Forrest Gump's 4K disc is a fitting silver anniversary release
By Jim Bray
Has it really been 25 years? Wow.
If you're a fan of Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump and haven't bought it on disc yet, you really should take a look at Paramount's new 4K UHD/HDR release. It's easily the best Gump yet, and a great tribute to this great movie.
Even if you don't yet have the equipment for 4K playback yet, it's a worthwhile package because it also contains a newly-remastered Blu-ray of the movie and – the part other than the great 4K presentation that really turned my crank – it features over three hours of extras (none of which I believe are new, however) that are some of the best I've ever sampled in my years of reviewing DVD's, Blu-rays and 4K discs.
Yep, it's that good.
Tom Hanks won his second Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the supposedly stupid man whose basic goodness (instilled in him by his strong, loving mother) more than made up for any lack of gray matter he may have had.
Robert Zemeckis also – deservedly – won the Director's Oscar for this film, which is really a celebration of America's potential, rather than just a nostalgic look back through baby boomer history. An unusual masterpiece is how I labelled it in my initial review of the DVD 'way back when, and I stand by that opinion.
I'm a Zemeckis fan anyway – at least mostly. I loved Used Cars, the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Contact, the Polar Express and a couple of others. He also had a couple of lesser outings along the way (Death Becomes Her comes to mind), but overall when I see his name attached to a project, I know it's undoubtedly worth at least a viewing, if not a purchase.
Forrest Gump is well worth owning in any format (I even had it on Laserdisc!), but this 4K version is easily the best.
Our hero was born with an IQ too low for him to be accepted into "normal" school but his mother (played beautifully by Sally Field) loves him so much she'll do just about anything to get him a second look. And she does, because she doesn't want Forrest put into a special school, insisting instead that he be treated just like anyone else.
Once this playing field is leveled, Forrest succeeds in just about everything he tries (including the playing field, as it turns out) thanks to his honesty, talents and work ethic (and with some help from Lady Luck - or is it a loving God?). He ends up living the American Dream where, despite the hand life dealt him, he had the opportunity to become whomever he wanted to be. And he does.
Counterpointed with Forrest's achievements is Jenny (Robin Wright), his only childhood friend. She carries her hate of her abusive father with her like a shield and never manages to scrape the past from her shoes until very late in the film. As Forrest lives a more mainstream conservative life, she drifts through the 1960/70's counterculture that's celebrated so nostalgically by the left, but when her life is basically destroyed, she ends up seeking out the only part of her past that brought her happiness and love. Yeah, the conservative (by nature if not by political choice) Forrest Gump.
As I noted in my original review, it's a neat take on the forces vying for the hearts and minds of Western society today. First, there's Forrest who, once he had equality of opportunity, was a gigantic success story. He could be said to represent the forces of conservatism today (or, perhaps more accurately, the classic liberalism of the past before terms like "liberal" and "progressive" were co-opted by the socialists) - where everyone can succeed regardless of where they came from if they work hard and have a bit of good luck.
Then there's Jenny, who cannot scrape the past from her shoes, as it were, remaining a perpetual victim until she's finally rescued. Jenny is a progressive poster girl, someone who can't or won't make it on her own and needs to be helped and cared for by outside forces rather than stand proudly on her own two feet. All she needed was a government program; instead, she got Forrest. And happiness.
Forrest learns and practices personal responsibility in his life, while Jenny's in an extended tantrum in which everything is the fault of her father and that justifies the mess she makes of her life.
But I digress…
Forrest Gump is a big movie, in its scope and execution, but at heart it's a small and intimate film that's really about love, friendship, loyalty, and the ability (and desire) to succeed regardless of what life puts in front of you. As Forrest and his mom said: "Life is a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get."
It's a marvelous movie, funny, charming, depressing, sad, uplifting, silly – you name it. And the musical soundtrack, which uses pop hits of the era as a textured background in much the same way American Graffiti did, is fabulous. It's also a pioneering film in its use of digital effects, not only for how it inserts Gump into historical situations but in many other aspects (watch the supplements for this – stuff like multiplying helicopters, changing the sky, adding shadows and reflections, etc.).
In other words, in Forrest Gump, Robert Zemeckis not only made an exquisite film, he helped push the state of the moviemaking art from the analogue to the digital age. And he did it right; in the supplemental panel discussion at USC film school, he talks about how CG lets you create huge epics, but advises the aspiring filmmakers on hand not to let the CG cart drag the storytelling horse. And, of course, he was right; the digital effects in Forrest Gump (and Contact, his follow-up) are mind blowing, but never do anything to overwhelm the tale being told. Many of today's moviemakers (and/or studio execs) should take note.
Paramount has given the 4K UHD Gump the deluxe treatment it deserves, and as mentioned it's also a great package for those who don't yet have 4K but who may down the road. In this case, Forrest Gump comes in a three-disc set (with a download code in the box as well) that features the 4K widescreen film on the first disc (and, unlike most 4K discs I've reviewed, the 4K disc includes optional commentaries that are pretty darn interesting.
The picture quality isn't as good as some of the finest 4K discs I've reviewed (such as Dunkirk or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), but it's beautiful nonetheless. There's plenty of filmic grain, but it doesn't get in the way, and in the meantime fine detail and textures are outstanding. Colours, too: notice the school bus that takes Forrest and his son to class, or the helicopters that zip into frame in Vietnam – they're first rate. The HDR also helps in darker sequences, letting more detail and texture through than I noticed on the Blu-ray. Heck, I loved the Blu-ray picture (and the BD included in this package is supposedly remastered) but the 4K HDR versions up the ante nicely.
Audio is Dolby Atmos, backward compatible to Dolby TrueHD, and it's excellent. The surround channels are used well, dropping you right into the historical moments (etc.), the pop tunes sound great and the Vietnam and hurricane sequences will also provide a nice test of your home theatre's capabilities.
The second disc is basically the Blu-ray version of the 4K disc (with commentaries and Ben Fong-Torres' musical signposts feature, etc.) and it's fine. But if you're interested in the oodles of extras, including documentaries on the production as a whole, the sound design, special effects and more, you'll have to pull out the third disc, which is also a Blu-ray. Paramount says there are more than three hours of extras and though I didn't time them, I certainly can't argue with the number and variety of the bonus stuff. As mentioned above, this is a spectacular package and it may even approach the level of extra stuff you can get with such specialty libraries as the Criterion Collection.
I don't believe any of these extras are new, but they're definitely interesting and substantial. The only fly in the ointment is when Tom Hanks, at the USC panel, takes a typically uninformed liberal shot at conservatives that's completely unnecessary. Alas, I can't blame Hanks because he was responding to a question from the panel host, who turned things political in the middle of a fascinating and entertaining discussion.
Fortunately, I can nearly ignore that, Hollowwood being what it is these days, while celebrating the excellent presentation of an outstanding motion picture.
Forrest Gump is, indeed, a masterpiece, and this new 4K 25th Anniversary version is the best way to see it yet, especially if you have a big screen and the big sound to go with it.
Copyright 2019 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.