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Green Mile’ shines in deluxe special edition

Rama Gottumukkala | Sunday, April 1, 2007

Director Frank Darabont has made not one, but two great Stephen King prison dramas. His first, “The Shawshank Redemption,” was the proverbial little movie that could. The novella that inspired the 1994 film was far more slender than King’s usual work – one that was light on pages but big on heart.

When the film adaptation was released, it opened softly and exited the Oscars without a peep, failing to win on any of its seven nominations, including Best Picture. Today, it ranks as one of our fondest memories of 1990s cinema, a wonderfully humanistic film with a legend that has grown from its grassroots beginnings to epic proportions.

Darabont’s second effort, “The Green Mile,” debuted six years later with far greater fanfare and a stellar cast anchored by Tom Hanks. This time, Darabont, who wrote the screenplay for both films, whittled King’s mammoth 400-page tome down until he ended with a 188-minute picture. It seemed tailor-made for Oscar gold, and again it was nominated for Best Picture. Once more, it failed to win. To some, this may be a disappointment. But more than seven years after its Dec. 10, 1999 release, it remains an instant classic.

Set in 1935, the film drops us down at the Cold Mountain Correctional Facility. We spend much of the film indoors with the prison guards and their wards, all inmates on death row for vicious, often murderous, crimes. The guards are led by Paul Edgecomb (Hanks). He is a kind but firm man who treats the inmates with respect, and expects the same in return. But the arrival of John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a seemingly gentle giant accused of a heinous crime, irrevocably changes the lives of Edgecomb and the other convicts.

Warner Bros. has done the film a great service with the recent release of a bountiful two-disc special edition. It comes on the heels of a similarly expansive two-disc edition of “The Shawshank Redemption.” Both DVDs far outstrip the bare one-disc editions that sat on store shelves for far too long.

The wisest choice made by the DVD producers was splitting the film over two discs. By not squishing more than three hours of film onto one disc, this DVD improves upon the first release’s solid but unspectacular video transfer. Here, the movie looks and sounds great, while leaving more room for the wonderful collection of special features.

The movie is accompanied by an audio commentary from Darabont, an essential feature absent from the previous DVD. On the track, Darabont gingerly admits his reluctance to record commentaries for his films, saying it keeps the “magic of the movies” intact with such discretion. Fortunately, he doesn’t hold back here and delivers a wonderful commentary that touches upon all aspects of the film’s production. Tidbits include how the crew made Duncan appear a foot taller than anyone else in the film and the special effects used to aid Mr. Jingles in his efforts.

Additionally, the second disc houses an excellent six-part documentary called “Miracles and Mystery: Creating The Green Mile.” Clocking in at over 90 minutes, it digs even deeper into the film’s cinematography, casting, sets, costumes and virtually every part of its production.

Alive with deep, soulful characters, “The Green Mile” ambles through its considerable runtime with care and grace. Warm, affectionate, poignant and moving, it is a worthy spiritual sequel to “Shawshank.” Like a younger sibling, it seems content to live in the shadow of the earlier film. But “Green Mile” once again proved that Darabont is one of the few filmmakers with the patience, competence and vision to bring King’s richly detailed worlds to life.