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FORREST GUMP

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field
Director:  Robert Zemeckis
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  141 Minutes
Release Date:  August 28, 2001

"My mama was always telling me how miracles happen every day.  Some people don't think so.   But they DO."

Film ***1/2

Forrest Gump is, at heart, a good old fashioned tall tale.  Yet in 1994, it captured the hearts and imaginations of movie goers around the world, and took home an impressive six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  It may have been the year that gave John Travolta back to the world, but ultimately, it was a year that belonged to Tom Hanks.

It was Hanks' gentle, thoughtful, and completely believable performance as the title character that really made the film work...in fact, it was the keystone on which the entire house of cards was built.  One misstep from him, and the picture would have collapsed into a mess of satire, mean spiritedness, and far-fetched fantasy.  The picture reaches for the stars, but Hanks makes sure its feet never leave the ground.

Forrest is too good to be true, but part of the reason we accept him is because we so desperately want him to be real.  A boy with leg braces and an IQ of 75 who, by providence or by fate, grows up to do amazing things, yet maintains a sense of innocence about it all, is a big screen reflection of the good we'd like to believe is in all of us.  Forrest cavorts with presidents, but they never mean as much to him as his mama (Field) or his "special friend", Jenny (Wright).  He performs heroic deeds because they're the right thing to do, yet is confused as to why he would get a medal for them.  He runs like the wind, he says, but "never thought it would take him anywhere".

Perhaps Forrest's unique perspective on life came from his mama, who went to extraordinary lengths to make sure her boy was treated as an equal despite his mental deficiency.  "If God had wanted us all to be the same," she tells him, "we'd all have braces on our legs."  An amusing, yet profound truth.

Jenny may have been blessed with a better mind, but not a better life.  She is Forrest's angel, as thoughts of her accompany him through life, school, war, and beyond, but a horrid childhood and careless approach to life make her a self-destructive figure.  While Forrest's life covers the history of these decades, Jenny's explores the culture of them.  By knowing her background, we judge her less harshly than we might, but that still makes us something less than Forrest...he doesn't judge her at all, but loves her with unconditionally.

Forrest also plays a role in the life of one Lieutenant Dan (Sinise), his commanding officer in Vietnam.  The story between these two men is one of the film's most rewarding.  Forrest saves Dan's life, and later, helps to save his spirit as well. 

Nearly forty years are seen through the eyes of Forrest.  Some of it is comical, as the suggestion that his strange braced-leg walk as a child inspired the wild gyrations of Elvis Presley, or that as an adult, he may have unknowingly tipped off the Watergate break in.  Some of it is touching...he wonders, as did the rest of the world, why anybody would shoot that "nice young man from England" John Lennon.  Most of it is magical, though sometimes, it blurs the timelines a little too much (the smiley face and the "s**t happens" bumper stickers are actually quite a number of years apart), but that's really the film's only flaw.  What it fails to get right intellectually, it more than makes up for by getting it right emotionally.

The film is quite a bit different from the book, but every choice that equaled change was the right one.  The picture would have lost a great deal of its magic had it adopted the novel's sometime cynical tone, or kept the character of Forrest as he was (a bit of a racist, and a tendency to use foul language), or some of the books more outlandish ventures, including Forrest in space.  No, the movie Forrest is a different breed, and in this case, a decidedly better one. 

Watching this film again for the first time in about five years, I found it still a comfortable fit (unlike some of my clothes from five years ago).  Some films are great because you can come back to them after a number of years and see many new, different things in it, and think new thoughts about it, and get new feelings from it.

Forrest Gump is a great film because nothing about it changes with the passage of time.  

BONUS TRIVIA:  Look for young Haley Joel Osment near the end as Forrest's son!

Video ***1/2

Paramount has offered a superb anamorphic widescreen transfer for this movie.  Apart from a slight touch of noticeable haze and shimmer during the opening sky scenes, this film looks just as good as you remembered.  Colors are gorgeous and vibrant throughout, with a warm, rich palate to draw from, and excellent detail crisply rendered with sharp images.  Reds and greens are particularly bright, from the maroon Alabama football uniforms to the lush vegetation of Vietnam.  From the sunny, bright scenes in the south to the dark, rainy nights of Vietnam, this transfer delivers everything you would hope for at every turn.

Audio ***

The soundtrack is quite good, but is one of missed opportunities.  Though the audio is lively and dynamic throughout, and a very good listen, the surround channels are grossly underused.  During the war scenes, the football games, or even the rally at the Mall in Washington, no signal was being sent to the rear speakers.  Save for a few dramatic musical cues from Alan Silvestri's wonderful score, they simply aren't used.  The overall results are still good, but a more creative mix really could have gotten the most the audio could offer.

Features ****

This set boasts a treasure trove of extras, starting with two commentary tracks on disc one.  The first is by director Robert Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey, and production designer Rick Carter, the second is by producer Wendy Finerman, the woman most responsible for getting the ball rolling on the film.  Both are good and informative listens, particularly Zemeckis' track, as he talks about the details of the effects shots, the locations, and working with all the actors.

Disc two has a feature that is almost worth the price of the disc alone, the excellent documentary Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump.  If you've never seen this, you're in for a treat; it's one of the best of its kind.  There are also a number of production featurettes, detailing the audio, the make-up, production design, and many detailed shorts on the special effects, including two deleted sequences involving Martin Luther King, Jr. and the elder George Bush.  There are also a number of screen tests included...the ones with the kids are the best (there are two featuring Haley Joel Osment with Tom Hanks), plus a photo gallery, and two trailers.  An incredible package!

Summary:

DVDs are like boxes of chocolates...you never know what you're gonna get.  But rest assured, you get the very best with Paramount's Special Collector's Edition double disc set of Forrest Gump.  With a wonderful movie, terrific transfer, and a plethora of terrific extras, this is Paramount's best disc yet...a must-own.

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