When Stephen King published the book of The Green Mile in six instalments, he was almost lending it implicitly the kind of structure that would translate well to a three-act movie structure. It throws in major events at regular intervals, and pushes emotional buttons as it does so. Off the back of The Shawshank Redemption, it seemed that writer/director Frank Darabont was an obvious choice to return to Stephen King’s work to film The Green Mile, and the end result does bear that out.
However, I’m firmly with the camp that thinks it’s an inferior movie to Shawshank. Shawshank certainly wasn’t shy of prison clichés, and nor was it worried about being manipulative. But I thought the joins in what it was doing were far less obvious, and the ensemble of characters it put on the screen – along with two really, really classy performances from Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman – helped it become far more than the sum of its obvious parts. The Green Mile is a very good, solid picture, but it’s also a more obvious one. It’s patently clear that we’re being nudged in certain directions, and while it’s well played and skilfully directed, it never reaches Shawshank heights.
But it does enjoy successes of its own. Firstly, it manages to successfully sell the supernatural elements of the story, by dealing with them in a perfectly matter of fact way. Secondly, the cast is great, not least Michael Clarke Duncan’s Oscar-nominated performance as John Coffey, a man on death row accused of a crime we’re never sure that he did. Then there’s Tom Hanks, being very Tom Hanks-like, and a very strong supporting cast around him.
Darabont, too, is a terrific director (just look at the cruelly underappreciated The Mist and The Majestic for more evidence), and he takes his time to build The Green Mile up, pulling strings at the right point to give the ending the necessary emotional wallop. Some of the subtleties of Shawshank are gone, but for the difficult second picture behind the camera, he does impressively well.
The Blu-ray transports the interesting extra material across from the DVD release, albeit with not a fat lot of love on the journey. Frank Darabont’s commentary, for instance, is very strong, and then there’s a brilliant, brilliant feature-length documentary about making the film. It’s the kind of standard you wish all extra feature-makers would aspire to.
There’s more, too: a few deleted scenes, screen and make-up tests and trailer material are bundled in here (including a brilliant look at making an unused teaser trailer), and the package is just terrific. A high definition upgrade to some of the materials would have iced the cake.
Still, the image quality of the film is very good, and for once, this is a catalogue title with a notable upgrade done to it. There’s a sharpness to the picture, and a quality to the dingy interiors that’s evoked well by the 1080p transfer. The surround track is excellent too, and while appreciating the film itself isn’t as old as some of the catalogue titles that haven’t enjoyed better transfers, The Green Mile is an example as to the kind of job that’s possible to do on decade-old films.
The Film:The Disc:
The Green Mile will be released on Blu-ray on November 16.