OCTOBER 14, 2008
Lots of movies may make you want to be an astronaut, or a cop, or whatever, but I am pretty sure that The Shawshank Redemption is the only movie that might make you want to be a prisoner (OK, maybe Con Air too). Apart from the rape, it seems pretty awesome in this movie: you hang out, play baseball, listen to Hank Williams, watch Rita Hayworth movies... what’s not to love? (again, besides the rape)
I met Frank Darabont at a Fango convention in 06, and he signed my script while I told him how it taught me more about screenwriting (and even directing) than any textbook I ever got in film school. And it’s not BS – if you are an aspiring writer and/or director, pick up the published screenplay ASAP. In addition to the wonderful script, Frank provides his notes, explaining why things in the film are different than on the page, why things were dropped, etc. There are also storyboards, a note from Stephen King... it’s a phenomenal book. He seemed very flattered, so while I’ve since met him a few times (I think the last time he even recognized me – nerd boner!), that’s definitely one of my happiest “celebrity moments”, because it’s rare I get to talk to someone who actually influenced my creative side and feel they’re actually listening to what I am saying.
And hey, the movie itself is pretty great. You don’t get round the clock showings on TNT unless you’re a movie someone would actually want to watch over and over. I don’t think there’s a single thing in the film that’s anything less than perfect: the acting, the directing, the writing, the production design (the cell block is a set?), the camrederie between the core group of guys, the score...
I want to talk about those last two things a bit. There’s a scene late in the film that is almost heartbreaking in its perfection. It’s pretty simple; it’s actually not even a whole scene. It’s just William Sadler telling a story about Andy while the other guys listen and laugh. Without saying a word, the other guys all expertly depict how much they loved the guy with their smiles and laughter, and the fact that Sadler’s telling a story that every single one of them was present for when it originally happened speaks volumes in itself. And in that 20 seconds, you understand so much about the film as a whole: that Andy may be one of them, but he’s also the one they look up to and can't be contained there; that the guys are settled into their prison lives (the scene would play exactly the same had it been set in a bar); that Red, who is laughing along but obviously distracted, is starting to finally see things from Andy’s POV... Christ. 20 seconds.
The score as well, deserves its own HMAD paragraph. Thomas Newman is not the most diverse composer in the world; his scores for this, American Beauty, Meet Joe Black, Green Mile, and Phenomenon are damn near indistinguishable from one another, but it’s an amazing score, so I can’t blame him for only making slight modifications to the general idea. I’ve actually requested that the Meet Joe Black theme be played at my funeral (Halloween and Armageddon’s themes would be jarringly inappropriate). Anyone who hears that sweeping, majestic orchestra as Andy and Red embrace on the beach and doesn’t cry is simply not a human being.
It’s a shame that Green Mile made a lot more money than Shawshank at the box office, but it's telling that while that film may be more financially successful, it has not endured to the extent that Shawshank has. Shawshank still finds itself atop IMDb’s top 250 list, but Green Mile doesn’t even place in the top 100. And I think that’s due to the fact that while it’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, the script was too mechanically close to King’s novel. It’s an adaptation in the strictest sense. But on Shawshank, Darabont actually IMPROVED King’s novella in every way he attempted. In the book, Red was a white Irish guy, a role someone like Ron Howard might play, but the film has Morgan Freeman, a guy who can make the worst dialogue ever written sound Oscar-worthy. Darabont also embellished the Brooks character, which gave the film a bittersweet center (and motivator for both Red and Andy) that the novella did not. There are other changes as well, and all of them are for the better.
The original DVD was bare bones, but the special edition released in 2004 is pretty wonderful. Frank does a fantastic commentary that covers all bases, and he hardly ever shuts up. The 2nd disc has a trio of retrospective/interview type things that run over 2 hrs combined, artwork and promotional stuff, and even a strange short film parody called Sharktank Redemption. Something that’s NOT on there are the deleted scenes that have been seen on cable every now and then. I guess Darabont hates them, but I wish they were included as an easter egg or something at least; I actually kind of like the scene where Red looks at the new world around him. And if you ever need to feel really depressed, there is no quicker way to do it than to watch the deleted bit where Andy finds the corpse of Brooks’ poor bird trapped in the barbed wire.
Because I am a sucker for the words “limited edition”, I actually bought the deluxe release, which included the score that I already owned and a book that covers the same stuff that’s on the DVD. And it came in a box that I threw away. Worth the extra 20 bucks? Absolutely.
I have never spoken to a single person who disliked this film. There are some who are “sick of it”, sure, but never once have I heard someone say “it sucks” or whatever. And I hope I never do.
(That is not a request for a contrarian person).
What say you?