Prison movies come in a variety of flavors. There’re comedies like the various incarnations of The Longest Yard, science fiction horror like 1992’s Alien³, action like 2013’s Escape Plan, and dramas like 2001’s The Last Castle. If I had to pick my favorite prison films, time set and pressure on, they would be The Last Castle, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and other Frank Darabont-directed Stephen King adaptation The Green Mile (1999). Though the film combines some of the worst stereotypes in storytelling (magical negro; uplifting disabled character), the film as a whole is a story of hope, goodness, and how doing right is hard in an ever more complicated world. Now, for the first time, Darabont’s The Green Mile is available on 4K UHD with high-dynamic range, rejuvenating the drama, imbuing it with the visual energy to accompany its bittersweet narrative.
Its 1935 and Death Row supervisor Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) and his team of Brutus Howell (David Morse), Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper), and Harry Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn), work each day to maintain peace on their block. To Paul, by treating those in his care with respect, it keeps them calm and less likely to do something that could endanger themselves or his crew. They don’t mistake the cadre of killers in their care as anything more than they are, until John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) arrives and little miracles start to occur. Paul and his men believe in the system they serve, believe in their goodness of their duty as officers within the prison, and, yet, they can’t deny what’s happening on their block, causing them to question everything they know about right, wrong, and the natural order.
Before getting into my thoughts on the film itself, let’s get into the remaster: it’s gorgeous. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed just how rich and lush every one of cinematographer David Tattersall’s (The Protégé) shots were or how full of life Terence Marsh’s (The Hunt for Red October) production design and William Cruse’s (The Hunt for Red October) art direction was before. Whether it’s the opening sequence that sets a chilling tone before we meet the aged Paul (Dabbs Greer) in his advanced living facility or being on Death Row (The Green Mile, as they call it), there’s no muting of the colors. There’s a presence, an energy, which persists in each shot, whether presented by a lovely yellow in the opening or a natural glowing green surrounding Old Paul (an insistent color on Death Row, as well), imbuing each scene with a lightness of being that helps cut through the very difficult subject matter. In other films and stories, the inmates of Death Row would be treated as less than, yet, the correctional officers that mind them and the presentation of the Mile imply a softness to the circumstance, a notion that while they are coming to the end of their lives, they are still taking part in the cycle of life, one which can be at times violent, but where some gentleness can still exist. There are moments when the varying shades of green used to design the Mile almost look like ivy on trees, so that the characters aren’t in a prison, but are contained within something more natural. I suspect this is intentional, a visual design intended to go along with the gifts of healing that Coffey possesses, which he uses to improve the lives of those around him. Much like The Shawshank Redemption, the previous Darabont 4K remaster, what Warner Bros. has done here is create a remaster that doesn’t alter the original, but enhances it to better convey the themes of the film. In my humble estimation, remasters and restorations shouldn’t be about making a film seem contemporary with modern cinema, but about making it look refreshed or restored, perhaps in keeping with the designs of the director. It’s sure nice to have the kind of detail on screen where you can see the detail in the fabric of the suits Paul and company wear to work, but that’s not where 4K UHD with HDR impresses. The Green Mile is already an extraordinary film, the remaster merely enhances it further by making the colors more prominent, the color tones more natural, and the world more real.
It’s important to note that the audio doesn’t appear to have been given any attention during the remaster process. The audio is clean when played through my 5.1 Yamaha Stereo System, with good balance and clarity. Also not adjusted in any way are the bonus features. If you’ve owned a version of The Green Mile before, then you already have access to all of the materials included in the 4K UHD edition. Picking up this one will really come down to how you feel about the film and whether owning it in 4K is a priority. If you love the film, you won’t regret the pick-up. If you love the film, but don’t like how it only offers new video remastering and nothing else, then wait for a sale. You really won’t regret the purchase, but the fact that only the video is new is a reasonable rationale for holding off.
Regarding the film itself, I think it’s one of the rare masterworks of pacing, where the three-hour-plus runtime flies by without your even realizing it. Scenes which might feel like filler in other films are merely a stepping stone for what comes later, each one balanced by what came before and what comes next. We’re first introduced to tragedy (a father and a hunting party roaming the woods under the light of the sun until it cuts to black and a voice is heard) before being introduced to Paul in the “present.” It’s here we realize that the story that comes is Paul’s, that the tragedy is more nuanced than we can imagine, that notions of good and evil possess a sliding scale, and that righteousness only matters if we can live with ourselves in the aftermath. This is why Paul quits his job after Coffey’s execution. He knew that the man was innocent and knew that there was literally nothing he could do to change the man’s fate. In our current socio-political climate, I think it’s worth investigating Paul, presumed a good man and husband from the way he treats others, as someone who never thought too hard on his inmates beyond their wrap sheets. His guiding principle of treating the inmates as human was mostly to ensure that none became nervous or emotional, thereby creating the possibility of danger to any or everyone. With Coffey, Paul finally began to question his role in society. He may be the shepherd, Charon guiding the men toward their final fate, offering kindness along the way, but he was still a part of a system that didn’t care to investigate Coffey beyond his skin color, size, and being with the girls’ lifeless forms. “I tried to take it back,” he tells Paul when they meet. It sounds like an admission of guilt, if one already assumes guilt, rather than Coffey’s sadness at being unable to repair the damage we later learn Sam Rockwell’s “Wild Bill” Wharton is responsible for causing. While I don’t agree that All Cops Are Bad (ACAB), I do think there’s a problem with law enforcement (past and present, fictional or real) relying too hard on their biases and not on investigated evidence. That Coffey, as a character, is not only innocent, but is in possession of otherworldly abilities that he uses strictly to help the hurt (Paul’s UTI or the brain tumor in the warden’s wife) and for divine justice (placing the energy of said tumor into a bully correctional officer who then kills Wharton), makes him seem too pure for the world and, therefore, impossible to save. That Coffey welcomes it, recognizing that the whole world abuses itself through the guise of love, doesn’t mitigate Paul’s pain (as a character) or the presence of Coffey (as a trope), but it’ll still wreck you by the end. It certainly doesn’t help that Duncan, taken from us too soon, plays the role to perfection.
4K UHD remasters are not always a great thing. This isn’t referring to discs with production or technical issues, but that some remasters don’t offer enough to make the new purchase worth it. Frankly, the same can be said of modern films released on 4K UHD. Watching on Blu-ray can be just fine, in a variety of cases. Gratefully, the remaster on The Green Mile is one of the great ones and is a worthy snag for any fan of the film. Just make sure you take some time to think about whether the lack of new bonus features or audio remaster matters. Given the beauty of the picture and the continued emotional impact of the film, you’ll likely not regret the upgrade.
The Green Mile Previously Released Special Features:
- Commentary by Frank Darabont
- Also on Blu-ray: Additional Scenes
- Walking the Mile: The Making of The Green Mile Documentary
- Miracle and Mystery: Creating The Green Mile Featurette Gallery
- Tom Hanks Makeup Tests
- Michael Clarke Duncan Screen Test
- The teaser trailer: A Case Study
- Theatrical Trailers
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray and digital February 22nd, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Warner Bros. Pictures The Green Mile website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.