After the slow-burning success of his feature-film debut, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), director Frank Darabont followed up with The Green Mile (1999)---and while the films share striking similarities, they complement each other instead of feeling like overly familiar territory. Both are based on stories by Stephen King, both are set in the first half of the 20th century and both take place largely behind prison walls. They certainly feel as if they're part of the same world; thankfully, we're not constantly reminded of this as the stories unfold.
Darabont's first crack at the works of Stephen King came in 1983 with The Woman in the Room; King reportedly liked it enough to grant Darabont the rights to The Shawshank Redemption some four years later. All of this may seem a bit off-topic, but here's the point: it's obvious that Darabont had been a fan of King's long before either film was released. Both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile aren't the typical fright-fests that usually occur in a King production, yet they're still great stories that translate exceptionally well to film.
Our story introduces us to the men who live and work at "The Green Mile" a nickname given to the E Block of a Louisiana prison due to its "faded lime" floor color. This is death row, so the ever-changing lineup of residents prevents the guards from getting to know the prisoners...for better or for worse. This all changes with the arrival a towering black man named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), who proves to be something of a special case. Standing at roughly seven feet tall, Coffey is a gentle giant: he's scared of the dark, visibly shaken by some of the other inmates and often moved to tears. Coffey's been convicted of the rape and murder of two young girls, but the man's unusual gift of healing leads warden Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) to believe otherwise. Nonetheless, the story counts down the days of Coffey's life, as he's already been convicted and sentenced to death.
Of course, most three-hour films don't revolve solely around one or two people; luckily, the ensemble cast of The Green Mile creates plenty of memorable characters. A small, cowardly man who befriends a small mouse (Michael Jeter); a cocky young guard who harasses the wardens and inmates (Doug Hutchinson); a wily prisoner who masquerades as a "wet noodle" (Sam Rockwell); an older warden whose wife is dying of a brain tumor (James Cromwell); and some of the fellow guards at the prison (including David Morse and Barry Pepper, among others). These characters are the heart and soul of The Green Mile, helping to bring depth and humanity to a story that's occasionally bleak and detached.
Some may complain of the film's three-hour running time; while it's hardly a problem once The Green Mile gets going, there are a few spots that tend to drag. The story is told in flashback by an elderly Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer), but it's only the closing bookend that softly drags its heels. While the earliest scenes set up the supporting characters very well, the film doesn't really take off until Coffey arrives. For this reason, the second act shows The Green Mile at the top of its game. There are plenty of powerful moments seen and heard here, balanced nicely by the capable direction of Darabont and the skill of the ensemble cast. The spiritual symbolism may be a bit thick at times (did Coffey's initials really need to be "J.C." to make the connection?), but the push and pull of such emotionally wrenching scenes shouldn't upset the viewer. Our buttons are being pushed, but The Green Mile is such a well-done film that we shouldn't mind.
Originally released on DVD some seven years ago, The Green Mile has finally been given a worthy upgrade by Warner Bros. Boasting a solid technical presentation and a well-meaning assortment of extras, this 2-disc Special Edition really works its magic and supports the film well. We can only hope Darabont's success continues with his upcoming adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451; for now, his back catalogue should be more than enough.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Though I don't have the original 2000 DVD release to compare directly, it's doubtful that it looks this good. Spread across both discs (with the break nicely placed just before the two-hour mark), this additional breathing room ensures that The Green Mile doesn't suffer from any compression problems. Colors are bold and rich, while only a few of the wider shots looked a bit on the soft side. Overall, this fantastic 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer won't disappoint in the least.
Though it's not quite as attention-grabbing as the visuals, the included Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix (also available in French) certainly gets the job done. Dialogue and music are crystal-clear, while the rear channels and subwoofer are occasionally put to good use for atmospheric purposes. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are included for the main feature only, along with Closed Captioning support.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Seen above, the moody, sepia-toned menu designs capture the films' somber moments perfectly. The 188-minute main feature has been divided into over four dozen chapters on two discs, while no apparent layer changes were detected during playback. This double-disc release is housed in a standard black hinged keepcase and includes no inserts of any kind. The new cover painting by Drew Struzan is a vast improvement over the waxy original.
Spread evenly over both discs, fans will enjoy the original and retrospective extras included here. First and foremost is a full-length Audio Commentary with director Frank Darabont, who does an excellent job of flying solo for the three-hour session. His commentary during The Shawshank Redemption was articulate and entertaining; here, Darabont follows suit with plenty of interesting anecdotes and other tidbits. He goes into plenty of detail about adapting King's original serial novel, pulling off plenty of production tricks, the film's casting and much more---and though you'll definitely notice some overlap in the extras to come, it's certainly interesting the first time around.
Disc One also contains a few other goodies, including with a pair of Deleted Scenes ("Bitterbuck's Family Says Goodbye" and "Coffey's Prayer", 3:35 total) with optional commentary by Darabont. Both are brief and minor moments but worth watching, while Darabont's comments help explain why both were left on the cutting room floor.
Also here are two pre-production extras: Michael Clark Duncan's Screen Test (8:22) and Tom Hanks' Makeup Tests (2 clips, 5:24 total). The former shows exactly why Duncan was chosen for the pivotal role; the latter shows us Hanks in old-age makeup before Dabbs Greer was chosen to portray the elderly Paul Edgecomb.
The disc closes with a trio of promotional-related extras: a pair of Trailers for the film, as well as "The Teaser Trailer: A Case Study" (6:45). This short but interesting featurette shows us glimpses of an unused teaser trailer for the film, highlighted by comments from the director, producer and storyboard artist (noted comic artist Bill Sienkiewicz!).
Disc Two kicks off with "Walking the Mile" (25:27, above left), a 1999-era featurette that summarizes the production. With comments from author Stephen King, Frank Darabont, mouse stunt coordinator Boone Narr, visual effects supervisor Charles Gibson and members of the cast and crew, it's quite good for a promotional featurette. The video quality is noticeably lower than some of the other extras, but the footage certainly makes up for it.
The extras conclude with a more current six-part documentary, Miracles and Mystery: Creating The Green Mile (1:42:28 total, above right), which covers the story adaptation, casting process, set design, shooting, CGI effects and mouse training. Though the overlap reaches a head here, there's a decent amount of new and interesting stories presented. Of particular interest is the CGI featurette, highlighting the subtle visual tricks used to great effect; though Darabont already hinted at several during the commentary, we get a few on-screen examples this time around. The mouse training featurette is a light and unusual way to end things, as we get a glimpse at the delicate process used to make Mr. Jingles come to life. All are worth browsing at least once---and even with all the overlap, at least we didn't get short-changed.
All bonus features are presented in 1.33:1 and widescreen aspect ratios; curiously, some are 16x9 enhanced (the six-part documentary) and some are not (one of the trailers). As mentioned earlier, Closed Captioning and subtitle options aren't inlcuded for any of these extras, which is hopefully a dying trend.
For fans of Frank Darabont's work, this new 2-disc Special Edition of The Green Mile easily deserves a spot right next to the re-release of The Shawshank Redemption. The film itself is extremely polished and well-executed; though it slightly stumbles along the way, The Green Mile holds up well and should continue to do so. Warner's double-dip is a thoughtful package, combining an excellent technical presentation with a well-rounded assortment of bonus material. Overall, this modestly priced upgrade is an easy choice for fans of great drama and comes Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.