I must say that I didn't expect to be blown away by the HD transfer of The Shawshank Redemption. The reason for this is that it is a fairly old film, and was not shot on a particularly high budget. In addition, the DVD transfer has always been perfectly fine, I felt that in the circumstances the chances of a significant upgrade are fairly slim
Warner brings the film to Blu-ray in a cinematically correct 1.85 :1 1080P transfer, and I am please to say that whilst this might not be a reference disc, it IS certainly an improvement over the previous release.
The first thing to mention is that despite the age of the film, the source is absolutely immaculate. There is no dirt, or blemish to be found and the whole print is clean and pristine. There is a slight layer of grain present, but this is as the transfer should be, and it gives a nice realistic and warm texture.
The level of detail is also impressive. Whereas it may be slightly inconsistent in this respect, it is always very good - but some scenes take the breath away. The ramping up of detail over the DVD can be seen most clearly in the slightly dingy environs of the prison cells. The walls, and the small objects that the prisoners have picked up over the years are far more clearly defined, and this is perhaps where the increased detail is most noticeable. Likewise, the detail in Robbins face in solitary, as the light falls across him is revelatory. Other scenes are slightly more disappointing. I don't wish to be misunderstood, there is always an increase in detail over the SD release, but an example of a scene where I expected slightly more is the occasion where Dufresne plays the Opera and the prisoners in the yard are frozen in rapt attention. It is a beautiful scene for me, and this scene (as well as some other exterior shots) doesn't really match the very best that the transfer has to offer. This may be me being slightly picky - but I feel that it is something that should be mentioned.
The use of colour in The Shawshank Redemption is very interesting. It is actually quite a challenging transfer, with quite a contrast between the dark, bluish interiors, and the sun drenched exterior shots. The transfer deals with this contrast well, with accurate fleshtones, and where colour is needed it is vivid and intense. Black levels are excellent, and the contrast is also good. The level of depth present in the transfer is generally excellent.
Some people may find that the film is slightly soft looking in places - and this is certainly true. However, this is not a fault of the transfer, but merely an accurate rendition of the film as it was shot.
To sum up, the picture was much more of an improvement than I was expecting. It is easily the best the film has ever looked in the home, and helps make an enveloping film even more engrossing.
I had similar expectations for the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix as I did for the picture, and unfortunately the sound mix more closely met them. It is not that the mix is necessarily bad - it is just that it is not particularly immersive.
There are certainly some good points here. The dialogue is always clear, and well positioned to the front, with the words well defined within the mix. The front stereo mix is also nice and wide, with discreet effects coming from left and right but never drowning out the dialogue.
The superb score is beautifully served by this sound mix, sounding warm and vibrant and really coming to life through the room.
Where the score lets itself down however is with the surround use, which does rather effect the immersiveness of the whole experience. This has always been the case with home versions of the film, so I am sure that this is how the sound was originally mixed - but sadly with the ease of availability of good home cinema systems, it is noticeable if the rears see virtually no use. That is the case here, and although this is hardly an action film that NEEDS the rears to be kicking in, it is a same some ambience wasn't used
To sum up the sound then, it is an improvement on the original release, and it is a beautifully sounding, warm mix. It is just sadly lacking in ambience.
All the extras from the original special edition DVD release here - and it is good to see everything has made it across. We start with an excellent audio commentary from Frank Darabont - whose enthusiasm for the Stephen King story is very evident, and goes a long way to explain how he was able to make such a classic film from the source. He goes into a lot of detail about the business of bringing the film to the screen, and reveals some interesting revelations from the set. This is well worth a listen
Hope Springs Eternal : A Look Back at Shawshank Redemptionis a documentary that was produced especially for the SE DVD and deals with the legacy the film has had. Most documentaries like this tend to come across as a little self serving, but as this film has such a deserved reputation it seems only fair for a little self-congratulation on behalf of the people involved. It is interesting listening to the actors talking about their role with the perspective that time allows, and it is certainly a very interesting documentary. It is also a nice little touch to make the title the same as the sub title of the original novelette.
The next documentary is one originally produced by the BBC, and it is nice to see it here. Shawshank : The Redeeming Feature covers very similar ground to the first one, but does so in more detail - and tried to ascertain why the film has gained so much popularity over the years. It also takes a very interesting look at the prison where the film was shot. This has always been a particularly fascinating documentary, ever since I originally saw it on TV - so it is excellent to see it has made it over to the Blu-ray
There is then an excerpt from The Charlie Rose Show which was filmed for the 10th anniversary of the film. I must say that this is a “watch once” feature, as it really doesn't add anything new to the other two docs. It is great to have it here though.
Finally, we have Morgan's son Alfonso starring in The Sharktank Redemption. This was on my original DVD but for some reason it would never actually play, so it's good to have it here. Sadly, however, it turned out to be more a satire on Hollywood than a spoof on the original film. Again, it's good to have it included but personally it didn't really do anything for me. The package is rounded off with a stills gallery and a trailer.
The Shawshank Redemption is that modern rarity. A genuinely classic film that has achieved popularity and critical acclaim in equal measure. It is truly a film that you can never get tired of watching, and rewards repeat viewings. This is the reason why it has been so popular on DVD, and why it deserves a place in any self-respecting film fan's library.
The picture is certainly a significant upgrade on even the special edition DVD, and the sound is also an improvement, although seriously lacking in use of the rears.
On top of this, all the extras are included from the previous DVDs, and the whole package comes presented in a lovely hard back book full of previously unseen colour photographs from the film.
Whether to upgrade from DVD in these credit-crunch times, however, is a difficult decision. If you love the film as much as I do, then the improvements are certainly worth it - as is the presentation book. And you will not lose anything as all extras are ported. If you are not so much of a fan, though, upscaling the SE DVD may be a more preferable option. This is certainly a worthwhile addition to anyone's collection, though.
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