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King’s best – “The Shawshank Redemption” – gets 4K upgrade

Updated: Jun 24, 2022


Tim Robbins plays Maine banker Andy Dufresne. Sentenced to two life terms for the murder of his wife and lover, he still pleads innocent. Oscar-nominated Morgan Freeman for his role as Ellis “Red” Redding, the prison black-market supplier.

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1994; R for profanity and prison violence; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K) YouTube (4K)

Best extra: “Hope Springs Eternal” featurette

IN THE fall of 1994, I was the designated adult taking skinny 15-year-old wannabe filmmaker Josh Boone (“The Fault in our Stars,” “The Stand” TV series) to see the R-rated film adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.”

The preview screening, held in Virginia Beach, was the first of many by Boone, who would re-watch a movie over and over to dissect its script, acting, and filmmaking techniques. King was also Boone’s favorite author. The two were sort of pen pals, with King sending him autographed copies of several books.

After the screening, Boone couldn’t stop praising “Shawshank.” Recently, he said, “I loved it. ‘Shawshank’ breaks your heart. That’s what King does. It’s one of the best films about friendship and kindness in the face of desire.” Boone considers it the best King adaptation of all his work to hit the silver screen, with “Stand by Me” a close second. “Neither are horrors,” he says.

(1&2) The murder trial of Andy Dufresne. (3) Character actor Jeffrey DeMunn plays the District Attorney. Known for his role as Dale Horvath on “The Walking Dead,” he’s acted in four TV adaptations of King’s work, perhaps the most of any actor besides the author himself: “The Green Mile, The Mist” and “Storm of the Century.” (4) Dufresne stands during the reading of the verdict.

King also had a hand in “Shawshank’s” director/writer Frank Darabont’s early career, when the filmmaker selected his short story “The Woman in the Room” (1984), a 30-minute short, to be his first film. Darabont went on to write scripts for and direct TV series episodes including “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” as well as co-creating/directing/writing the first season of “The Walking Dead.” He adapted and directed “The Green Mile” and “The Mist,” films that were also based on King’s work.

But, “The Shawshank Redemption” kept speaking to his heart. “Many considered it not very cinematic,” Darabont says in the featurette “Hope Springs Eternal” (disc & digital). “But, to me, it seemed the most cinematic because it dealt with the human heart.” King gave Darabont his blessing and the rights for a $1, wondering if it would ever be made. When “Shawshank” appeared in theaters, the author felt it was a first-rate adaptation, “Just amazing.”

Millions of viewers agree.

Darabont was determined to maintain the “voice of the author” through the character Ellis “Red” Redding, the prison black-market supplier, who continues to face an unforgiving parole board. It’s another exceptional performance by Morgan Freeman. “I don’t think I could make it on the outside,” Red says. “I been in here most of my life. I’m an institutional man now.” He has been imprisoned in Shawshank for decades.

(1) Ellis “Red” Redding appears in front of an unforgiving parole board. (2) Shawshank prison guards direct the bus holding the latest group of “fresh fish.” (3) Red and his buddies watch the new prisoners enter the prison yard, making bets on which one will break down first. (4) Inmates heckle the “fish.” Morgan Freeman’s son Alfonso is on the left. (5) The prisoners meet Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton). “I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.”

“Shawshank Redemption” was filmed at the abandoned Mansfield Reformatory prison in Mansfield, Ohio, during a four-month production period. The story spans 1946 to 1967, illustrating how a powerful and layered friendship grows between Red and Maine banker Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins. Dufresne was sentenced to two life terms for the murder of his wife and her lover; he continues to maintain his innocence as the years crawl by.

“Hope is a good thing. Maybe even the best of things. And good things never die.” — Andy Dufresne

Iron bars can’t completely diminish the power of hope and friendship. One of the most memorable scenes comes when Andy, who’s earned a little freedom by doing taxes for the guards and warden, and finding every loophole, receives several books and LPs for the prison library. He plays a portion of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” over the PA system and, for a brief moment, the prisoners’ hearts soar. Another moment comes when Andy persuades prison guards to bring beer to the inmates tarring a scorching hot roof. A superb cast includes legendary actor James Whitmore (Brooks Hatlen), Bob Gunton (Warden Norton), Clancy Brown (Captain Hadley), William Sadler (Heywood), Gil Bellows (Tommy) and Mark Rolston (Bogs Diamond).

(1) Brutally hosed down and treated for lice, Dufresne enters his prison cell. (2) After lights-out, new prisoner “Fat Ass” (Frank Medrano) cries out, “I don’t belong here! I want to go home! I want my mother!” (3) Heywood (William Sadler) wins the bet - a pack of cigarettes. (4) Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown) drags Fat Ass out of his cell and beats him severely. Vicious and corrupt, Hadley is the warden’s second-in-command.

With a run time of 142 minutes, “Shawshank” bombed in theaters. “It was definitely a slow build. It landed with a hollow thud at the box office,” Darabont says. But by early 1995, it received seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor (Freeman), Best Screenplay (Darabont), Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Best Sound, Best Film Editing and Best Score (Thomas Newman). By the end of '95, it had become the No. 1 VHS rental. “Somehow it seeped into the culture and into people’s hearts. And word of mouth has now brought it to a place of great esteem,” the director says.

For over 15 years, “The Shawshank Redemption” held the No. 1 spot on IMDb Top 250 Movies list ahead of “The Godfather” at No. 2, and “The Godfather: Part II” at No. 3. On AFI’s 10th Anniversary Edition 100 Years…100 Movies the Greatest American Films, “Shawshank” landed at No. 72, between Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969).


Additional bonus features include an informative commentary with Darabont, who provides an endless amount of production stories; the 48-minute documentary, “The Redeeming Feature” hosted by British film critic Mark Kermode, who says “Shawshank” found its true worldwide audience thanks to the “miracle of home video.” There are interviews with the cast and Darabont, who says, “I’ve got mail and still get mail from people who say, ‘Gosh, your movie got me through a really bad marriage, or a bad divorce, or a really bad patch in my life or illness. Or, it helped me hang on when a loved one died.”

(1) Over the years, Red and Andy become best friends. (2) Warden Norton gives a speech to the prisoners. (3) Capt. Hadley threatens to throw Andy off the roof-top. But, Andy convinces Hadley that he can save his $35,000 of inheritance if he simply gives the money to his wife - which would then be tax-free. (3&4) In exchange, Hadley gives the men tarring a scorching hot roof a bucket of beer. Andy enjoys the moment, watching his buddies drink. Darabont and Deakins use warm tones to highlight this moment of goodwill.


Cinematographer Roger Deakins (“1917,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Skyfall”) received his first Oscar nod for Darabont’s adaptation. He captured the film's sweeping imagery on Arriflex 35mm cameras (1:85:1 aspect ratio), with gorgeous composition and lighting. The original camera negative was scanned in 4K and mastered in the higher resolution by the folks at Warner Brothers. The upgrade from the 2K mastered Blu-ray, included in the set, is literally night and day. The Blu-ray was plagued with crushed shadows and overall softness.

A nice coat of natural film grain is evident from start to finish, but some grain suppression may have been applied. It’s comparable to recent Sony 4K remastering with a similar aspect ratio and film stock. Overall clarity is superb from wide shots in the prison yard to facial close-ups.

The HDR10 grading features deep-deep blacks with controlled mid-tones and bright highlights. Overall, the color palette is cool, using every shade of blue and gray imaginable, with only a few moments of warm tones. The digital 4K version also gets the more advanced Dolby Vision grading.


There is no Dolby Atmos upgrade included here, but it features an excellent six-channel uncompressed DTS-HD soundtrack balanced between quieter dialogue moments and Thomas Newman’s fully orchestrated Oscar-nominated score, the first of 15 he’s received. Strangely, he’s never won. Rain effects and environmental sounds from the prison thrive throughout from front to back speakers.

“Here you have a movie where people are allowing forgiveness to happen, allowing redemption to happen. It really gives one hope about the possibility for forgiveness and redemption as a whole in the society.” — Tim Robbins, actor

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1) It’s movie night and the guys watch “Gilda” (1946) starring Rita Hayworth. Everyone reacts when she tosses her hair back. (2) The warden finds a poster of Rita Hayworth in Andy’s prison cell. “Can’t say I approve of this. But I suppose exceptions can be made.” (3) Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) threats to kill Heywood. (4) Released from Shawshank after 50 years, Hatlen rides a bus for the first time. (5&6) Andy plays a portion of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” over the PA system and, for a brief moment, inmates and guards experience beauty and hope.


(1) Inmate Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows) arrives at Shawshank in 1965 for a “Two-year stretch for B&E. That’s breaking & entering to you,” Red explains. Tommy gets his GED test results; Andy was his tutor. (2) Sad day at Shawshank, another prisoner was killed by Capt. Hadley. (3-5) Andy’s final night in Shawshank. He’s been planning his escape for years.




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