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Forrest Gump (4K Ultra HD)
Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump is one of the films I have childhood memories of; as my family watched it in regular rotation. It introduced me to 1950s and 1960s pop music, and cemented Tom Hanks as one of America's finest actors in my young mind. Some 24 years after its theatrical debut, Paramount releases Forrest Gump on 4K Ultra HD. I readily admit the film has issues; it is overly sentimental at times and some of the storytelling is dated. That said, this remains excellent entertainment with multi-generational appeal. Jenny is everyone's girl; families collectively root for Forrest as he runs; and it is hard not to take Mama's death hard. Whether or not your upgrade to 4K Ultra HD may depend on how many versions of this film you've owned over the years. The upgrade is not as substantial as others in Paramount's catalogue, nor is it the disaster some Internet critics have described.
The film's plot is well known: Forrest recalls his life story at a bus stop in Savannah, Georgia, and offers this tale to anyone willing to sit down next to him. He begins by describing life as "a box of chocolates," and concludes with the revelation that he is going to visit his lifelong friend Jenny (Robin Wright) and her young son. Along the way, viewers learn that Forrest grew up without a father, and his Mama (Sally Field) was fiercely devoted to her boy, refusing to allow his curved spine and childhood mobility issues to stop Forrest from excelling. Forrest is smitten with young Jenny, who lets him sit next to her on the school bus. The audience understands more than Forrest, who is oblivious to the sexual and physical abuse Jenny is subjected to at home. Forrest eventually goes to the University of Alabama on a football scholarship, and Jenny becomes a free spirit, which leads her to drugs, abusive relationships and heartbreak.
Forrest goes to Vietnam and meets Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise), who eventually thanks Forrest for saving his life in the battle that took his legs. Forrest also befriends Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), a shrimp boat captain who never makes it home to his family. Other pit stops include getting awarded the Medal of Honor, meeting Richard Nixon and reconnecting several times with Jenny, who unintentionally breaks Forrest's heart over and over again. The film's finale takes place in the present, after Forrest leaves the bus stop, and includes the revelation that Forrest is a dad and that Jenny is very sick. Although the film's weaving of a fictional story into real history has been heavily duplicated, few films are able to do it as successfully as Forrest Gump, which uses these events to illicit genuine laughs and emotion.
Zemeckis pulls wonderful performances out of his actors, particularly Hanks, who manages to portray a character with mental and physical limitations without making him a caricature or object of ridicule. Future one-liners from Tropic Thunder be damned, this is a performance for the ages. Wright has become a household name thanks to her searing work on "House of Cards," but I fell in love with her in 1994. Sinise and Field are similarly excellent; as is the extensive collection of period-appropriate musical selections. Eric Roth's screenplay is memorable, and Don Burgess' cinematography is impressive. This adaptation may not closely resemble its Winston Groom source material, but Zemeckis created a classic. This is a special film, and one I will not apologize for loving. Run, Forrest, run!
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Before giving this disc a spin I expected the worst. Some Internet forums, including our own, were ablaze with criticism for this 4K image, calling it waxy, full of edge enhancement and overly soft. Fortunately, the image, at least to my eyes, is substantially better than those criticisms but still flawed. The specs: This is a 2.35:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 image with Dolby Vision and HDR10, culled from a native 4K source. A couple of quick comparisons between the Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD reveal Paramount did some work on the 4K image, for better or worse. I'm not sure if this is a remastered image or exactly what was done, as the packaging provides no relevant information. The 4K's biggest flaw is consistency, though some of this can be attributed to the 35mm source and the substantial effects blending used. Quite simply, a film shot on film in 1994 looks a lot different than a 2018 digital production. Lighting, fine-object detail, motion blur and shadow detail all vary depending on filming conditions.
The bulk of this presentation is actually quite impressive. There are a number of shots that look downright fantastic. Much of the transfer offers a light, natural, and consistent grain pattern, and fine-object detail benefits from the 4K bump. Wide shots are generally crisp and clear and stretch for miles, particularly when they are of well-lit landscapes. Some of the early shots outside the Gump house are gorgeous; full of bold, perfectly saturated colors and infinite detail. Texture and detail are abundant in costumes, practical set pieces and landscapes. Skin tones do vary somewhat, running the gambit from natural to pasty to slightly too pink; perhaps a result of the HDR pass. Much of the image is sharp and clear, and the 4K offers a substantial uptick in the depth and realism of the film. Again comparing the Blu-ray and 4K, Paramount obviously corrected some glaring imperfections for the 4K image, and cleaned up some dirt and debris from the print. There are also spots of aliasing and digital noise that have been eliminated on the 4K.
There are some issues that cannot be ignored. There has definitely been some digital noise reduction and edge enhancement used to artificially sharpen parts of the image. Whether or not this is baked into the master I do not know, but these issues are there. Fortunately, these problems are relatively minor during the running time, but there are shots where detail is washed away in faces and backgrounds that scream digital tinkering. There are also some overly soft shots where optical blending is used, though this is largely a product of the source. The HDR pass is also a mixed bag that I suspect resulted in some of the waxy faces and inconsistent skin tones and highlights. Much of the image looks great, with bold, nicely saturated colors, inky blacks and good shadow detail. There are a few scenes that, when compared to the Blu-ray, look off; as if the heightened colors went too far. This is not a deal-breaker, but it does prove that an aggressive HDR pass may not always be the best decision. So what's my ultimate score for this 4K image? Probably a 3.25 but I'm going to award the transfer 3.5 stars because I cannot rate in quarter stars, and I think this is a slightly above-average 4K upgrade.
More consistent is the Dolby Atmos soundtrack upgrade, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix. This is not a film packed to the gills with action effects, but there are a number of moments that stand out: the Vietnam scenes offer explosions and gunfire that make excellent use of the surround channels and LFE. Some of these moments are downright startling, and the action completely surrounds the viewer. Ambient effects are no less impressive: The crowd on the National Mall during Forrest's speech appears to surround the viewer, and weather effects also immerse viewers in the environment. Dialogue is crystal clear whether delivered from the center channel or directionally. The pop-heavy soundtrack is important to the film, and this mix expertly balances these tunes with other elements. The soundtrack is pleasingly natural, with good depth and clarity and not a hint of distortion. Overall, this is a great upgrade. A host of lossy Dolby Digital dubs and subtitle options are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This three-disc set includes the 4K Ultra HD, a Blu-ray with the movie and a second Blu-ray with bonus content. The discs are packed into a hinged 4K case that is wrapped in a slipcover with familiar artwork. The first Blu-ray disc includes Musical Signposts to History (3:54/SD), which is an introduction of sorts to the soundtrack that allows viewers to watch branching segments during the movie; an Audio Commentary by Robert Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey and production designer Rick Carter; and an Audio Commentary by producer Wendy Finerman. The remainder of the bonus materials are found on the second Blu-ray disc and mirror that of the Sapphire Series Blu-ray release from 2009: Greenbow Diary (25:59/HD) is a production featurette with excellent on-set footage; The Art of Screenplay Adaptation (26:58/HD) sees the filmmakers and Groom discussing the adaptation of his novel; Getting Past the Impossible: Forrest Gump and the Visual Effects Revolution (27:04/HD) discusses ILM's work to create the film's effects; Little Forrest (14:48/HD) is about actor Michael Conner Humphreys and his work as young Forrest; and An Evening with Forrest Gump (55:08/HD) sees Hanks, Sinise and Zemeckis speaking on a panel at the University of Southern California. You also get a host of archival supplements concerning the film's casting, production, costumes, make-up and marketing that were taken from earlier DVD releases.
Timeless film. Imperfect 4K Ultra HD release. Recommended for the informed.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.