"My name is Forrest, Forrest Gump."
Mama always said life was like a box of, well, you know what. You never knew what you were going to get. Yeah, well, you know what you're getting with Forrest Gump, the simple man we've all come to know and love. It's to director Robert Zemekis's credit that he, screenwriter Eric Roth, and novelist Winston Groom created an endearingly slow-witted character we never laugh at but always with. Not since Lenny Small in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" has a character with a such a low IQ come to be such a hero to so many.
Likable as the character is, however, this isn't to suggest that "Forrest Gump" the movie will appeal to everybody, not even in its excellent new high-definition presentation. One's liking or disliking the film may depend largely on one's acceptance or rejection of its two principal plot devices. First, the movie attempts to reflect upon nearly thirty years of pop history, the turbulent era from the mid fifties to the mid eighties, complete with appropriate songs of the day. It was a period that saw the beginnings of the Cold War, the introduction of rock-and-roll, the conflict in Vietnam, the moon landing, the hippie movement, the counter cultures of sex and drugs, a growing divide between young and old, multitudinous peace demonstrations, Watergate, mistrust in government, and a shocking number of assassinations of American leaders. In considering these things, the movie offers us two contrasting points of view--that of the innocent, unaffected Forrest, who passes through every conceivable aspect of these years without ever being affected by or even noticing them; and the perspective of his only true love, Jenny Curran (Robin Wright), who becomes directly involved in the passing events as a college student, a hippie, a folk singer, a stripper, a protester, a militant, and, finally, a waitress. While Forrest remains unconcerned about circumstances around him, he is mostly happy; and while Jenny becomes more occupied with her world, she becomes less happy. It may remind some viewers of Emily Dickinson's poem: "How happy is the little stone that rambles in the road alone, and doesn't care about careers, and exigencies never fears...Fulfilling absolute decree in casual simplicity." Others may find Forrest's naïveté less than inspiring and find the whole film insipid and vacuous.
The second device in the movie is even more abstract, seemingly thrown in by the filmmakers and put up for grabs. Namely, the film toys with the idea that the events of our lives may either be as capricious as a feather in the breeze or, conversely, that some unseen hand of fate determines where that feather lands. Note Lt. Dan's insistence on letting destiny take its course. I suppose we should be grateful in the end that the filmmakers included any ideas at all in the story, but it would have been more daring of them to take a more definite position rather than straddling the philosophical fence. In any case, it's left to the viewer to determine if "Forrest Gump" is merely an unpretentiously whimsical farce, a serious sociopolitical allegory, or an old-fashioned tearjerker. In the final analysis, I'm sure it's this very ambiguity that continues to make the film so popular.
Tom Hanks plays Forrest, an eternal optimist and amiable dunce with an IQ of 75. No matter where he goes, people either like him or shun him; there's no in between. As his mama says, "You've got to do your best with what God gave you." Forrest is sincere and caring, in spite of his slowness, and his heart is always in the right place. It's hard for audiences not to like him. The film's big gimmick is that as he blithely goes on his way in life, he stumbles into every major event of the mid twentieth century. In his youth, Forrest's mother (Sally Field) tries to straighten out his lower limbs and back by making him wear braces on his legs; when he accidentally runs into a young Elvis, Forrest teaches the fledgling singer how to move his hips while barely moving his lower limbs, a gyration the singer soon uses to advantage. Later, Forrest loses the braces and becomes a world-class runner and champion football player, the latter explaining how he manages to earn a college degree, one of the few direct satirical jibes in the film.
"Run, Forrest, run."
From here on, the moviemakers digitally place Forrest in old newsreel footage so he gets to meet and shake hands with Presidents Kennedy (to the tune of "Camelot"), Johnson, and Nixon. He's also present when Alabama Governor George Wallace tries to keep his schools from being integrated; he joins the army and becomes a hero in Vietnam; he meets his two best buddies, Bubba Blue (Mykelti Williamson) and Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise); he becomes a millionaire in the shrimping business; he uncovers the Watergate scandal; and so on.
"Mama says, Stupid is as stupid does."
The constant misunderstandings and coincidences may remind one of Monty Python's "Life of Brian," where every innocuous action the character makes leads to a major, unforeseen, and wholly ironic consequence, making Forrest a New Age prophet. All the while, Forrest keeps "rescuing" Jenny from the attentions of her many male admirers as both he and she go their own ways afterwards. He's in love with Jenny, but she tells him he doesn't know what love is. It's easy to see the contradiction in that sentiment as Forrest is the only one in the story who does, indeed, love everyone; or at the very least bears no grudge against anyone.
"Mama said dying is a part of life."
And, then, there's all that dying--the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, and the other casualties of War. The movie begins tugging at the heartstrings from the very beginning and never lets up for an instant. It's a tearjerker, but a thoughtful one, and at 141 minutes it goes on for maybe twenty minutes longer than it should, seeming a little redundant toward the end.
"Forrest Gump" won Oscars for just about everything: Best Picture, Director (Zemeckis), Actor (Hanks), Writing (Roth), Film Editing (Arthur Schmidt), and Visual Effects (Ken Ralston, George Murphy, Stephen Rosenbaum, and Allen Hall); and what it didn't win, the Academy nominated it for: Art Direction, Set Decoration, Cinematography, Supporting Actor (Sinise), Makeup, Music, Sound, and Sound Effects.
Paramount Home Video present the high-definition Blu-ray transfer of the film in its original aspect ratio, 2.35:1, using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4 audio-video codec. Compared to the movie's standard-definition picture, the new high-def image is sharper and clearer, as expected. Colors are deeper and richer than before, and the film's inherent film grain still provides a realistic texture. The transfer renders the photography and scenery particularly well in natural, vibrant, but not overly glossy or overly bright hues. In particular, the transfer renders facial tones realistically, which means the rest of the reproduction is quite natural, too.
I thought the standard-def edition's lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sounded pretty ordinary until it finally opened up in the Vietnam War sequence, where it suddenly came to life with a shattering frequency and dynamic range; and I also thought the back and surround speakers remained relatively quiet throughout the film, lending only a mild sense of ambiance to background music or not playing at all. Now, I'm happy to say, the new, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track improves upon this situation nicely. Rain comes down all around; musical bloom is more robust; the overall tonal balance is more linear; the bass is tauter; and the dynamic range appears wider. When helicopters (there are always helicopters) fly overhead, they sound like they're about to come through the roof of the listening room, and when the fighting breaks out in Vietnam, the battle scenes offer sonics as impressive as anything found on any DVD, HD DVD, or Blu-ray disc anywhere. It's positively shattering, as is a storm that erupts later in the film. The surrounds still don't light up the way they do in some of today's blockbusters, but it's more than plenty good enough.
Disc one of this Sapphire Series two-disc special edition contains the feature film; an audio commentary with director Robert Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey, and production designer Rick Carter; a second audio commentary with producer Wendy Finerman; and a new feature in high def called "Musical Signposts to History." In this latter segment, ratio journalist Ben Fong-Torres and various musicians comment on the film's forty-odd soundtrack songs. You can set this feature to play automatically or manually as the songs come up in the movie, or you can decide which songs selectively to choose. If you opt for the selective mode and play all the commentary, it lasts over half an hour.
The first disc concludes with nineteen scene selections; bookmarks; a guide to elapsed time; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
Disc two contains the bulk of the bonus materials, most of it newly made and in high definition. First up is "Greenbow Diary" (HD), twenty-six minutes of behind-the-scenes filming in and around the states of South Carolina and Georgia. Next is "The Art of Screenplay Adaptation" (HD), about twenty-seven minutes with author Winston Groom and others. Then there's "Getting Past Impossible: Forrest Gump and the Visual Effects Revolution" (HD), twenty-seven minutes on the film's CGI special visual effects and a bit on the history of Hollywood visual effects. After that is "Little Forrest" (HD), fifteen minutes on the boy who played Forrest as a boy, followed by "An Evening with Forrest Gump" (HD), a fifty-five-minute question-and-answer session with the movie's stars and filmmakers, conducted before a live audience of film students at USC. The final bonus items are archival things carried over from the previous edition of "Forrest Gump." They are in standard definition and include "The Magic of Makeup," "Through the Ears of Forrest Gump: Sound Design," "Building the World of Gump: Production Design," "Seeing is Believing: The Visual Effects of Forrest Gump," screen tests, and trailers. Yes, we learn how they created those mobs of people at the Washington Monument using only a small group of extras, and, of course, how Gary Sinise digitally lost his legs. Fascinating stuff. A handsomely embossed slipcover ties everything together.
"Mama said you've got to put the past behind you." Maybe that's why Forrest runs so much, from one end of the country to the other, time and again. Life has a way of leveling things out for each of us. As Emerson wrote, "For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something." Forrest may be dumb, but he ain't stupid.
"Have a nice day."