The Shawshank Redemption: Film Vault Edition 4K Blu-ray review

The Shawshank Redemption: Film Vault Edition, Warner Bros., UHD Blu-ray & All-region BD, £50

Movie: Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, is sentenced to a double-life term in the Shawshank State Prison. There he meets Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman), a fellow inmate who specialises in smuggling contraband, and the two quickly becoming friends.

As the years roll on Andy tries to find a measure of normalcy among the abuse from guards and fellow prisoners alike; he enhances the institution’s library, helps prison staff with their taxes, and even goes as far as using his accounting know-how to cook the books for tyrannical prison warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton). However, when Andy becomes aware of evidence that could prove his innocence, Norton refuses to listen, preferring that the former banker remains in place working for him. It’s a decision that pushes Andy to act on his ‘get busy living, or get busy dying’ maxim and put into action an audacious escape plan he’s been steadily working towards for the last 19 years…

Based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, writer-director Frank Darabont’s prison drama famously flopped at the box office on its original release in 1994. But nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor (for Morgan Freeman) at the Academy Awards (it lost to in both categories to Forrest Gump) boosted the film’s profile, turning The Shawshank Redemption into one of 1995’s biggest video rental successes.

Since then the film's profile has grown with each passing year, supplanting The Godfather at the top spot on the IMDB’s list of the Top 250 films of all time, based on user ratings. Is it really the best film ever? No, of course not. But it is a wonderful piece of cinematic storytelling, Darabont’s assured but unobtrusive direction allowing the top-tier cast to shine. And, sure, it's guilty of tugging hard on the old heartstrings at times , but more often than not it film earns your tears with its affecting performances and compassionate characterisation.

A beloved modern classic, The Shawshank Redemption is a film you’ll come back to again and again. So, naturally, you’ll want to own the best version available. So how does this new Film Vault release stack up?
Movie rating: 4.0/5

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Picture: If you’ve picked up any of the previous Film Vault releases, you’ll know that they simply repackage the pre-existing UHD and Blu-ray discs in slick, collectible packaging. This means fans of the film will know just what to expect from The Shawshank Redemption’s 4K presentation here.

Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with HDR10 grading, the 2160p encode represents a major step forward from earlier Blu-ray releases. Colours are slightly cooler and brightness is less overcooked here, which suits the material well and would appear more indicative of the original theatrical appearance based on anecdotal evidence.

The increase in resolution also leads to an expected boost in detail, which now looks much finer, drawing even more nuanced textural information out of the photography. A few instances of black crush mean shadow detail could possibly be improved, but it’s still a big progression on what has come before. Additionally, while the fine grain film stock used to shoot the movie doesn’t overload the image with grain, it’s certainly present and hasn’t been scrubbed away by overzealous digital filtering – ensuring this 4K presentation retains a naturally film-like appearance.
Picture rating: 4.5/5

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Audio: The Shawshank Redemption’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a pretty engaging affair – not to mention a familiar one, with little having changed since the film first debuted on Blu-ray. Atmospheric use of the surrounds brings the locations to life, LFE is pleasingly pronounced, and Thomas Newman’s score sounds absolutely wonderful. The one real complaint is that dialogue doesn’t sound as crisp and smooth as it should, a touch of distracting sibilance entering the picture from time-to-time.
Audio rating: 3.5/5

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Extras: In terms of disc-based extras, the Ultra HD Blu-ray features a commentary by writer-director Frank Darabont, while the accompanying Full HD Blu-ray copy of adds the Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at The Shawshank Redemption (31 minutes) and Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature (48 minutes) documentaries; Hollywood-skewering spoof The Sharktank Redemption (25 minutes); five stills galleries; storyboards for two sequences; and the theatrical trailer (two minutes).

Like all Film Vault releases, The Shawshank Redemption arrives in an oversized box - 220(h) x 181(w) x 46(d)mm - that stands out on a shelf alongside traditional cases. The branding, logos, BBFC certificates, etc. are all printed on a clear O-ring which slides off allowing you to appreciate the gorgeous new artwork in all its glory.

The Ultra HD and Blu-ray platters are held together in a gatefold cardboard sleeve the size of a CD case. Alongside this is a larger card-stock envelope and an individually-numbered ‘crystal display plaque’ for you to, er, put on display somewhere. Inside the envelope you’ll find a double-sided poster featuring two pieces of theatrical artwork; a second poster featuring the new artwork that graces the cover of this Film Vault release; seven glossy postcards featuring character photos on the front and quotes from the film on the reverse; and a reproduction of Andy’s letter to Red from the film. Although the latter may appear awkwardly folded to fit inside the card envelope, it actually matches the way the letter is folded when it is discovered by Red in the movie...
Extras rating: 4.0/5

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We say: A handsome limited edition presentation of Frank Darabont’s classic prison drama - although only you can decide if the exclusive miscellany is worth paying double the price of the ‘standard’ 4K release.