws, some digital artifacts, and a bit more edge enhancement. The original DVD looked good, but this one’s image was clearly superior.
While the old DVD came with almost no extras, the Special Edition offers a reasonable roster of goodies. On DVD One, we get the movie’s trailer plus a running, screen-specific audio commentary from director Frank Darabont. At its start, Darabont warns us that he’s a commentary virgin so we need to be gentle. He needn’t have added that caveat, as he offers a fine discussion in his initial commentary.
Very animated from start to finish, Darabont covers many topics. He gets into his initial interest in the flick and bringing it to the screen, the cast and working with them, locations and sets, variations between the movie and the book, the score and general visual design, and many anecdotes from the shoot. Plenty of great stories pop up like his escapades with the ASPCA representative. He also tosses out a funny tale about an agent who clearly hadn’t read the script, since she wanted Darabont to cast her supermodel client (Cindy Crawford?) as Rita Hayworth. He makes sure we understand why the DVD includes no deleted scenes. Darabont talks too much about the sets – we get the point quickly and he doesn’t need to belabor this – but I still really like this chatty and informative piece.
Over on DVD Two, we begin with a new 30-minute and 58-second documentary entitled Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption. It mixes movie shots, archival materials, and new interviews. We hear from Darabont, producer Niki Marvin, author Stephen King, production designer Terence Marsh, composer Thomas Newman, USC Professor Dr. Drew Casper, and actors Clancy Brown, Tim Robbins, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Mark Rolston, David Proval and Morgan Freeman. They talk about adapting the story, the cast and the characters, sets, locations and the visual design, impressions of certain scenes and anecdotes, changes between the original story and the movie, the score, and general impressions of the flick. Inevitably, more than a little information repeats from Darabont’s commentary. Nonetheless, a decent mix of new topics crop up in this reasonably lively and insightful piece.
We follow this with another retrospective called Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature. It runs 47 minutes, 55 seconds and tries to answer “what the hell is so great” about the movie. This includes comments from Robbins, Freeman, Darabont, Marvin, Sadler, Gunton, Marsh, writer/friend David J. Schow, film critic John Patterson, executive producer Liz Glotzer, film critic and broadcaster James King, Mansfield Reformatory tour guide Jan Demyan, former inmate Mark Malott and Michael Marecz, former warden Dennis Baker, Mansfield OH news anchor Jane Imbody, Warner Home Video rep Brian Jamieson, IMDB founder Col Needham, and Hollywoodjesus.com operator David Bruce. As with the prior program, “Feature” covers the short story and its adaptation, casting and characters, locations and sets, issues related to the ending, the movie’s initial public reception and its subsequent popularity.
During much of the program, you’ll hear a lot of material repeated from the commentary and “Eternal”. Where “Feature” becomes different connects to its material about the film’s afterlife. We get a good feel for why the movie’s endured in the public mind. We do find too much redundant material, but “Feature” nonetheless presents enough unique insights to make it worthwhile.
For straight interviews, we go to an episode of the Charlie Rose Show with Darabont, Freeman and Robbins. It lasts 42 minutes and 15 seconds as it presents all three men together with Rose at a roundtable discussion. Shot in 2004, it goes over the production basics and also examines the film’s themes and legacy. A fair amount of repeated information appears here, but I really like the format, as it’s great to get the three main participants in the flick all together. In addition, they get into the substance of the film well, as they nicely delve into the characters and themes. It’s another useful program.
For something different, we get The Sharktank Redemption. A parody set in a theatrical agency, it pokes fun at the business as it equates that job to being in prison. At 24 minutes and 42 seconds, it’s too long and not exactly hilarious, but it’s fairly clever and amusing. The casting of Morgan Freeman’s son as Fred Redding adds a nice spark to it.
In the Stills Gallery, we find five subdomains, each of which appears as a filmed piece: “Tim Robbins” (64 seconds), “Morgan Freeman” (47 seconds), “Supporting Cast” (two minutes), “Tim & Morgan” (32 seconds), and “Behind the Scenes” (two minutes, 59 seconds). I don’t like the format, and the photos themselves tend to be fairly bland.
Storyboards cover two scenes. Presented as filmed clips like the stills, we see “New Fish Arrive”(4:00) and “Bogs Takes a Fall” (4:26). I’d prefer to watch these in stillframe format, but the moving presentation works better for the storyboards than for the photos. “Bogs” is especially interesting since it shows elements cut from the finished sequence.
Finally, Shawshank Collectibles looks at some pieces of merchandise connected to the movie. All available at a collector’s site, this is little more than an advertisement.
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 excellent picture plus decent audio and a very nice collection of extras.
I heartily recommend this two-disc version of The Shawshank Redemption for everyone. If you don’t already own the movie, grab this version. If you possess the old DVD, upgrade for this one; it improves significantly in regard to both picture and supplements. It’s a fine movie and a solid DVD.