Forrest Gump Review
Here is one film destined to forever split audiences into two camps - the ones that absolutely love it and the ones that absolutely hate it. Forrest Gump became a raging debate in 1994, when it managed to beat an extremely strong Oscar field of The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show and Four Weddings And A Funeral to the Best Picture award. Taking the box office by storm, the film was either denounced as the ultimate in American schmaltz or a masterpiece of modern Hollywood cinema. Hiding behind an objective look at the film seven years later, it is certainly clear that the film's pros heavily outweigh the cons, but how does it stand as a film classic in the twenty-first century?
Firstly, what about the plot? Well, the story centres on young Forrest Gump, who lives in Alabama with his single mother in the fifties. Forrest only has an IQ of seventy-five, and is diagnosed with having a 'crooked back' by a seemingly incompetent doctor. This back ailment causes Forrest to have leg braces inflicted upon him, which leads to taunts from his peers. Tagged with the 'village idiot' label, Forrest only has two friends - his ever-caring mother (Sally Field) and his wild-child friend Jenny. Whilst running away from bullies one day, Forrest is discovered to be a fast sprinter by the school football coach. This is an event that kick-starts Forrest's life without him realising, as he then manages to change the life of many people inadvertently. He soon becomes mixed up with many memorable events in history, such as the Vietnam War, teaching Elvis Presley his trademark dance, being a Ping-Pong champion, blowing the lid on the Watergate scandal and helping John Lennon out with some lyrics to Imagine. Forrest floats through life like a 'feather', and the film is essentially one hundred and thirty six minutes devoted to the world of Gump.
Summarising the film like this makes Forrest Gump appear as some sort of mystical romp, which it isn't, but there are certainly some elements of the film that one would brand as magical. The film is primarily a very enjoyable nostalgic tour of pop-culture of the latter half of the twentieth century, helped tremendously by an excellent song-filled soundtrack that provides excellent sensing of the correct time and place. The cinematography by Don Burgess and costumes by Joanna Johnston adapts perfectly to the ever-changing time period of the film, and the colour tones and style issues change accordingly. However, other aspects of the film are more impressive. Firstly, Tom Hanks' performance as an adult Forrest Gump hits the perfect note, and he balances dumb charm and likeable ignorance very commendably. It is contentious to say Hanks deserved to beat Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption) for the Best Actor Oscar that year considering he won the award the year before for Philadelphia, although he certainly deserved to be nominated. The visual effects, supervised by Ken Ralston, are probably the most important aspect of Forrest Gump, since Gump's interaction with many elements of the popular events of the last century needs to be as believable as possible. Fortunately, Ralston and his team do an amazing job, delivering absolutely seamless effects that would still be invisible had numerous documentaries on the subject not shed the light. The directing by the wonderful Robert Zemeckis, who has made some of the very best films of the last twenty years, balances heavy sentiment with witty humour, and at over two hours long, Zemeckis ensures the pacing of Forrest Gump to be extremely slick and polished, therefore showcasing his talents effectively.
Forrest Gump is the ultimate feel-good movie; a movie in which its message is that any person, no matter how seemingly stupid, can change any person's life, no matter their stature. It's visually a feast for the eyes, and nostalgically a joy to experience. It won six Oscars, grossed millions, and has etched itself heavily into our culture, and should definitely be seen.
However, what about the cons? Firstly, the heavy satire that was evident in Winston Groom's original novel is sadly lacking in the screen version. Whereas the message of the movie is the championing of the fact that the USA is great because even an idiot can make a difference, the novel originally turned that notion on its head by claiming that the USA was rotten because even idiots can make a difference. One medium sees this idea as a positive and one medium sees this as a negative.
Secondly, the film is nowhere near as biting as it could have been. Take for instance, Jenny (Robin Wright), Forrest's love interest, who uses and abuses his good nature to the ultimate extreme and exploits his trust at every opportunity, yet the film portrays their sparse reunions as a positive and feelgood event to witness, even if Forrest deserves much better treatment. What is the film trying to say about this? You could argue that whereas Forrest represents the straight and narrow elements of American society, Jenny represents the wild and deviated elements which cry out for structure, hence her and Forrest continued and interlocking destiny. Alternatively, you could argue that Jenny is too realistic for the feather world of Forrest's, and therefore she ultimately does not belong with him.
What about the copping out dealt to Forrest's personal opinion on the Vietnam War in front of the Washington Monument, in which the sound to the speaker system is conveniently cut out, rendering Forrest's speech inaudible? The film clearly places itself heavily in the middle, and doesn't criticise the war one way or another. In other hands, Forrest Gump could have been a dark and ruthless attack on the many flawed facets of American society; instead it's an attempt to be an honest, middle class promotion of an ideal America the film thinks the nation was during the twentieth century.
To further confuse the issue, critics are too blinded by the issue of America's depiction in Forrest Hump, and let their judgement of the film be clouded by their love or hatred for over-sentimental fiction. Forrest Gump is an exceptional film, and nearly achieves full marks, but this is due to its great acting, classy directing, phenomenal special effects, slick pacing and its epic treatment of pop culture of the last century. On those terms, Forrest Gump is a classic; look deeper, and one's personal view on the history across the Atlantic becomes too meddling.
Academy Awards 1994
Best Actor - Tom Hanks
Best Director - Robert Zemeckis
Best Adapted Screenplay - Eric Roth
Best Film Editing - Arthur Schmidt
Best Visual Effects - Ken Ralston, George Murphy, Stephen Rosenbaum, Allen Hall
Academy Award Nominations 1994
Best Supporting Actor - Gary Sinise
Best Art Direction - Rick Carter, Nancy Haigh
Best Cinematography - Don Burgess
Best Sound Effects Editing - Gloria S. Borders, Randy Thom
Best Makeup - Daniel C. Striepeke, Hallie D'Amore, Judith A. Cory
Best Original Score - Alan Silvestri
Best Sound - Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands, William B. Kaplan
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture is generally good, although the sharpness of vision suffers occasionally and there are at least a few instances of some major edge enhancement. The transfer is very acceptable on a general scale, but it could have been improved upon. If it weren't for the anamorphic aspect, the Laserdisc version would have been better.
Although it is a pity that Forrest Gump isn't presented in a DTS track, the 5.1 mix provided is very well produced, with good use of the surrounds (especially in the war scenes) and a good spacing of the exceptional songs that fill the soundtrack. The track is considerably endowed with clarity and suits the film well.
Menu: An understated menu featuring some portions of the score by Alan Silvestri.
Packaging: Presented in a single amaray casing with an extra disc slot for the second disc. A chapter listing booklet is also included.
Commentary By Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey & Rick Carter: Featuring the director, producer and production designer, recorded separately, as they discuss the relative production aspects of bringing Forrest Gump to the screen. The best bits of each participant are pasted into one track, to ensure that there are few gaps in the track. Naturally, Zemeckis dominates, and he devotes a lion's share to demonstrating the necessity for the structure of the film. It's a pity, like all of these commentaries, that the participants couldn't have been recorded together.
Commentary With Winder Finerman: A separate commentary for producer Wendy Finerman, who divulges her love for the film whenever she has the chance, and mentions a few interesting anecdotes even if her commentary track suffers from frequent pauses.
'Through The Eyes Of Forrest Gump' Featurette: A thirty minute extra that is a cross between a promotional featurette and a making of. It's of the same standard that you used to find on ITV on Saturday afternoons, although this doesn't necessarily mean it is bad viewing, as many aspects of the production is discussed, even if there are a few too many clips of the film thrown in.
Screen Tests: Some nice charming screen tests that contain some nice test pieces of Robin Wright-Penn, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Conner Humphrey and Hanna R. Hall. They also suggest how the script mutated in the final version, as many and show how Tom Hanks was obviously involved with the film from an early stage, since he is on hand to help the other actors out. This extra is a worthy inclusion.
Building The World Of Gump - Production Design: A seven minute featurette, fronted by production designer Rick Carter, chronicling the various changes of location in Forrest Gump and how they were achieved on screen.
Seeing Is Believing - The Visual Effects Of Forrest Gump: Fronted by visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, this is an excellent extra, split up into eleven sections that illustrate how each of the special effects sequences in the film were designed and achieved. The explanations make fascinating viewing, and there are also two scenes included that never made the final cut.
Through The Ears Of Forrest Gump - Sound Design: Just like the visual effects featurettes, this is fronted by audio supervisor Randy Thom and he describes how the sound was designed for five different types of requirement in Forrest Gump, such as the rain, Ping-Pong etc. An interesting featurette, directed at a department of filmmaking that doesn't usually garner much coverage.
The Magic Of Makeup: A seven minute featurette fronted by makeup artist Dan Striepeke describing the makeup processes involved in believably ageing the characters in Forrest Gump.
Theatrical Trailers: Two different versions of the theatrical trailer. One set to the usual conventions of full clips from the film, and the other a silent version with clips set against Alan Silvestri's wonderful score.
Photo Gallery: A selection of promotional stills from the film, with user navigation.
Forrest Gump is certainly a film that is worth seeing just to form one's own opinion, so pay no attention to certain highbrow critics who have let the film's success and alleged championing of the American dream destroy their desire to see it. Forrest Gump is a worthy film if you hold it against the correct guidelines, and the DVD is an excellent package. Paramount should be given credit for finally releasing some special editions and, with the case of this title in particular, releasing a proper edition first time round.