Much like every typical day, I was on the Internet Movie Database and looking for something to spark my imagination for the particular periodical I hope you’re reading at the moment.
"The Shawshank Redemption" (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
The thing that jumped out to me was the movie that sits at the top spot of the IMDB Top 250.
Firstly, let me divulge some info about the people who rate movies on that and just about any other film rating website: They love some movies and hate all the rest. With a passion.
It is ridiculously hard to garner a high rating on a website like IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes.
That being said, the much loved movie at No. 1, beating out “The Godfather” was a huge box office flop upon its initial release.
That movie is “The Shawshank Redemption,” Frank Darabont’s adaptation of a Stephen King novella entitled “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.”
I’m sure you all know that the plot involves Andy Dufresne, a successful banker who spends more than 20 years of his life behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit along with his friend Ellis “Red” Redding, who was considered “The only guilty man in Shawshank.”
The story is interesting enough, but what sets this movie apart is the masterful narration by Morgan Freeman, who plays Red. In fact, this film sky-rocketed Freeman into legendary status as a master of narration.
Before the film was even being made, the director Frank Darabont went to Stephen King and was able to obtain a special favor from King. It’s called a Dollar Baby.
For a select group of aspiring directors and screenwriters, King will chat with the hopeful filmmaker and if they pass muster, he will sell them the rights to option the book for $1.
“Shawshank” was one of those Dollar Babies.
After the film was complete, it was released on only 33 screens and raised a little more than $22,000 per screen. It was not until the film received high praise from critics, including the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, that it began to make its initial budget back.
When it hit the VHS shelves before DVDs were common, the film exploded. It became one of the highest grossing rentals of all time. In fact, Ted Turner sold the TV rights to the TNT network, making it so cheap to run on television that the network still shows it regularly.
As prison movies go, it keeps the real-deal facts as straight as possible. I find that after owning the film for more than 14 years I can still watch it and get chills when Andy Dufresne gets beaten and worse at the hands of sadistic fellow prisoners.
Andy is played by Tim Robbins, who does a wonderful job of playing the downtrodden main character who is forced into being a successful money launderer at the hands of the greedy prison warden.
Originally the role was offered to Tom Hanks who had to turn down the role in order to focus on his Oscar-winning role as Forrest Gump. Hanks eventually went on to portray a prison guard in Darabont’s film “The Green Mile.”
The script for the film was written by Darabont himself over a period of eight weeks. Rob Reiner, who had previously directed “Stand By Me,” which is also adapted from a Stephen King novella, read the script he wanted to purchase the rights for $2.5 million but decided to give Darabont the chance to make a hit for himself.
And what a hit Darabont made. The film is beautifully shot, full of stories of friendship and hardship, as well as the always welcome hint of mystery and thrill of a surprise ending.
It’s interesting to think that if any normal author today, full of the dream to sell out for millions of dollars, had written the original story, it might never have been made so well.
It certainly wouldn’t have much of a chance to sit at the top of the IMDB 250, above the likes of “Citizen Kane,” “Schindler’s List,” and even “The Godfather.”