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Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump on DVD

By Jim Bray

Tom Hanks won his second "Best Actor" Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of the supposedly unintelligent Forrest Gump, a man whose basic goodness made up for anything he may have lacked in gray matter.

As directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also won the Oscar for this film, Forrest Gump is a celebration of America's potential, as well as a nostalgic look back through the history of the baby boomer generation. It really is an unusual masterpiece.

Forrest Gump is born with a below average IQ and that's about to stand in the way of his being allowed to attend regular public school until his mother (beautifully played by Sally Field) takes matters into her own, well, hands and ensures he gets his chance. Once this playing field is leveled, Forrest succeeds in just about everything he tries thanks to his honesty, talents, work ethic, and some help from Lady Luck - or is it God? He ends up becoming the American Dream personified where, despite the hand life deals you, you have the opportunity to become whomever you want to be.

Counterpointed with Forrest's soaring achievements is Jenny (the appropriately vulnerable Robin Wright), his only childhood friend. Abused by her father, she carries her hate with her like a shield and never manages (until very late in the film, at which point it's too late) to scrape the past from her shoes, drifting through life, experiencing all the parts of the 1960/70's counterculture celebrated so nostalgically by the mainstream media, but which ended up being so destructive to the people themselves and, ultimately, the generation to which they gave birth.

It's a fascinating glimpse (remembering, of course, that it's only a movie) at the two forces vying for the hearts and minds of Western society today. On one hand there's Forrest, the "mentally inferior person" who, once he had the opportunity to enter life on a level playing field, 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, whose past horrors dominated the rest of her life, and this allowed her to remain a perpetual victim until she's finally rescued by Forrest. Jenny is a neo-liberal 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 needs is a government program.

Or, put shortly, Forrest practices personal responsibility, while Jenny's life is an extended tantrum where everything is the fault of her father and that justifies the mess she continues to make of her life.

But I digress…

The movie mostly follows Forrest, with some digressions that show us a variety of the pitfalls to which Jenny succumbs. We see how Forrest's natural ability to run earns him a college scholarship and sends him to the All-American team (where he meets president JFK at the White House). Upon graduation, he enlists in the army and is sent to Vietnam (which is handled by director Zemeckis in a matter of fact manner, with no preaching or moralizing - unlike this review I suppose!) where his inner decency and sense of morality leads him to save the lives of many of his companions, eventually earning him the Congressional Medal of Honor (and a meeting with LBJ).

While convalescing from a wound he received while saving his mates, he learns to play - and excel at - ping pong, and joins the US team that participated in a tournament in communist China (and earned him yet another visit to the White House, this time occupied by Richard Nixon - who is actually brought down unknowingly by Forrest).

Upon discharge Forrest, to keep a promise to his army buddy Bubba (wonderfully played by Mykelti Williamson), buys a shrimp boat and goes into business, eventually helped by Lieutenant Dan, his commanding officer in Vietnam (Gary Sinise who, like everyone else in the film, is also marvelous in the role). His single-minded persistence, couple with an "act of God," allows him to corner the shrimp market and he becomes wealthy.

But Forrest never forgets who he is and from whence he came. He remains Forrest Gump from small town Alabama, a lover of the simple things in life and a lover of the elusive Jenny. His journey eventually reunites him with her once and for all, and he settles into a contented life with her and their young son, Forrest Jr (played by "the Sixth Sense" and "A.I's" Haley Joel Osment).

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 like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get."

In all, it's a marvelous movie; at various times it's funny, charming, depressing, sad, uplifting, silly - you name it, the movie pretty well runs the gamut of emotions during its 141 minute running time. And the musical soundtrack, which uses pop music as a textured background in much the same way American Graffiti did, is fabulous. In all, Forrest Gump is a towering achievement for Zemeckis and Hanks, and even without its wonderful digital special effects it would stand up.

Those digital special effects, as with most Zemeckis films, enhance rather than get in the way. You know they're there, but they're never there for the sake of effects (watch his "Contact" for another brilliant example of state-of-the-art effects that merely serve the story instead of being the reason why you go to the film) and as such they make the movie even better.

Paramount has given the DVD the deluxe treatment it deserves, which is something they don't do too often with their DVD's. It's a two disc set that features the anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) film on the first disc (with optional commentaries by director Zemeckis and producers Steve Starkey and Wendy Finerman and production designer Rick Carter). The picture is very good, though I found it a tad soft.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and it's excellent, with the Vietnam sequence providing a great test of your home theater's mettle.

The second disc features oodles of extras, including documentaries on the production as a whole, the sound design, special effects and more. There's also a photo gallery, screen tests, deleted scenes with effects, and of course the trailers.

In all, an excellent DVD of a special film.

Forrest Gump, from Paramount Home Video
141 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson
Produced by Wendy Finerman, Steve Tisch, Steve Starkey
Written by Eric Roth, Directed by Robert Zemeckis.


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Updated May 13, 2006