I was one of the popular crowd when The Shawshank Redemption came to theaters, and by that I mean I didn’t see it. In my defense, for the most part, neither did anyone else. When Shawshank was first released to theaters it was an abysmal failure. Despite receiving seven Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), it was a film that nobody saw. When Shawshank left theaters it appeared that Frank Darabont’s directorial debut was a failure... and then it hit home video. The next year Shawshank became the most rented film of the year. Since then the film has saturated popular culture, become a constant presence on many “Best Films of All Time” lists, and set a standard for many films to try and live up to.
The Shawshank Redemption is definitely a difficult sell. To hear about a dramatic story set almost entirely inside a prison isn’t exactly something most people would rush out to see. In fact, it’s easy to understand why few people saw the picture to begin with. It’s hard to convey the film’s message of hope in a trailer that only lasts a couple of minutes. It’s really a movie that requires word of mouth to encourage people to see it. So if you’re reading this, and you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen this film by now, here’s my word of mouth - put off whatever you were planning on doing tonight, pick this one up and watch it.
Shawshank is one of those rare movies that defines the whole reason I love films. It tells a fantastic story, masterfully written, acted, and directed. You can’t help but become emotionally invested in the characters and story, and because of that, the film leaves you emotionally drained by the film’s end, but still with a sense of hope.
Hope is what the film is about. Telling the story of a set of friends in Shawshank prison, the film is narrated by Red (Morgan Freeman), a prisoner who has already been in prison long enough to be rejected for parole at the beginning of the film. When newcomer Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) comes to Shawshank, Red immediately takes notice of him, and before long the two are friends. Andy is different then the other convicts within Shawshank, and not just because he’s actually innocent of the crime he’s been convicted of. That innocence is actually pretty irrelevant throughout the film. It’s also not his intelligence, although that lands him in good favors, assisting Shawshank’s warden (Bob Gunton) in embezzling money. Instead, we learn over time that the something different Andy seems to posses is a sense of hope. His hope keeps Andy driven through prison’s best and worst and his ability to hold onto that hope sets him apart from the other convicts of Shawshank.
The Shawshank Redemption is one of the few movies that has come out in my lifetime that I consider a “classic film”, a movie to endure the test of time. It’s the sort of movie I could watch a million times and never get tired of. Every time I watch it I am reminded of the power of hope, and reminded that if Andy could hold onto hope through twenty years of solitary confinement, prison rape, and wrongful imprisonment, then surely I can survive through a rough day at work, or a tough assignment, or an overwhelming week of overcommitment. It’s also what makes this movie extremely difficult to write about. The film just touches something inside that’s hard to describe. It has to be seen to be understood, but it’s definitely worth experiencing.
That inspiration isn’t the only lesson I carry with me from Shawshank though. For me there’s also a key lesson in one of the film’s more memorable lines: “It comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living, or get busy dying”. There’s a piece of advice to remember any time you hear someone mindlessly complaining about something. See, life’s too big and busy to just complain. Don’t sit and whine; If you’re unhappy, do something about it. Get busy with life, or sit and complain and prepare for your death. That’s advice to rival anything Yoda could come up with on his best day. Amazing the lessons we can learn from a simple movie, but it’s those lessons that make us want to revisit the film any time we need a reminder...
Get busy living, or get busy dying... that’s god damn right.
The Shawshank Redemption has been available previously on DVD, albeit in a bare bones release. For the tenth anniversary of the little-film-that-could, the movie finally gets the treatment it deserves, from behind the scenes featurettes, to the ever so important commentary track.
Be aware, the tenth anniversary release is available in two different forms: just the two disc set by itself, or in a Collector’s Box set. The Collector’s Box set holds nothing different on the discs, but includes the movie’s soundtrack on CD and a book that looks at the film from a more “critical report” point of view. This is no typical small, ten-page book though, it’s a full report on the movie including production pictures and interviews. The authors obviously did their homework on the movie, and while it’s not the most interesting read throughout, it is interesting to view the movie through such a critical eye. If you like the movie’s soundtrack though, that alone is what’s worth the price of the set - to have both the film and soundtrack in the same box. Regardless of which version you purchase, the two disc set remains the same.
The most interesting part of the DVD is the one thing that’s almost expected from any DVD release these days - the commentary track. Frank Darabont announces at the beginning that this is his first commentary track and asks us to take it easy on him. Well, I’m not going to take it easy. Darabont’s insightful views on his directorial debut grab you and keep you listening to the commentary long after you might usually turn a commentary track off. It’s not unusual to only listen to a sample of a commentary track when reviewing a DVD, listening long enough to get a feel for what the “flavor” of the track is. Darabont’s commentary held me through the entire film, and then I wanted to go back and listen to it again. I wanted to hear more of what the man had to say about making this film.
Often it’s easy to criticize commentary tracks of “kissing ass” of the people involved in making the movie. Although Darabont has a pleasant thing to say about everyone involved, every single bit of it feels sincere. He goes out of his way to point out how each of these fantastic people affected the film, and you get the feeling he knows the film is great because of the accomplishments of every one involved. Darabont, as a director, knows that although the responsibility of telling the story lies in his hands, the knowledge of how to best tell the story may not be in his abilities - especially for his first film. He points out information that normally would have gone unseen, rants about the problems he had with the Humane Society, and gives some insight to breaking into Hollywood and directing in general. Darabont also explains other missing aspects of the DVD release, such as the lack of deleted scenes, which he knows were deleted for a reason, and likens sharing them with an audience to sharing his dirty underwear. I think part of the reason Darabont’s commentary is so good is that he didn’t feel the need to immediately record his thoughts on this movie. He waited until time had passed, perhaps to weed out the weaker memories that weren’t as important, or perhaps so the movie was fresh to him again. Regardless of the reason, I hope he gives his other movies as great a treatment as he does this film, even if it means waiting ten years for each film.
There are two behind the scenes featurettes, three if you include the recent interview with Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, and Frank Darabont on “The Charlie Rose Show”. Both the interview and the featurettes offer the viewpoints of the people responsible for the movie, from producers to cast, and their feelings on both the movie and its eventual success. The two featurettes do have a tendency to use the same footage throughout their almost hourlong lengths, both from the film and from interviews. They are both worth watching, but because of the redundancies it’s probably best to space them apart when watching them.
Also included on the DVD release is one of the greatest film parodies of all time, The Sharktank Redemption, which mirrors the tale told in the prison of Shawshank with the story of interns in a Hollywood agency. The most remarkable thing about the parody is the dead likeness they manage to get for the actor mirroring Morgan Freeman’s Red... and there’s a reason for that. The actor portraying Fred Redding is Alfonso Freeman, Morgan Freeman’s son. Alfonso actually was in Shawshank, in a brief on-screen appearance as well as in Red’s prison file picture (as a younger version of Red). In Sharktank he masterfully mimics his father’s narrative skills, and brings the parody almost as much life in half an hour as the full length movie gets in it’s full length. Of course, this is mainly because of the foundation of Shawshank, but it’s still a fun little film worth watching a time or two.
There are some still galleries, which play by themselves to some of the Shawshank theme music, and storyboards as well. I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that the theatrical trailer is also included, something I’m usually quick to point out if missing.
The Shawshank Redemption is definitely a classic film that will be remembered for years to come. It’s a must own, and this is the version to own - finally a version that gives you more then just the movie to chew on. If you’ve seen Shawshank you already know the power of the movie. If you haven’t, pick this up soon. Its inspirational message may just bring some much needed hope into your life.