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Forrest Gump
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Eric Roth (based on the novel Winston Groom)
Stars: Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Robin Wright (Jenny Curran), Gary Sinise (Lieutenant Dan Taylor), Mykelti Williamson (Benjamin "Bubba" Bufford-Blue), Sally Field (Mrs. Gump), Hanna R. Hall (Young Jenny), Michael Conner Humphreys (Young Forrest)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 1994
Country: USA
Forrest Gump DVD Cover
Forrest Gump ForrestGump is one of those gloriously good-natured movies, the kind that views the world with such an open eye and optimistic attitude that you're willing to overlook how much it simplifies complex phenomena just because it makes you feel so good.

The movie covers a broad swath of 20th-century American history from the 1950s until the early 1980s as seen through the eyes of a simple man born and raised in Greenbough, Alabama, named Forrest Gump. Forrest ends up doing extraordinary things and being involved in just about every major historical event in his lifetime, from the rise of Elvis Presley, to the Vietnam war, to the Watergate scandal. Born with an IQ of only 75, Forrest Gump is, in his own words, "not a smart man," but he has something much more important: fundamental human decency. Forrest always does the right thing because he's a decent person who genuinely cares about other people before himself.

His role as Forrest won Tom Hanks his second Oscar in two years (his first was for portraying a lawyer with AIDS in 1993's Philadelphia). It was a richly deserved award, as Hanks' performance transcends what could have been a jokey, two-dimensional role and turns it into something utterly compelling. The movie's seeming connection between low intelligence and innocence would be unsettling if it weren't for Hanks' ability to suggest that Forrest's goodness comes from someplace deep inside his heart that is in no way connected to his ability to understand complex phenomena. The movie makes it clear that Forrest never fully comprehends everything that happens around him, yet that has little bearing on how he treats the people he loves. As he declares at one point in the movie, "I know what love is," which is absolutely true. And this, the movie makes clear, is what really matters in the end.

The narrative in Forrest Gump is epic in scope and circular in structure, taking Forrest from the backwaters of Alabama where he grew up in a boarding house run by his headstrong, wise, and loving Mama (Sally Field), through college where he gets a degree "after only five years of playing football," to the battlefields of Vietnam, around the world as an international ping-pong champion, to the Mississippi coast where he becomes a shrimp boat captain, across the United States as he becomes a running legend, and then back to Alabama. Forrest's fantastically good fortune becomes the movie's structuring device, and it is hard not to imagine the narrative as a somewhat comical variation of the Biblical beatitude "Blessed are the meek."

Forrest's journey through American history is juxtaposed against the journey taken by his childhood sweetheart, Jenny (Robin Wright), a beautiful and intelligent girl whose victimization at the hands of an alcoholic father sends her down a road populated by a series of abusive lovers, drugs, and discontent. Jenny and Forrest's paths constantly cross throughout the years, yet their journeys are separate and distinct. Through the counterculture in the 1960s and eventually the cocaine-fueled disco scene of the 1970s, Jenny is the lost soul who never finds her footing until she is with Forrest, who turns out to be the rock.

There are other characters along the way. In Vietnam, Forrest becomes good friends with Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), who asks Forrest to be his partner in his family's shrimping business when they get out of the war. It is also in Vietnam that Forrest meets Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), who believes that it is his destiny to die on the battlefield. Lt. Dan spends many years afterward in drunken misery and bitter anger when Forrest saves him from death, but at the cost of his legs. The relationship between Forrest and Lt. Dan is one the movie's most fascinating; it is much like Forrest's relationship with Jenny, in that Forrest is the unwavering rock to which he can always anchor. Yet, Lt. Dan is ultimately the more interesting character because his problems are not so easily reducible to the aftermath of childhood abuse. Rather, he is a genuinely angry character whose bitterness is mostly of his own making because he put too much stock in what he believed to be his "destiny." That he finally comes to peace with himself in the end is further testament to the movie's optimistic outlook, that all will eventually be right in the world despite its seeming randomness.

Much of the movie's humor comes from Forrest's voice-over narration in which he unwittingly simplifies major historical events or sometimes gets them plain wrong (for instance, his description of the Ku Klux Klan is that they would dress up in bedsheets and ride around on their horses "acting like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something"). Yet, at the same time, Forrest's historical descriptions are sometimes presciently clear, especially when he speaks of the many historical figures--John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, John Lennon--who were assassinated during his lifetime "for no particular reason."

In hindsight, some of the movie's most celebrated sequences, those in which Tom Hanks was digitally inserted into archival footage to give the impression that Forrest Gump was involved with such historical figures as George Wallace, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and John Lennon, don't work all that well. These scene often have an awkwardly inserted feel to them or, in the case of the scene in which Forrest drops his pants in front of Johnson to show him where he was shot in the rear end, just too jokey.

The entire sequence near the end of the movie in which Forrest spends several years running across the United States has never worked very well--it feels more like filler than an episode of any real narrative importance. This sequence also has some of the movie's more strained and unsuccessful attempts at humor, such as the suggestion that Forrest was unwittingly responsible for coining the bumper-sticker phrase "S--- happens" and creating the famous yellow smiley face.

These are minor quibbles, though, as Forrest Gump is a real achievement in melding old-fashioned storytelling (it truly relies on the question "What will happen next?") and the latest in computer-generated special effects. Over the past two decades, Robert Zemeckis has proved to be one of the great directors of pure, unadulterated entertainment (his ability to make a movie about a solitary man stranded on a desert island into a major hit has only cemented that reputation). His most successful movies of the 1980s (Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) were big hits because they delivered both excitement and genuine human warmth.

Politically speaking, Forrest Gump is probably one of the most blatantly conservative movies to emerge from Hollywood in many years. Its celebration of the Protestant work ethic, nationalism, and old-fashioned values, along with its questioning attitude toward the counterculture, drug use, easy sexuality, and challenging the status quo are unmistakable. Yet, in an era marked by cynicism and irony, these attributes may have been exactly what people were hungry for and why the movie became such a smash hit. In hindsight, it's easy to see why Forrest Gump was so successful at the box and turned into a cultural phenomenon: It's a completely original creation whose most striking quality is its ability to reassure the audience that everything happens for a reason, folk wisdom is the best kind of knowledge, no one ever dies in vain, and, most important, love will win in the end.

Forrest Gump Special Collector's Edition Two-Disc DVD Set

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
AnamorphicYes
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
LanguagesEnglish (5.1), French (2.0)
SubtitlesEnglish
Supplements Audio commentary by director Robert Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey, and production designer Rick Carter
Audio commentary by producer Wendy Finerman
Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump making-of documentary
The Magic of Make-up featurette
Through the Ears of Forrest Gump sound design featurette
Building the World of Gump production design featurette
Seeing is Believing 11 visual effects featurettes
Photo gallery
Screen tests
Original theatrical trailer
Distributor Paramount Pictures
SRP$29.99

VIDEO
The new anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer of the movie is easily the best it has looked on video, much better than the THX-certified laser disc. Featuring bright, bold compositions that are beautifully saturated and sharp, the epic visual nature of Forrest Gump is really allowed to shine. The new transfer also highlights the different media through which the story is told, including the grainy, 16mm newsreel footage into which Forrest is inserted at various times. Blacks are solid throughout, and detail level is outstanding, giving the image a clear, three-dimensional appearance.

AUDIO
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is likewise excellent, with effective use of the surround speakers and a solid low end that comes into play from time to time. The battle sequences in Vietnam are especially harrowing. The soundtrack also shines in terms of the music, as the wide selection of classic rock tunes that fill the soundtrack sound like they were recorded yesterday, and Alan Silverstri's instantly memorable score is clear and resonant.

SUPPLEMENTS
As Forrest Gump is a great example of the use of technology and special effects and has been one of the most oft-requested titles not available on DVD, Paramount was wise in picking it for their first full-blown, two-disc, supplement-loaded special edition.

The first disc contains the movie and not one, but two feature-length, screen-specific audio commentaries. The first is by director Robert Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey, and production designer Rick Carter, while producer Wendy Finerman goes solo on the second track. Taken together, these two commentaries offer just about every bit of insight you could possibly hope for into the making of Forrest Gump.

But, there is more--almost two hours' worth. The second disc starts out with Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump, an insightful, is not particularly enthralling half-hour making-of documentary that was previously available on the laser disc release. Special to the DVD are a bunch of new featurettes, each of which focuses on a different aspect of making the movie. Through the Ears of Forrest Gump focuses on the movie's sound design, Building the World of Gump focuses on Rick Carter's production design, and Seeing is Believing contains 11 mini-featurettes that focus on the major special-effects sequences (you may by surprised at just how much of the movie was digital, not just the obvious scenes). Seeing is Believing is also notable for containing the beginning stages of two FX sequences that ultimately didn't make it into the finished film, including a scene of Forrest playing ping-pong with George Bush Sr., back when he was ambassador to China.

Another nifty tidbit is the inclusion of screen tests for Michael Conner Humphreys and Hanna R. Hall, the two children who played young Forrest and Jenny, and Robin Wright. It's particularly interesting to see Tom Hanks acting in these screen tests, as he obviously had not settled on how he would play Forrest Gump yet.

Finally, the disc includes a photo gallery and two theatrical trailers, both of which are presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Overall Rating: (3.5)




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