The Green Mile

The Green Mile (1999)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt
Extras: Featurette, Theatrical Trailer, Cast & Crew Biographies

I think Stephen King was a great writer… once. That was before his works became overly bloated, less imaginative, and removed from the horror roots I so much cherished. In that light it should be hardly surprising that I never gave the novels of the "Green Mile" series a look, especially since I did not like the obvious money-milking scheme that was employed to market the series of novels, one thin paperback at a time. Last year the material has been turned into a movie by director and writer Frank Darabont, whose previous efforts includes the magnificent adaptation of Stephen King’s "The Shawshank Redemption," and it was quickly hailed as a fantastic movie experience. Now that Warner Home Video is serving up the DVD of the film I have finally had the opportunity to watch it for myself and I have to admit that despite my initial inhibitions I was very impressed.

"The Green Mile" is the name of Death Row at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, given to it for the faded color of its lime-green floor. Here, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is in charge of all the inmates on the last stop to their execution. He is a humble man and full of compassion, trying to ensure these men are treated with dignity and respect during their final days. It is a job that is hard and emotionally challenging, as some of his officers have trouble keeping their sentiments in check, and since Paul often gets to see the very human side of his inmates as they await certain death.
One day John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) arrives at the prison. A giant in physical appearance, Coffey has been sentenced to death for raping and killing two little girls. But Edgecomb notices a strange sense of serenity about Coffey that distinctly sets him apart from the other murderers on his block. Friendly and supportive, Coffey is helpful whenever he can.
When Paul Edgecomb is feverish with a urinal infection one day, the unimaginable happens. With the touch of his hands, the gentle giant heals his guard. On another occasion, only days later in front of everyone’s eyes, he resurrects Mr. Jingles, a remarkable mouse that has become the pet of one of his fellow inmates, after it has been crushed by a vicious guard.
"I can’t believe God puts such a miracle into the hands of a murderer," Paul Edgecomb says and is determined to find out what happened that fateful day when John Coffey was reportedly killing the little girls. Will he be able to safe the man who has more passion and humanity in himself than any other human being he has ever met?

"The Green Mile" is an incredibly powerful and moving movie. Masterfully brought to life by director and writer Frank Darabont and his team, this movie weaves its magic for the entire running length of over three hours. Beautifully scripted, the movie has just the right pacing, constantly developing the story and the characters without ever allowing viewers to get distracted. Although there is not too much happening in the plot in terms of actual story, the character development is so masterfully told that by the end of the film viewers feel as if they had known all these characters forever. We experience the pain and the hopelessness of the captives and their bleak prospect on one hand, while we also get to experience the torment the guards have to go through, always carrying the burden of putting these men to their deaths. Intimate and personal, the drama unfolds as the clock is ticking for the sympathetic John Coffey and his fellow inmates. The emotional conflict, the question of redemption, forgiveness or good and evil for that matter is epitomized in many of the movie’s remarkable scenes and will leave no one untouched.

To bring such drama to the screen requires some astute actors, and apart from Tom Hanks, it is Michael Clarke Duncan who shows us a performance that is unforgettable. Without much dialogue, it is Duncan’s body language and his on-screen presence that creates the memorable character of John Coffey. His peacefulness and humanity permeates the entire movie, giving the story the magical power it needs, making us believe the miracles truly happen, and allowing us to share his own pain every second of the way. It has been a long time since I last saw such a personal and impressive performance in a motion picture. It would be wrong to overlook Doug Hutchinson however in his portrayal of prison guard Percy Wetmore. His character is so gullible and despicable that viewers will not have the slightest sympathy for this rampant and obnoxious man.

Warner Home Video is presenting "The Green Mile" in the movie’s original <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. Matted at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the transfer is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets and is highly detailed. Without any defects in the source print, the image is very clean with powerful colors and no signs of grain. The color reproduction of the movie is natural looking throughout, although skin tones appear overly pale at times, creating superbly delineated hues and tinges that make up the film’s production design and skillful cinematography. No edge-enhancement is visible in the transfer, creating a great looking image without ringing artifacts that has well-defined edges that never appear exaggerated. The black level of the transfer is good, creating solid blacks and highlights are well exposed and bright, without bleeding. While the image quality of the film is very good, I have noticed some <$pixelation,pixelation> artifacts in the presentation that caused some loss of shadow definition in selected scenes. Fortunately these artifacts were never distracting in any way, mostly because they were limited to areas of the image that do not carry the eye.

The movie contains a great 5.1 <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix. The sound design makes good use of the surround channels, creating an active ambiance for the film that plays mostly in the cell block interiors. The early reflections from the stone walls and the reverberation of the corridors appear absolutely authentic and through clever integration in the surrounds, viewers will feel as if they are watching the film standing in these corridors themselves. Occasionally more effective surround usage comes into play, allowing viewers to fully immerse themselves in the action on the screen. Especially during the miracle scenes the track creates some mesmerizing surround effects.
Thomas Newman’s score for the film heightens the story’s drama and conflict immensely. It has been nicely integrated in the sound field with a wide sound image that adds grandeur and a bit of pathos to the film at times. The track’s good bass extension gives it a good low end that sounds very natural and adds to the movie’s overall scope.

This DVD also contains a 10-minute featurette called "Walking the Mile" as a special feature. It offers some additional insight into the production with a series of interviews featuring Stephen king, Frank Darabont and all the main cast members. Although quite short, at least it is not simply recycling footage from the film for PR purposes but offers some real additional information. Selected cast and crew biographies as well as the movie’s theatrical trailer can also be found on the DVD.

"The Green Mile" is a movie that undoubtedly deserves all the praises it has received. With its remarkable visual style, the staggering performances and the emotional, dramatic impact of the story, "The Green Mile" is without a doubt, one of last year’s best films. The DVD Warner Home Video has prepared here may be a little slim in terms of extras, but you will need some time for yourself anyway after watching this utterly impressive motion picture. It touches upon so many questions and aspects that viewers will walk away from the film pondering for some time. A stellar movie deserves a similar DVD release, and Warner Home Video has once again made sure to create a disc that allows viewers to be carried away into another world.