|Forrest Gump (2-Disc Collector's Edition))|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 28 August 2001|
"Forrest Gump" was the right movie at the right time -- and as always, unpredictably so. It won six Oscars, including for Best Picture (beating "Pulp Fiction," "Quiz Show" and "The Shawshank Redemption"), Best Director and Tom Hanks won a second consecutive Best Actor Oscar. It was a massive hit the world over, in every country where it was released, and remains a beloved film to this day.
If you have never seen it, or haven't since 1994, and you get in step with its tone, it's likely you'll succumb to its very real charms. But if you don't, if you find it somewhat precious, pretentious and even smug, you'll sit there baffled, liking parts, perhaps even loving some of it, and wonder just why this movie garnered all those awards and pleased so many people everywhere.
Actually, reviewing "Forrest Gump" is a little like analyzing a soap bubble with a caliper: you're only going to be able to describe the basic details, you might damage it in the process -- and you aren't getting at the essence of the bubble anyway. The film is very light and graceful -- its opening and closing images are, appropriately, a feather floating on the breeze -- and its quality depends so very much on tone, mood and nuance that trying to describe it is difficult. For a movie like this, viewing it under even slightly averse conditions can burst the tone, wipe out the mood. Despite the excellent presentation it receives on this two-disc DVD, "Forrest Gump" is one of those films that works best in a theater situation, where the responses of the audience feed back into each viewer. Sitting home alone, even with superb equipment and great viewing conditions, the tone and mood could well be elusive.
But even in 1994, either you bought into "Forrest Gump" or you didn't; however, even if you don't accept the film for what it wants to be, you're still likely to enjoy this technically-dazzling, sweet-natured journey through the last third of the 20th century, as seen through the bright but innocent eyes of Forrest Gump. It's beautifully produced, very funny, deeply moving at times (though never quite as deeply as it wants to go), and engrossing.
Tom Hanks plays Forrest Gump, a mildly retarded, good-natured guy from Alabama who runs very fast. Partly through sheer chance, partly because of his naive, trusting nature, Forrest lives through astonishing experiences and affects the history of the United States. All HE really wants is to be with Jenny Curran (Robin Wright), whom he's loved since childhood, but they're both feathers on the winds of change; they drift together for a while, only to be blown apart again.
Forrest's steel-magnolia mother (Sally Field) insists that he go to a regular school, which is how, as a boy, he meets Jenny, the only child who treats him well. At first, Forrest has to wear braces on his legs, but later, when he's chased by some tough kids, he finds he can run like the wind. This leads to his being a college football star, which results in his being at the University of Alabama when Governor Wallace tries to keep black students out, and to his being introduced to President Kennedy at the White House.
He serves in Vietnam, he becomes a touring ping pong champion, a shrimp boat owner and finally a billionaire, all because he's trusting, honest and direct. But he just can't seem to get together with Jenny.
Tom Hanks is put into scenes with the real historical figures by means of nifty special effects -- we see him with Wallace, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and others. The special effects throughout are very impressive, although the lip movements of the historical figures might make you recall "Clutch Cargo." Hanks, as Forrest's ancestor, is even put into footage from "Birth of a Nation." On disc 2, one of the several documentaries is "Seeing Is Believing," in which effects supervisor Ken Ralston demonstrates very clearly how the effects were done. There are several incomplete sequences that have never been shown before.
When you strip everything non-essential away from "Forrest Gump," what you're left with is what's thought of as the oldest of all movie plots: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. But the quality of a tale is generally in the telling and the tone, not in the tale itself, and that's true of "Forrest Gump."
"Forrest Gump" is a fable, a romantic, picaresque tale of a Candide-like innocent wandering wide-eyed through the most tumultuous decades of our century. It's well directed by Bob Zemeckis, although it's a bit TOO simple and earnest. Because Eric Roth's script -- very different from Groom's more cynical novel -- is such a fable, with coincidences, recurring characters, and events so far-fetched they border on fantasy, because it presents an unrealistic, sentimental view of the retarded, and because the movie so openly wears its big, throbbing heart on its sleeve, the film stands or falls by the performance of the lead actor, who's almost never off screen.
Although at first Hanks seems mannered, it's soon clear that it's FORREST'S manner; it's as if he's aware that Forrest Gump is as unlikely as Peter Pan; there's very little conflict in the role, very little room for actor flourishes, for Big Scenes, for very much expressiveness at all, since Forrest tends to be rather frozen-faced. The supplemental material includes Robin Wright's screen tests; in these, Hanks plays Forrest in a radically different manner, much closer to his usual style. When he met Michael Conner Humphreys, who plays Forrest as a boy, he chose to use the boy's own natural, halting delivery and accent; it was a great decision.
Robin Wright has a harder time with the role of Jenny because Jenny is not given a consistent personality, because she's really just a symbol. Forrest falls in love with Jenny when they're children, but she's not given any real personality other than that: she's kind to Forrest Gump (and she's an eternal victim).
Gary Sinise is very good as Lieutenant Dan; it's the role that made the public aware of him. He's the head of Forrest's Vietnam platoon, and though Forrest saves him, he loses his legs below the knee (astonishing effects here). Sinise prevents Lieutenant Dan from being just the Vietnam Vet Who Wises Up, and makes him into as particular a character as Forrest himself is.
Sally Field is fine as Forrest's mother, but she is so saintly -- after all, Forrest IS telling the story -- that she cannot really register as a character, just as Forrest's Strong Mother. All the other roles are basically walk-ons, though Michael Conner Humphreys is excellent; so is the boy who turns up at the end -- played by Haley Joel Osment. Did YOU remember that?
All of it is heightened, but instead of making us skeptical, this exaggeration keeps us involved, by contrast with Forrest's simple words and uncluttered approach to life. Keeping the movie just on the verge of fantasy somehow makes it more emotionally real. But the problem with that approach does surface, too: "Forrest Gump" is forever on the edge of being maudlin and sentimental; sometimes it crosses over, and you're jerked out of the movie -- but then a new scene will pull you back, or a little movement of Hanks will draw you in, and you're again caught up again.
This is a handsome DVD presentation, with a beautiful print of the film on disc 1, with excellent sound throughout. Like the reset of the film, the sound is heightened, not realistic, which Zemeckis discusses on one of the two commentary tracks, during the Vietnam war scenes, the highlight of the film in terms of sound. Also heard on the same track are producer Steve Starkey and production designer Rick Carter. But they do not identify themselves at all; you have to figure out who is who on your own. Another solo track features Wendy Finerman, another of the producers. Both tracks are worth listening to, but it was a mistake not to identify the three men.
The featurettes on disc 2 include "Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump," the making-of short done at the time of the film's production, as well as one on makeup, another on the sound design -- audiophiles will want to zero in on this one, one on production design, and the one devoted to the effects. The screen tests, mostly featuring the children who play the young Forrest and Jenny, Robin Wright and Osment, are moderately interesting.
If you loved "Forrest Gump" when it was first released, Paramount has provided you with a prize package; for others, this may be best viewed as a rental -- but it will take you two nights to get through everything.