I was startled at the onset of the novella when I read the description of Andy Dufresne:
"When Andy came to Shawshank in 1948, he was thirty years old. He was a short neat little man with sandy hair and small, clever hands. He wore gold rimmed spectacles..."
I have no idea what the casting people were thinking when they put Tim Robbins, a tall and lanky man, in this part. Scratch that. If he performed Andy to even 50% of the end product in his audition, I'm sure Robbins clinched the part pretty early on. The same goes for Morgan Freeman. King mentions that Red
In terms of the other characters, several have been slightly altered, expanded, or combined with other characters in the film. I understand why Darabont would do this. In the book, Red tells story after story about Andy's time in prison and some people are only mentioned once. But King wrote some of the quirkiest things in passing, so it makes sense to attribute them to more central characters. The bird in Brooks' inner pocket, whom he feeds with the maggots from dinner is a perfect example of this. Bogs is supposed to be a hulking man, but in the book he is mentioned once and transferred out of the prison. Several of the sisters are combined into his character in the movie, and the actor who plays him is just so creepy... I can't imagine him as anyone else. As far as Andy's dealings with the sisters, it is scarily easier to witness them in the movie than read about it all. King writes frankly about things like the necessity of putting toilet paper down your backside to absorb the blood and Andy having blood running down his legs. I, for one, am happy that these descriptions were left out of the movie.
Several wardens rule over Shawshank in the book, but they are combined into one hardass warden, Norton, in the movie. Aging everyone and trying to keep each of them straight would likely be challenging so having one warden solves that problem. Plus, Norton was actually the warden when Andy escaped, as well as a hard-line Christian and a taker of bribes. The timeline in the book covers about thirty years, so considering the limits of how young and old an actor can reasonably look in a film, it made sense to cut it down a decade or so. (Especially considering that how long any of the characters were actually in Shawshank is of little importance, beyond the life sentences and the repeated parole board rejections.) One of the saddest scenes in the movie is Brooks, the old prison librarian, being released at an old age and not making it. I always liked the way it led to a discussion about what institutionalization does to a person. Brooks is only mentioned once in passing so the entire section with his time on the outside and his eventual suicide was made up for the film.
"I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend. "
That, and the last words to movie are two of the monologues I look forward to most every time I watch the movie. They both come, almost exactly from King's imagination. The most striking changes for the movie are in the last portion. In the novella, Andy doesn't steal from the warden. He comes to Shawshank with $500 hidden where the sun don't shine and he'd previously planned with a friend on the outside for proper investments to be made. His friend invested all his money and got the forged documents and hid them in the box on the hillside in Buxton. There's no rock hammer hidden inside the bible, stealing a suit and polished shoes from the warden, playing the classical music for the inmates, and the warden doesn't commit suicide in the end. Andy gets out through the same basic route, though. I have to admit, I really laughed out loud when I read that the poster at the time of Andy's escape wasn't Raquel Welch anymore, it was Linda Ronstadt. Imagine how funny it would be to see this in the movie on Andy's cell wall:
(From The Princess Bride, by William Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner in 1987)
This is a very special rating that's reserved only for those movies that surpass the very books that they're based on. Inconceivable, for the most part but every once in a while it happens! We've probably already quoted these movies in reviews several times.