When the trailer for Forrest Gump came out, you could almost hear filmgoers' collective jaw drop. Archived footage of Lyndon Johnson affixing the Congressional Medal of Honor to a Vietnam soldier that included Tom Hanks? It appeared to push the limits of what could be done in film, and indeed, it exceeded expectations.
Forrest Gump was originally a novel by Winston Groom that was adapted by Eric Roth (The Good Shepherd) and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future). The title character is played by Hanks, who we first see sitting on a park bench in Savannah, Georgia. Forrest recalls the many moments in his life that brought him to that place in time. His first memories are of his mother (Sally Field, Punchline), who finds out when Forrest is young that he is somewhat slow in development, both mentally and physically, but she works hard to make sure he is treated like everyone else. Unfortunately, one of his physical issues involves receiving correctional braces on his legs, and he is teased by kids at school, but while there, he also meets his first (and only) love, Jenny (later played by Robin Wright Penn).
As the years pass, we see glimpses of Forrest and Jenny as teenagers and then full on adults. Despite mental obstacles, Forrest gets into college with a full athletic scholarship and becomes an All-American football player, an achievement that allows him to meet President Kennedy. After graduating, he enlists in the Army and meets one of his best friends, Bubba (Mykelti Williamson, Heat). He also encounters Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise, Apollo 13), whom Forrest saves from dying in an ambush, and they become friends and later business partners, after the war. Still, Forrest pines for Jenny, and the years following see the two glancing off each others' orbits before finally falling in love.
It is hard to go further without completely gushing about the story, and besides, everyone has seen it by this point. In 1994, when it was released, it was the highest-grossing film that year, and when you adjust for inflation, only two films since then (Titanic and The Phantom Menace) have made more, according to boxofficemojo. Reflecting on the success of Forrest Gump, we might have shown up for the visual effects, but the film works on many different levels.
It's a story about holding out for your true love and the perfect example of the famous quote by Richard Bach, "If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they're yours..." It's a story about loss, of friends and family. It's a story about improbable encounters from the unlikeliest of sources, with loads of humor and historical implication. All of this is told with narration (in his commentary, Zemeckis used Amadeus as a reference point for effective narration in a film) and excellent performance by Hanks, who won his second consecutive Oscar for acting (one of six the film would win). Nevertheless, all of the actors do amazing work. Being older, I've begun to appreciate Sinise's performance much more. He portrays Dan as one certain of his destiny, but when it is changed, he finds himself lost. When he regains it during a quiet moment with Forrest out at sea, it's both muted and powerful.
Zemeckis also lets the story transpire at a pace that doesn't bore the viewer, and when it comes to effects, he's so enamored with them. But in Forrest Gump you might not realize they're in such abundance (Vietnam is actually South Carolina, for instance), but one highlight includes the scene where Forrest meets a dead U.S. president, which more than a decade later is still convincing both in the film and when compared with more visual effects-driven productions completed since. The effects draw you in, but the acting and story keep you watching. In a way, it's surprising that the quality of Forrest Gump has trumped its appearance through the years, but since effects and story are done to such a high level of quality, the resulting film remains exceptional.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 2.35:1 1080p high definition using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, Paramount gives Forrest Gump an excellent video treatment. Image detail is revelatory in the feature; you can view the sunsets of fictional Greenbow, Alabama as clear as can be. In the shot where a young Forrest breaks free of the braces and runs across a small bridge, you can briefly see a double image of him, which, although probably a mistake, provides evidence of the Blu-ray's visual acuity.. Image detail is abundant, background depth and clarity is outstanding, black levels are exceptional for a film of this age, and skin tones are reproduced accurately and to great care, making you feel like you're watching a better film than the version you saw in 1994.
Paramount gives Forrest Gump the lossless audio treatment with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. This being the first Paramount title that I've watched with this soundtrack option (the studio had been using TrueHD with most catalog releases), I was surprised to hear how good the film sounded for its age. Forrest's narration stays focused in the center channel, action sequences pan speakers quite nicely (when Forrest catches the eye of the Alabama football coach, the tackle at the end of the sequence goes from center to left effectively), and when it's called for, the subwoofer engages with unexpected power. I'd put the Vietnam sequence and the scene when Forrest and Lieutenant Dan are battling the hurricane up against most modern action shots on high definition, when it comes to sound qualities. This was a listening pleasure.
Paramount has taken the extras from the 2001 special edition and ported them over to their new "Sapphire Series" release line, but they've also included a second disc of new material produced by Kim Aubry (frequent collaborator on the Francis Ford Coppola DVD releases). I'll cover those in a minute, but they are mainly on a second disc of extras. Disc One retains the two commentary tracks (one from Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey and production designer Rick Carter, the other from producer Wendy Finerman) from the previous edition. Between these two tracks, you won't gain a whole lot of information. The Zemeckis/Starkey/Carter track is recorded separately but does not identify the speakers. They recall the requisite ideas, challenges and particular pride for certain scenes, and casting decisions are discussed. Zemeckis even mentions that Kurt Russell was used as the off-camera Elvis voice for the film (which I didn't realize), and the three share their separate thoughts on the film, but there's a lot of silence between their thoughts, so the track remains less active and informational than it could have been. The Finerman commentary isn't much better; she covers some production aspects in abstract conversation, like character motivations and story moments. I wonder why she wasn't given someone to play off, but oh well. The only other extra is "Musical Signposts of History." Hosted by former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, he discusses the trivia of the film's many songs, while Zemeckis and music producer Joel Sill (both in archived footage) talk about song inspirations. When enabled, the film turns off and switches to these sidebars before resuming. It's okay, though it could have been done a little bit better, like the icon-enabling feature a la Universal's U-Control, or something.
As mentioned earlier, Disc Two is where the newer, meatier material (in HD) is, starting with "Greenbow Diary" (25:59), which examines various stages in the production from a "fly-on-the-wall" perspective. The cast and crew from many of those scenes are interviewed, sharing their thoughts on the shots they completed. There are also brief glimpses at scenes that didn't make the cut. The segment feels longer than it needs to be, but it's nice to have. "The Art of Screenplay Adaptation" (26:58) may be the best extra of the crop. Groom reads from the galleys of his book that were used to secure the film rights and talks about his experiences writing the first draft. The partnership between studios and publishing houses is talked about, and the draft process is discussed. While the story was being shopped around, Finerman and others recall the risk involved in making it, and how important securing Hanks was to the financing. The differences between the book and movie are discussed, and Roth recalls his process for writing the screenplay that Zemeckis bought into. This is an excellent piece and worth viewing for aspiring screenwriters.
From there, "Getting Past the Impossible" (27:04) examines how the visual effects were designed and shot for the film and the impact that type of effects have had in film since. The ILM folks talk about their role in the feature and the beneficial software packages they used during the production. Making fake newsreel footage and cutting off Sinise's legs are among the things covered in this segment, and Zemeckis answers the question of "Why a bluescreen is blue." This is another excellent technical look at the film and well worth the time. "Little Forrest" (14:08) interviews Michael Conner Humphreys, who plays the young Forrest. Now in his mid-twenties, he's grown out of his inflection, and he talks about how he worked on the film. After seeing this kid, you will absolutely feel a bit older. "An Evening with Forrest Gump" (55:08) is a Q & A session with Zemeckis, Roth, Hanks and Sinise, recorded April 2009 at the University of Southern California. Zemeckis' ties to USC (he's a frequent teacher there) are covered, sometimes jokingly in Hanks' case, and each recalls specific information about the production or things associated with it. Sinise talks about the differences between film, stage and television, and the visual effects are talked about as well. A lot of what Zemeckis says here makes the commentary a little redundant, but the session itself appears to have been fun and rather spontaneous, so I'd prefer this over the commentary, to be honest.
Next are the features from the standard-definition edition. "The Make-Up of Gump" (8:03) examines how Hanks, Wright and others were primed and painted as well as the use of prosthetics for the film. "Through the Ears of Forrest Gump" (15:34) handles the sound design of things; "Building the World of Forrest Gump" (7:18) looks at the production design, including locations and sets; "Seeing is Believing" (30:25) looks at several different effects-driven scenes, including pass-throughs and animatics. Screen tests for Wright (3:57), Humphreys (2:29) and Hanks with a very young Haley Joel Osment (2:46) are next, and two trailers (5:10) close out the second disc.
Forrest Gump was an excellent film when it was first released and is a film that I've revisited numerous times. And now that's it's on Blu-ray, with exceptional audio and video qualities and extensive supplementary material? I'll enjoy experiencing it even more. Library adding and double-dipping is encouraged, nay, mandated.