FORREST GUMP: 4K Blu-ray (Paramount, 1994) Paramount Home Video
“The world will never be the same once you’ve seen it through the eyes of Forrest Gump” (1994) declared publicity campaigns for director, Robert Zemeckis’ ambitious and sweeping fable. An exceptionally poignant saga, Forrest Gump charts the unlikely life adventure of a simpleton, (Tom Hanks) whose perspective and insights about the flawed world around him prove clairvoyant reflections on events during the turbulent 1960's and beyond. Under Zemeckis’ nimble direction, Forrest Gump is a deft allegory where the aged crust of prejudice collides with an unvarnished heart, never to become jaded by the experience. Forrest is a true renaissance man, invigorated by self-discovery and undaunted by challenges most any of us would either refuse to face, or engage badly under ordinary circumstances. That Forrest is extraordinary makes all the difference. His journey from crippled youth to decorated war hero and beyond is a veritable celebration of the unbiased human spirit’s capacity to find truth, understanding and compassion, even under the most stringently cynical conditions.
As a genre, Forrest Gump is hard to peg. On the surface, it is pure melodrama tinged in light comedy, what with vignettes devoted to young Forrest’s (Michael Conner Humphreys) education; his mother, played by Sally Fields, sleeps with the school’s principal (Sam Anderson) to ensure her boy is treated just like everybody else. “We’re all different,” she insists. And indeed, for the next 142 minutes we are privy to a movie as eclectic in its design as the genetic makeup of its title character. Perhaps the most astute observation made of Forrest Gump is by noted critic/interviewer Jimmy Carter, who referred to it as a ‘southern-fried Being There’ (a nod to Peter Seller’s exquisite performance from 1979 – also as a man, apparently of limited intellect who, nevertheless, rises above social adversities). Forrest has not such lofty ambitions. Nor does Zemeckis ever imply the fanciful ‘happy ending’ that would bode well in this occasionally episodic fairy-tale. Instead, Zemeckis unearths the astonishing likeness of being in the everyday, inferring that life can be an exceptional journey if one is open to its possibilities as presented for the partaking…not necessarily those we might have chosen for ourselves.
Setting aside the legal haranguing that must have ensued between Zemeckis, Paramount and the estates of several famous personages, including late Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, to exploit their likenesses with a bit of digital trickery around the lips and insinuate conversations that – in life – never actually occurred, the sheer scope of Eric Roth’s screenplay (based on Winston Groom’s novel of the same name), would likely have sent any of his contemporaries into sweat-soaked contemplation; the picture’s multiple locations, not to mention period detail, and technological hurdles, creating a myriad of challenges along the way. Ah, but lest we forget, Gump’s director is Bob Zemeckis whose filmography includes the breakout action/thriller, Romancing the Stone (1984), the sci-fi teen comedy, Back to the Future (1985, and its sequels), the multi-layered animation/live-action quagmire, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and quirkily delicious, Death Becomes Her (1992). In light of these ostentatious excursions, Forrest Gump seems almost sublime – at least by Zemeckis’s standards; the perfect balance between his narrative flights into fancy and a well-grounded framework, built entirely around one man’s unassuming start in life that, almost by accident, unfurls into the most exhilarating of movie experiences culled into one lifetime.
The other cog to make the picture click as it should is Tom Hanks; his career, begun inauspiciously with repertory work and a co-starring role on TV’s short-lived, though long-remembered sitcom, Bosom Buddies (1981-82). Hanks, however, was destined for better things. A chance meeting with director, Ron Howard resulted in the aspiring hopeful cast opposite Darryl Hannah in Splash (1984) – a career-making venture with others, as popular (1984’s Bachelor Party, 1986’s Nothing in Common, 1988’s Big, 1992’s A League of Their Own, 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle and Philadelphia) steadily advancing Hanks’ reputation for chameleon-like diversity. Of Forrest Gump, Hanks was very much ‘on board’ from the outset, becoming engrossed in its peculiar blend of tender mercies. “When I read the script, I saw it as one of those kind of grand, hopeful movies the audience can go to and feel ... some hope for their lot and their position in life,” Hanks would later admit, “I got that from the movies I went to when I was a kid… a hundred million times. I still do.”
In Forrest Gump, life is indeed ‘a box of chocolates’ – the viewer never entirely certain what lies ahead. Zemeckis, Hanks and screenwriter, Roth take us through the world as seen by Gump. It is a tangible odyssey with a Gump-ian lump to be left in our throats, a sensational throb, keeping pace with this unexpected passing parade, marching to a decidedly different cadence and perspective. Earning $600 million at the box office, Forrest Gump was then incontrovertibly Tom Hanks’ biggest grossing hit to date; cash clout matched by back-to-back Best Actor Oscar wins for ‘Gump’ and the aforementioned Philadelphia. In a curious case of kismet, the only other actor to achieve as much in Academy history was Spencer Tracy: Hanks and Tracy, spookily the same age at the time of their respective wins. Arguably, no one is more deserving of the honor than Hanks, a star who, despite many years since bestowed the accolades in fame and fortune, continues to wear the mantle of humility on his sleeve as the hallmark of a genuine gentle and manly entertainer.
On Oscar night in 1995, Hanks thanked his fellow nominees first, “just as deserving if not more so” of the honor afforded him. Then, with an unanticipated quiver in his voice he spoke of his wife, Rita Wilson, “who has taught me, and illustrates for me every day just what love is,” before rounding out his heartfelt speech thus, with a comedic nod to the film itself and his most sincere gratitude for the audience. “I feel as though I am standing on magic legs in a special effects process shot that is too unbelievable to imagine and far too costly to make a reality. But here is my mark and there is where I am supposed to look and believe me…the power and the pleasure and the emotion of this moment is at a constant speed of light. It will never be diminished, nor will my appreciation and the meaning between two simple words I can only offer you here. Thank you. God bless you in this room. God bless you all around the world.”
Forrest Gump opens on a perfectly periwinkle sky with fluffy clouds, the camera lazily following the downward trajectory of a little white feather caught in the summer breeze – the film’s emblem for life’s ever-contrary unpredictability to the plans we erroneously make in our feeble efforts to harness it to our will. In this instance, the life we are about to observe is far more malleable than most; young Forrest, of a modest I.Q., seemingly, in possession of no clear-cut ambition beyond what his devoted mother has for him. Forrest’s one true friend is Jenny Curran (Hanna R. Hall as a girl, Robin Wright-Penn as a woman); a farm girl who suffers greatly at the whims of a drunken/abusive father (Kevin Mangan). The bulk of our story is told in flashback by a more mature Forrest, whose casual conversations with total strangers waiting for the bus happen as he sits on a park bench. Forrest regales us with his first day of school in 1956, the unforgiving nature of a pack of bullies making fun of his leg braces, meant to correct a curved spine. Mrs. Gump runs the local boarding house in Greenbow, Alabama where young Forrest is introduced to the likes of Elvis Presley (Peter Dobson). This brief encounter concludes our first past regression in Forrest’s remarkable life – an appetizer for the main course, even more fanciful to be true. And yet, Gump believes it, and hence, so do we.
Pelted with rocks by the school bullies, young Forrest triumphs over his physical disability and marginal intelligence, his superb agility and speed eventually earning him a football scholarship to the University of Alabama in 1963 where he becomes a top running back on the All-American team and gets to meet President John F. Kennedy. Time and space separate Forrest from his one and only true love – Jenny, who becomes involved in the hippy ‘free love’ movement with devastating results. In the meantime, upon his college graduation, Forrest enlists in the U.S. Army where he befriends fellow soldier, Bubba Blue (Mykelti Williamson) an aspiring fisherman, soon to convince Forrest to go into the shrimping business with him when the war is over. The boys are drilled in their daily maneuvers by a nameless sergeant (Afemo Omilami) who willfully, and rather condescendingly refers to Forrest as ‘a goddamn genius’. In 1967, Bubba and Forrest embark upon their first tour of duty in Vietnam. During an ambush, Bubba is killed, but Forrest, despite insurmountable odds and being superficially wounded in the buttocks, manages to save many from his platoon, including his curmudgeonly Lieutenant, Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise). Alas, the wounds inflicted upon Taylor are too great and, as a result, both his legs are amputated, leaving Taylor bitter and particularly angry at Forrest for saving his life. Meanwhile, Forrest is awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism. While recovering in a VA Hospital, Forrest discovers a talent for ping-pong, becoming a competitive player, soon to achieve international renown against the Chinese, as part of the U.S.’s goodwill tour.
Returning to America still in his military gear, Forrest encounters the anti-war rally at the Washington Monument. Even more miraculously, he is reunited with Jenny, since turned in her thinking by the ‘let it all hang out student protest movement and hippy drug culture’. Although still his girl, Jenny pays him only passing interest – perhaps, recognizing that from their present-day vantages her sphere of influence could only bring him down. Indeed, Jenny has gotten in with a bad lot, particularly her boyfriend (Aloysius Gigl) who is both physical and verbally abusive. Forrest valiantly defends Jenny’s honor. But his valor is hardly rewarded. Jenny and Forrest share one night together. But afterward, she disappears from his life again. Time passes. Lt. Dan grows sullen at being confined to a wheelchair. For a while, Forrest attempts to keep him company, following Dan on seedy romps to the strip clubs and hiring prostitutes to numb his pain. Forrest is recalled home upon learning his mother is gravely ill. In one of the most poignantly understated moments, Forrest recalls the last conversation he had with his mother, where she quietly admits “Oh Forrest…it’s just my time. Don’t you be afraid, sweetheart. Death is just a part of life. And life is a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get.” “She had got the cancer…and died on a Tuesday…and that’s all I have to say about that,” Forrest concludes to an elderly woman (Nora Dunfee) waiting for the bus, leaving not a dry eye in the house.
The plot moves on, to 1972 as Forrest encounters President Richard Nixon. Later, while put up at the Watergate Hotel, Forrest inadvertently manages to foil the Watergate break-in, ultimately to ruin the President. Owing to his inheritance from the boarding house, a series of endorsements for ping-pong paddles, and his partnership in a lucrative shrimping business established to fulfill his promise to Bubba – and Bubba’s mother (Marlene Smalls), who is able to quit her job as a housekeeper and hire someone else to keep house for her, Forrest also brings Lt. Dan into the business in 1974, the two surviving Hurricane Carmen. The pair go on to establish a huge fleet of fishing trawlers. Dan invests his half of the money in Apple Computer; the windfall, split evenly between Forrest and Bubba’s family. Again, years pass. In 1978 Forrest receives an unlikely guest – Jenny, since reformed from her hippy youth days. Still in love with Jenny after all these year, Forrest proposes marriage. Instead, Jenny once more slips away after making love to him. Heartbroken, Forrest decides to go running cross country. Over the next three and a half years, he not only establishes several new fads but also inspires others to follow in his footsteps – literally.
We are now in the movie’s established ‘present’ narrative timeline; the year, 1981. Forrest reveals to another stranger waiting for the bus that he has received an unexpected letter from Jenny who, having seen his journey documented on television, has asked him to visit her. Herein, Zemeckis and Hanks hit us with their second most heart-rending moment in the picture. Reunited for a third time with his childhood sweetheart, Forrest is startled to discover he has a son, Forrest Jr. (Haley Joel Osment), his first tearful inquiry “Is he smart?” met with an as gratifying confirmation the boy is at the top of his class. As father and son sit cross-legged on the carpet in front of the TV, each cocks his head slightly in precisely the same way, leaving no doubt they are related. Alas, Jenny’s news is even more devastating this time around as she informs Forrest of being stricken with an ‘unknown virus’. Forrest vows to care for her. He moves Jenny and Forrest Jr. into his home in Greenbow where the two are married in a ceremony attended by close friends and a reformed Lt. Dan and his Korean wife. For the briefest wrinkle in time, Jenny and Forrest are happy. Regrettably, within the year Jenny succumbs to AIDS, leaving their son in his care. As he sees young Forrest off for his first day of school, we follow the same wayward feather from the start of our story, caught in an updraft and taken high into the clouds.
Forrest Gump is one of the most refreshingly unexpected and fulfilling human stories ever conceived for the screen. Writer Eric Roth may have deviated substantially from Winston Groom’s novel (first published in 1986), but in doing so he has humanized this unlikely savant with an unadorned charm that is often overlooked or bastardized in critical reviews of the picture as being ‘overly sentimental’. As a counterpoint, I will simply quote the late composer, Richard Rodgers. “What’s wrong with sweetness and light? They’ve been around for an awfully long time!” We are most fortunate Terry Gilliam and Barry Sonnenfeld – each initially sought out for the directorial duties herein – both turned this project down. Zemeckis, a prodigy of Steven Spielberg (no stranger to the fantastic in his own storytelling) is absolutely the right man for this job. Zemeckis shot most of Forrest Gump in Beaufort, South Carolina (with Fripp Island convincingly subbing in for Vietnam), as well as parts of coastal Virginia and North Carolina (including the Biltmore Estate in Asheville). We also doff our caps to Ken Ralston and his small army of technicians at Industrial Light & Magic for their seamless CGI, combining footage of Tom Hanks, shot against a blue screen, with archival B&W newsreel footage to suggest Forrest’s brief encounters with various historical figures; the thoroughly convincing Vietnam sequence, with its striking napalm attack, actually a composite of blue screen, real SFX and CGI wizardry. Ralston also helped Gary Sinise ‘lose his legs’, the uncanny amputation achieved by wrapping Sinise’s limbs in a blue fabric, later to be painstakingly roto-painted out frame-by-frame by skillful matte artists. Finally, there is the multiplying of 1500 extras during the Washington Monument protest into a gathering of thousands that is fairly impressive; the extras rearranged into various quadrants and photographed multiple times.
Don Burgess’ cinematography is subtly evocative of a simpler time without becoming romanticized or nostalgic for it. Zemeckis and Hanks take dead aim at our hearts – striking the bull’s eye more than once. Zemeckis' great gift is in making the implausible as tangible as the world outside our windows. He infuses Forrest Gump with an undeniable warmth. The supporting cast is uniformly solid and affecting; of particular merit - Robin Wright Penn’s Jenny, who scales the most incredible arc in her character’s overall maturation; also, Gary Sinise, thoroughly magnificent as Lt. Dan Taylor, and finally, the always ‘in the moment’ Sally Fields as the first woman in Forrest’s life determined to see him live a complete and useful life – despite other’s misperceptions of his ‘limitations’. Like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (1988), Tom Hanks’ brilliant turn in Forrest Gump is a finely wrought tapestry of thoughtful, well-placed and subtly nuanced introspection. In a part so easily to have devolved into mere ‘showiness’, Hanks instead regresses almost to the point of becoming a secondary figure; the audience allowed to actually see the world through Forrest’s eyes and with his purity of heart. Better still, Zemeckis never allows sympathy or stereotype to dictate and/or override our response to Forrest’s affecting soul. In a year of such high-profile contenders as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption and Quiz Show as Best Picture nominees, it is saying a great deal Forrest Gump has remained a thoroughly satisfying and life-affirming entertainment.
Forrest Gump was shot in 35mm Panavision and finished on film, with its digitally achieved visual effects scanned back to film; a process, degrading overall image clarity by several generations. For this new-to-4K UHD release, Paramount Home Video has gone the extra mile grading the image in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. There is a slightly digitized characteristic – as there always has been. That said, in 4K image quality is very ‘film-like’ and with oodles of impressive detail to spare. Arguably, Paramount has de-grained the live-action footage to better blend it into these SFX-laden shots. And again, owing to the trickery featured in a good many sequences, this tinkering actually maintains a consistency to this presentation, rather than distracting from it. HDR has deepened the shadows, gingerly heightened the overall contrast, and, afforded highlights a more spectral brilliance. Color grading reveals a more vibrant palette of hues. Paramount has also afforded Forrest Gump a new Dolby Atmos 7.1, the sound field significantly enhanced, with Alan Silvestri’s exuberant score and period music getting a huge bump. Paramount has also included the original 5.1 DTS for those yet to have made the necessary upgrade to their home theater set-ups.
As with other 4K releases, only the audio commentaries have survived the upgrade. Forrest Gump has two: the first, featuring Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey, and Rick Carter; the latter, a showcase for producer, Wendy Finerman. Mercifully, Paramount has also included the 2-disc Sapphire Edition Blu-ray, with all of the extra content as before: Musical Signposts to History, the Greenbow Diary, The Art of Screenplay Adaptation, Getting Past Impossible: Forrest Gump and the Visual Effects Revolution, Little Forrest, An Evening with Forrest Gump, as well as featurettes in support of the picture’s effects make-up, sound and production design; plus, screen tests and theatrical trailers. One unforgivable omission remains: Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump – a 30 min. documentary produced at the time of Forrest Gump’s DVD release and never seen again. Cumulatively, the extras included herein total more than 2 and a ½ hours of pure enjoyment and will surely not disappoint. Bottom line: Forrest Gump in 4K is a no-brainer. Now, if we could just get Paramount busy on ‘ground-up’ standard Blu-ray releases of Ordinary People (1980) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) – two, equally as deserving Best Picture winners from ‘the mountain’, still MIA in hi-def.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)