The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

shaw1The Shawshank Redemption (Blu-ray)

For what it’s worth, I’ll start this by just pointing out that I saw The Shawshank Redemption at the cinema back on its release in 1994. I don’t know why I feel the need to point that out, but this film was such a ‘sleeper’ hit, only becoming popular on home video really, that it feels pertinent to mention that when there is so little ‘new’ to add about the film, as so much has since been written about it. It is now on so many people’s Top Ten lists it is easy to forget that the film took years to gain its audience and popularity.

I don’t think it is any accident that it reminds me so much of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, another perennial favourite that was ignored on its original release. Both films are life-affirming, and I think it’s fair to say that both films failed to get initial success because they sort of suggest they are going to be one thing, and then turn into something else. Frank Capra’s film seems overly sweet and simple at the start but becomes rather dark, and Frank Darabont’s film starts as if it is just another prison flick, when it becomes something more. And yes, both films champion the human spirit and having faith in oneself and in others, and both films are uplifting cathartic experiences.

Returning to the film after a number of years, and watching it for the first time on blu-ray, I was pleasantly surprised that it really is as good as I remembered. Sometimes films fade or disappoint when revisited after a space of time. Shawshank remains as vital and sincere as it ever was. The script is excellent, the cast engaging, the music score perfect, the direction remarkably restrained of any artifice or stylistic heavy-handedness. The film tells its story at a leisurely pace (over something like two and a half hours) but it never feels long. It feels just right, and the eventual finale is note-perfect and thoroughly deserved. There is, afterall, a simple reason why it is on so many people’s Top Ten lists. It is simply a damn fine film.

3 thoughts on “The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

  1. I first saw Shawshank on its TV premiere, when it felt like everyone else in my class also watched it — it was still on its way up in everyone’s estimations at the time, so I don’t think any of us had seen it. Obviously, everyone loved it, because it’s great.

    When I was researching my Godfather post, to find out when it had lost the IMDb #1 spot to Shawshank, I came across a piece on the topic which basically took the view that “Shawshank isn’t all that great because loads of people love it, and what do they know”, complete with a lengthy comment section espousing more of the same. Which doesn’t really signify anything other than I hate people who are snobs about things for the sake of being snobs about things, especially when they ignore facts (i.e. the entirety of IMDb’s users did not sit down and have a debate in which they all agreed Shawshank was the greatest movie ever made; it just tops a ranking of averaged-out ratings).

    1. That raises a valid point about that #1 spot- Shawshank has pretty much universal appeal re:its championing of friendship and the human spirit. The Godfather is arguably a ‘greater’ film but isn’t for everybody (some people turned off by gangster films or crimeflicks) . It demonstrates the result of aiming for the commonest ground/demographic as the studios do now. They may, yes, get a popular film and get a huge box office hit but not neccesarily as good a film, as, say, The Godfather. Sadly the studios wouldn’t be at all concerned about that, as long as the money rolls in- Best Pictures are for the history books, but box office is everything.

  2. This is one I need to watch again. I didn’t see it in theater, would’ve been too young to see this type of movie then, but I see what you mean about it being a sleeper hit.

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