Frank Darabont followed up his Stephen King prison drama with another Stephen King prison drama - The Green Mile. While the author is the same and locations are similar, the two films are very different animals. Tom Hanks may be the headliner and delivers a great performance, but it’s the late Michael Clarke Duncan that gives this film about a miracle on death row its heart and soul. This terrific film finally earns a long-overdue upgrade with a beautiful native 4K HDR10 transfer with an impressive Atmos audio mix to match. If you love this film, it’s an essential piece of the collection. Must Own.
Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) works death row at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, so named the Green Mile because of the lime-green stretch of flooring. His life is a routine of keeping his inmates waiting out their final days calm and peaceful. But everything changes the day gentle giant John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) arrives awaiting his turn to ride the lightning. As Paul learns there’s something miraculously special about John, he begins to doubt the man is guilty of the brutal rape and murder of two little girls.
Along with The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist, writer/director Frank Darabont has made a career out of delivering exceptional Stephen King adaptations. King himself at one point picked The Green Mile as the most faithful adaptation of his novels - and I have to agree. I was actually surprised The Green Mile was brought to life as a feature. Given how the novel was serialized at release, I figured it would end up as another of the numerous multi-part made-for-television adaptations that were so popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. But, Darabont figured out how to bring this film together in under four hours and still stay true to the source.
Part of what makes The Green Mile movie work is the great cast. Tom Hanks was the perfect choice for Paul Edgecomb. There are few actors who can just stand back and react authentically, and that state of constant bewilderment was essential for this character. David Morse is always a welcome presence in any movie and he brought the sensitive but commanding Brutal to life. He may be better remembered today for his personal life but Doug Hutchison was the right choice for the despicable Percy Wetmore. Barry Pepper, Harry Dean Stanton, James Cromwell, Bonnie Hunt, and Patricia Clarkson all make fine appearances. Add in a great turn from Michael Jeter as Del and an entertaining performance from Sam Rockwell as Wild Bill and you have the makings of an exceptional cast. But they’re not the ones who make this film amazing.
That honor goes to the late great Michael Clarke Duncan. Tom Hanks may get top billing, but this is Duncan’s film. He fills the tall stature of Coffey as the heart and soul of the feature without simply just being a big guy to fill in the space. It also shows Darabont’s skills as a writer and director to recognize Duncan had so much to offer. Some of the most notable and best changes in the book were to give Coffey more to do and the film is all the better for it. It may not have been the Best Picture of the year at the 2000 Oscars, but I’d still hold it’s far and away better than American Beauty and Duncan absolutely deserved his Best Supporting nomination if not the outright win.
Aside from a couple of character omissions and some plot point simplifications, this film is a near-perfect adaptation. It stays true to the characters, settings, and themes. It’s brutal and terrifying while heartfelt and inspirational. It’s a movie that punches you in the gut and tugs at the heartstrings without becoming nauseatingly saccharine. To this day it's the only movie that I couldn’t hold back the tears while waiting out the end credits to be the last person to leave the theater opening night. It’s one of my all-time favorite films and paired with The Shawshank Redemption, I honestly can’t pick which one is better as they make a perfect double feature.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Green Mile makes the welcome upgrade to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in a two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set from Warner Brothers. The film is pressed on a BD-100 disc. The included 1080p Blu-ray is the exact same disc from 2009 and has not been updated. The 4K disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Long overdue for an upgrade, The Green Mile picks up a beautiful new native 4K HDR10 2160p 1.85:1 transfer. The old VC-1 transfer from 2009 was pretty good for its day as an early example of what HD had to offer your favorite movies, but disc to disc it doesn’t hold up against this exceptional transfer. Some may take issue with this, but the most obvious difference between releases is the cooler color timing. I haven’t seen a film print of this film screened since 1999, so I can’t work from memory there, but my issue with the old Blu-ray always was how oversaturated the amber yellow tones were. This transfer pulls that back but still maintains those golden yellow tones when and where appropriate. Now the chipping green paint of the cell bars, the lime green flooring, and skin tones have more natural coloring.
Details are exceptionally clear and clean with full appreciation for facial features, costuming, and the impeccable period production design work that went into the film. Film grain is well resolved, a little thick in some places, but nothing too distracting and there doesn't appear to be any serious DNR application. Edges are well defined without signs of compression artifacting. There are some soft spots, but these are only issues during the film’s long slow-mo dissolve sequences. Some of the digital effects like the moths are also on the softer side, but nothing to get fussy about.
HDR10 grading is subtle but impressive. Coloring appropriately represents the time periods, cooler bluer for the elder Paul and then warmer more golden for younger Paul. Yellow is the dominant color, but blues and reds get their moments to pop and shine without ever looking too overblown. Likewise, skin tones are healthy and accurate without issue. Black levels are impressive approaching that desired inky shade we want to see with strong shadow gradience. The extra depth to the image was another aspect of this transfer I greatly appreciated. Whites are pristine without any blooming issues and give some pleasing spectral highlights. Thankfully the film gets a BD-100 disc all to itself to help maintain a nice and high bitrate.
If a new 4K transfer wasn’t enough, Warner Bros gives this release the extra benefit of a new Dolby Atmos track. Now, this isn’t the most aggressive Atmos mix ever, there isn’t a lot of action or explosions or concussive gunfire to showcase. Instead, this mix brings subtle spatial nuances to the film letting you feel the space of the Green Mile and the high ceilings or the tight confines of the cells. Overheads aren’t constantly used, but there are some overhead sound effects but they’re discretely applied - like when they’re shaving Bitterbuck’s head before his execution, the scape of the blade over his scalp is clearly heard in the overheads now. The execution sequences, particularly Del’s, also have a strong overhead presence.
The other main difference I noticed with this track over the old Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is the presence of Thomas Newman’s score. It always sounded great but with the extra spacing of the channels, I felt like its presence was more distinct and impactful. This was the first time I could fully appreciate some sections of the score and some of the pieces that aren’t on the film’s official soundtrack release. LFE comes in with some subtle rumbles here and there, the sound of thunder, the rumbling of old car engines, ominous tones in the score. Those low tones also get more rattle and rumble when Coffey uses his powers. Through it all, the dialog is clean and clear. Again, not the most dynamic Atmos mix ever, but a very, very good one and a welcome complement to the film.
As for the bonus features, Warner Bros hasn’t crafted anything new and instead went back to recycle the same SDR 1080p Blu-ray disc from 2009. Sadly this means we miss out on the feature-length version of the documentary Walking The Mile that was only available with the Diamond Luxe edition from 2014. Everything that’s here is still good and well worth looking at if you haven't seen them before. The Darabont commentary track is excellent - and it’s thankfully featured on the 4K disc and not just on the included Blu-ray.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc
1080p Blu-ray Disc
It's about time for Frank Darabont to direct another Stephen King film - or any movie for that matter. A master filmmaker and visual storyteller, Darabont managed to take King’s story and distill it to a workable feature-length film without losing the heart of it. It’s a practically perfect adaptation in nearly every respect. Over twenty years later the film still holds up beautifully and is even more somber as we’ve lost several of the cast members including Duncan. Now with this new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, it’s given a welcome A/V upgrade. The new HDR10 transfer is terrific, giving the image new life and dimension not seen before on home video. The new Atmos audio track may not work too hard to call attention to itself but it’s a great mix and a notable improvement over the old Dolby TrueHD. The only miss with this release is not quite all of the previously available bonus features were brought over but you get the bulk of the best. That little misgiving aside, this is an exceptional release for one of the best films. Must Own