The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption, released in 1994, is an adaptation based upon a story by Steven King and directed masterfully by Frank Darabont. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman play the leads and this director “shows” us things about them. We are not told much at all.
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A young banker, Andy Dufresne, is imprisoned unjustly for the murder of his wife. He undergoes horrible treatment at the hands of a group of predators inside the prison population until he becomes valuable to the warden, played by Bob Gunton. He becomes the person in the prison who can fix things, even establishing a library. He does things for his fellow inmates that make him valued and eventually protected by both inmates and guards, and he is employed by the warden to help him embezzle prison funds and the wages of prison work gangs, plus hide the bribes he takes locally. Morgan Freeman is the prison gofer, and he and Andy help each other. When a new prisoner arrives who could prove Andy’s innocence, the warden kills him in order to keep Andy there. Andy escapes through a tunnel he has spent years digging. Over the years he has built himself an identity that matches the owner of the bank account with all the warden’s money, which he takes. He sends proof of the warden’s graft to the local press, and leaves money for Red (Morgan Freeman) who has promised to retrieve the package and join him in Mexico. He sends s postcard to tell Red where he is.
Shawshank prison in the film is a brutal and inhumane environment and the tone is ominous from the beginning. Only the voice-over by Morgan Freeman gives us a hint that there is hope since he is speaking in the past tense. The characterization of all but Andy and Red is two-dimensional, focusing all our attention and emotion on them, and we learn very little even about them. Andy Dufresne is so two-dimensional that we do not know until nearly the end of the film that he is innocent. Morgan Freeman is the narrator, inside whose mind the film takes place, so he has more substance. However, these stick characters are symbolic of what the public believes about criminals, crime and prisons.
There is really little embellishment inset or effects, and the dialogue is frugal and carefully to the point. The staging is entirely realistic and the editing is skillfully done to make each scene count towards the tremendous impact this film has on the audience. The best part of the film may be the music, however, which is seldom noticed during the film, but perfectly scored to match the mood and action. This is possibly the best adaptation of a Steven King work ever done.
Bladerunner, directed by Ridley Scott, is a futuristic adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” The stellar cast features Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young, and stunning special effects in a moody, forties-like scene. The story is a simple action tale with an embedded lover story and a moralistic look at what it means to be human. While the acting and special effects are great, and the dialogue and even the music are wonderful, the cinematography and set design are the real stars of this film.
The film is set in a gloomy degraded Los Angeles, over-crowded, run down and heavily polluted. The streets are dangerous and the population is mixed, with Asians dominating. The lighting is gloomy throughout the film, adding to the somber mood. Camera angles enhance the oddly claustrophobic feel of the setting, and the entire film has the feel of the 1930-the 40s in the US. The clothing and set style match perfectly, almost with a feel of Casablanca and other classic films of that period. Costumes, furniture, art deco décor and music, and hairstyles are period as if this story takes place in the future which is desperate to return to the past. The fluorescent, incandescent, and neon lighting adds to the claustrophobic feel of the filming.
The oddest things are the various animated replicated animals, and maybe some real ones, which appear here and there throughout the film, so briefly that we almost miss them, except for the owl and the snake, and some animal replicants in the market. The film is loaded with symbols, like the white dove which escapes as Sebastian dies or the rat in the cellar where they began to fight, and especially the unicorn, the symbol of myth and magic, and maybe hope, as man and replicant strike out for the north and safety, perhaps to begin a new race.
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