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The Shawshank Redemption: Special Edition

Every movie trivia buff worth his or her salt can rattle off the titles of at least half a dozen films that tanked when they first hit theaters, only to be recognized later as all-time favorites. Some fall under the "cult" banner — Office Space, The Princess Bride (fans as rabid as Buttercup and Westley's definitely qualify for cult standing) — but others are movies that have become synonymous with "classic": It's a Wonderful Life and Casablanca are two prime examples ... and so is The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Director Frank Darabont's moving period prison drama (based on Stephen King's short story "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption") earned only $28 million at the box office, yet 10 years after its release, it regularly tops popularity polls. Perhaps moviegoers originally stayed away because of the mouthful of a title, or maybe it was Columbia's ineffective theatrical marketing campaign, which made Shawshank out to be one of those worthwhile-but-depressing dramas that's only for the stoutest of heart. But thanks to home video and countless cable TV airings, Shawshank — which, despite its poor business performance, earned critical raves and seven Oscar nominations — eventually found its audience. And who can blame them for becoming besotted? The story of mild-mannered inmate Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), wrongly jailed in the 1940s for murdering his wife and her lover, and his transforming friendship with veteran prisoner Red (Morgan Freeman) is the kind of inspiring tale that we love the movies for in the first place. Thrown defenseless into a world ruled by bullies in uniform on both sides of the law, Andy comes to understand that his only chance is to believe things can be different. He clings to that hope in the face of nearly insurmountable challenges, not the least of which is dealing with self-righteous Warden Norton (Bob Gunton, who nails the oily condescension of a corrupt man convinced of his own moral superiority), who quickly realizes that Andy, an accountant "on the outside," could be very useful. The cast is uniformly excellent. Robbins' glassy-eyed vacancy seems particularly suited to a prisoner who dreams of being anywhere but where he is, and Freeman makes Red's common-sense approach to life seem like the highest form of wisdom. Old pro James Whitmore is endearing as lifelong Shawshank inmate Brooks, William Sadler offers some welcome comic relief as Heywood, and Gil Bellows turns in what is still a career-high performance as cocky newcomer Tommy. And, of course, there's Clancy Brown, who does an excellent job making the audience hate him as cruel prison guard Captain Hadley. Darabont does double duty as screenwriter and director, and his talents in both areas are clear. He makes the most of the contrast between the film's dank atmosphere and stirring message of hope, creating a true classic that will continue to stand the test of time. A fitting tribute to Shawshank's enduring popularity, Warner's "10th Anniversary" two-disc set offers the film in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a source-print that's aged well. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French 2.0 Surround, as well as English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Extras on the first disc are limited to the trailer and a thoughtful, informative commentary by Darabont (his first one, as it happens). The bulk of the bonus features are on Disc Two, which includes a 30-minute retrospective featurette ("Hope Springs Eternal"); a 48-minute documentary that originally aired on British television ("Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature"); a Charlie Rose Show interview with Darabont, Robbins, and Freeman; the L.A. talent agency-set parody short "The SharkTank Redemption" (which stars Freeman's son Alfonso); and the usual round-up of stills, storyboards, and promo artwork. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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