The Shawshank Redemption is simply a wondrous movie, which represents Hollywood story-telling at its best.
The tale is simple -- of an innocent man, banker Andy Dufresne, who is wrongly jailed for murder of his wife and wife's lover. He is given life-imprisonment and ends up in an institution which brutalises and dehumanises its inhabitants. His own innate intelligence and optimism can take him only so far -- for long-term survival and friendship in this extreme environment, his life-line becomes a fellow-con, Red (Morgan Freeman).
The story, with screenplay by the film's director Frank Darabont, is adapted from a novella by Stephen King.
As you'd expect with material from such a source, the story is quite a bit contrived; the strings are pulled at all the right times with professional ease. Our emotions are played like a violin.
And yet while we know we're being shamelessly manipulated, it doesn't really matter, as the film-making craft is so sound, and the performances are so good, that we can only marvel at the effect -- and rejoice, along with millions of other viewers, at the movie's unexpected and beautifully redeeming ending.
Casting is particularly fine. Tim Robbins (the thinking man's Tom Hanks) is superb in a quiet and gentle way as jailed banker Andy Dufresne. But the film finds its gravitas in the portrayal of Red by Morgan Freeman. Both his presence on-screen and his character-filled voice-over narration are transfixing -- it is quite unbelievable that he was overlooked by the Academy Awards for this role. The Oscar, in that Forrest Gump year, went instead to the very bland Tom Hanks for his portrayal of Tom Hanks pretending to be simple.
The Shawshank Redemption received seven Academy nominations in 1995 and won none. It received only mild praise on its cinema release -- and small audiences. It was reborn via the home-video market, first becoming a cult classic, and then finally achieving, via DVD, mainstream critical and public success. It is a film for all generations; Hollywood at its very best.
This is reference-quality video, in a splendid anamorphic transfer with very realistic colour tones, and shadow detail.
There are no artefacts present. This is an example of the kind of transfer which should be achieved with every modern movie, when a good condition print-source is still available.
The 5.1 Surround sound is very natural, with emphasis on the front sound stage. Dialogue and music come across with total clarity. There is no exaggeration of sound-effects, and there are no spatial games of any sort -- this is a straight-down-the-line aural presentation befitting the inherent focused drama of the piece.
Yes, this is a very special edition, with all the features which should have been on the DVD release the first time around. You'll curse the studio for making you replace your original DVD copy only a year after you bought it -- but grit your teeth and just do it.