Release Date(s)1994 (September 14, 2021)
Studio(s)Castle Rock Entertainment/Columbia Pictures (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Andy Dunfresne (Tim Robbins) is a banker wrongly-convicted of the murder of his wife and the man she was having an affair with. He’s also a bit of a milquetoast, which probably had something to do with his marriage falling apart in the first place. But when he’s given two consecutive life terms for their murders, Andy finds himself in Shawshank State Prison, where he soon meets Ellis Redding (Morgan Freeman), better known as “Red” to the boys in the yard. Red might be the only man in Shawshank who actually admits to the crime he was sentenced for. And he takes note of the fact that while Andy, as a newcomer, is frequently assaulted by others in the prison, that never breaks his spirit. As it happens, Red is also a guy who can get things for people. So when Andy asks Red for a small rock hammer one day, that he might continue his regular-life hobby as a rock hound, Red can’t help taking a liking to him. And by the time Andy asks if Red can get Rita Hayworth for him, it’s fair to say that the two men have become friends. So over the next twenty years, each man teaches the other by example about the nature of hope, how best to live one’s life even in the bleakest of circumstances, and the power of the human spirit.
Based upon a 1982 novella by Stephen King, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption is one of the finest motion pictures you will ever find on this blue-green Earth (not to mention Darabont’s first major work for the silver screen). The film takes its time to unfold, carefully, meticulously, and that’s as it should be given the fact that time itself is a character here. The film is gorgeously photographed by the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, who always finds ways to emphasize the humanity of his subjects despite their bleak environment. Thomas Newman’s score is both restrained and moving. What’s more, Robbins and Freeman have simply never been better on screen than they are here. Their chemistry is understated and seemingly effortless, even as it brings warmth, humor, and empathy to every scene. And they’re surrounded by a terrific ensemble of great character actors, including the likes of William Sadler (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey), Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers, Carnivàle), Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal), James Whitmore (Kiss Me, Kate, The Law and Mr. Jones), and Bob Gunton (Patch Adams, Argo). This is just one of those films, much like James Mangold’s recent Ford v Ferrari, where every element works so well that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
The Shawshank Redemption was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Arriflex 35 BL4S and Moviecam Compact cameras, with Zeiss Standard and Super Speed spherical lenses, and it was finished photochemically at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for theaters. For its release on Ultra HD, Warner has scanned the original camera negative in 4K to create a new digital intermediate—which Deakins has confirmed that he approved—complete with grading for high dynamic range (HDR10). The result is a dramatic improvement over the previous Blu-ray image, with a considerable increase in resolution and fine detailing that enhances the subtleties visible in everything from stone and brickwork, to sand, skin textures, finely-woven suit fabric, rough-hewn prison garb, and even aging iron cell bars that have been painted over too many times. Grain is ever-present but organic. Transitions that were previously done optically have been recreated digitally, so there’s no longer any generational loss in quality. The film’s color palette has always had a cooler look by design, but the wider gamut deepens the shadows beautifully without ever sacrificing detail, even as the highlights (think overcast skies) are more oppressively bold. Skin tones are more natural-looking than before, and there’s greater variation visible in blues, grays, reds, and browns than was heretofore apparent. It’s hard to call this demo material given the film’s inherent visual limitations, but this is an absolutely reference-grade presentation for this particular film.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is offered in an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix of excellent quality. This too is much improved compared to the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix found on the previous Blu-ray, with a wider forward soundstage, greater surround immersion and spaciousness, and a higher overall reference volume level. Bass is amble, giving the whole mix a tonally-richer sound, and the dialogue is clean and clear at all times. The score benefits from enhanced fidelity as well. This isn’t the kind of film mix that really tests your audio system, but the sound experience here is better than ever. Additional audio options include Chinese 5.1 Dolby Digital and Quebec French, French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Hungarian, and Polish Voice-Over in 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, German for the Hearing Impaired, Italian for the Deaf, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Mandarin, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Latin Spanish, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, and Swedish.
Warner’s UHD disc contains only one special feature, but it’s a good one:
- Audio Commentary by Frank Darabont
The director talks at length about the making of the film and provides insights on the adaptation, the casting, the production, and more. He details the differences between the original story and the script, discusses how he worked with the actors to capture performance, etc. It’s a good and engaging listen.
The package also includes the film in 1080p HD on a Blu-ray Disc (unfortunately, it’s not remastered—this is the same edition WB released back in 2008, complete with a very dated-looking transfer), which also includes the commentary and adds the following:
- Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption (SD – 31:01)
- Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature (SD – 48:17)
- The Charlie Rose Show with Frank Darabont, Tim Robbins, and Morgan Freeman (SD – 42:21)
- The SharkTank Redemption (SD – 24:46)
- Shawshank Stills (HD – 6 video image galleries with a “play all” option – 15:58 in all)
- Shawshank Collectibles (HD – 1:22)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:59)
Most of these extras are carried over from the 10th Anniversary Edition DVD release and though they’re in SD only, they’re still relatively substantial (The Charlie Rose discussion is particularly interesting). There’s nothing new added for this UHD release, which is a shame, though you do at least get Digital copy code on a paper insert. It’s easy to forget now, but The Shawshank Redemption is one of those unique films—not unlike Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner—that wasn’t fully appreciated upon its initial theatrical release, but was eventually re-discovered by audiences and critics through home video (VHS and LaserDisc) and cable TV broadcasts (particularly on the TNT network, which aired this film often). By the time the DVD format arrived, Shawshank was well on its way to becoming a much-loved cult classic.
The Shawshank Redemption is a masterpiece, a rare film experience that’s well worth your time and also rewards your patience. Its key insight is as relevant now as ever: You don’t need to be in prison to be imprisoned, and you don’t need to have freedom to live free. Warner’s new 4K Ultra HD release certainly isn’t flashy, but it’s fair to say that Shawshank has never looked or sounded better than it does here (and it’s hard to imagine that the A/V quality could be further improved). Very highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt