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Seen through the eyes of an innocent, the latter half of the 20th Century appears Directed by Robert Zemeckis Paramount Home Video deeply sad and disenfranchised in "Forrest Gump", available from Paramount home video in a comprehensive 2-disc set. Beginning in the much 'simpler' days of the 1950s, the film charts an epic journey through American history over the course of its running time, touching upon major events and personages in humorous and moving ways, and it gives us the opportunity to mourn our loss of innocence through laughter and tears. A panorama which involves Forrest in historic events such as the birth of Elvis Presley's famous dance moves, the National Guard standoff with Governor George Wallace in Alabama during the desegregation of the South, the war in Viet Nam and the US - China ping pong tournaments, with Forrest often an unwitting participant, this film is an inspired bit of story-telling, veering from funny to endearing to heartbreaking repeatedly and effortlessly. Forrest begins life as a boy with a spinal problem who has to wear corrective braces on his legs to keep his posture straight. Forrest is not a smart boy - below what now would be termed 'dull normal' - but he has a mother who will let nothing stand in the way of his getting a normal school education anyway. The first day of school, on the bus, Forrest meets Jenny, who become his closest friend and lifelong love. Forrest tells much of the story in flashback to various people he meets while waiting for a bus. He tells them how one day, while being taunted by bullies for his intelligence and his physical ailment, Jenny tells his to "Run, Forrest, run!' - and he does! His personal power is in his legs, his single-minded determination to run fast and long. His running allows him a scholarship to University, where he, of course, tramples the opposing teams. And he tells about Jenny, and her father's love for her - how it made her hide out in the cornfield behind her home, and run away again and again until she is old enough to go off to college herself. Forrest is drafted, and somehow makes an excellent soldier (again, that singleminded determination of his). On the bus to boot camp Forrest meets Bubba, who wants to be a shrimping boat captain after the Army. They are sent to Viet Nam, where they meet Lieutenant Dan, whose main advice is for them to keep their feet clean and dry, and change their socks often. On patrol one day the company is attacked by VC, with only Forrest and Lieutenant Dan surviving. During hospitalization for their wounds Forrest discovers his calling to ping pong, and he becomes the United States champion, while Lieutenant Dan sinks deeper and deeper into anger, self-pity, and self-destructive behavior. Jenny follows the hippie/anti-war path, going from folk singer/stripper to street musician/panhandler, her life intersecting with Forrest's occasionally. As the '70s begin to take their toll with heavier drugs becoming a larger part of her life, Jenny still has the rock of her friend to cling to at her most desperate times.
The rest of the story Forrest tells at the bus stop is about Dan's salvation, the Bubba Gump shrimp explosion, and how he himself became a national inspiration as a 'running fool', criss-crossing the USA as a jogger. Forrest has been waiting for a bus to take him to see Jenny, who has asked him to visit her. When he discovers he has been sitting within quick jogging distance of Jenny he runs to her, beginning the final act of the film - Jenny's ultimate acceptance of Forrest's love, and the laughter and pain of living life. Some might compare "Forrest Gump" to Hal Ashby's brilliant satire "Being There", in which Peter Sellers played Chance the gardener, but that is unfair to both films: "Being There" is an outsider's look at American pop culture of the 1970s, constantly pointing out how silly and naive we are as a nation glued to our television sets; "Forrest Gump" is a Capra-esque populist fable at its heart, attributing nobility to the decency of the common 'man'. It is about how trends and fashions fade, but the spirit lingers, and how we must be true to the spirit, and not the spirit of the times; it is about the spiritual path of righteousness - not of zealousness, but of the pure redemptive quality of guilelessness, the basis of love. Tom Hanks ("Turner And Hooch", "Philadelphia", "Saving Private Ryan", Cast Away") is utterly brilliant as Forrest, with a heartbreaking meter and cadence to his speech; while a 'dull' innocent, with rather limited body language, Hanks also manages to convey very complex emotions beneath a face which expresses little - it is his eyes and inflections which bare his soul. Robin Wright (now Robin Wright Penn - "The Princess Bride", "State Of Grace") is equally superb as Jenny, the child of abuse who spends her life reliving her childhood to its tragic end. Sally Field ("The Flying Nun", "Norma Rae", "Places In The Heart") as Mrs. Gump is excellent (interestingly, a few years before she had played Hanks' love interest in "Punchline"), showing where Forrest got his 'gumption' and determination. Gary Sinise ("Apollo 13", "Of Mice And Men") gives a standout performance as Lieutenant Dan, who should have died (as his forebears did) in battle, but who is rescued by Forrest, to live out his life without his legs; Sinise has the power to display the anger and depression of a battle-scarred survivor, and the technical acting prowess to do it without use of his legs (through excellent camera trickery). Mykelti Williams ("Heat"), as Bubba, Forrest's Army buddy, spends almost all of his screen time talking about shrimp - how to fish them and how they can be prepared - yet manages to bring something to his role beyond what was on the page. Young Michael Conner Humphrey, playing Forrest as a child, was a true find - a non-professional child from Mississippi who spoke in his own dialect he provided Hanks with the stunning lilt needed to vocalize Forrest as he grows to 'maturity'. He is ably helped by Hanna R. Hall - who was recently in "The Virgin Suicides" - as the young Jenny, a girl wise and hurt beyond her years. Director Robert Zemeckis (whose first film, "Used Cars", is still a shrill unbearable show for me) has things on his mind in his films - from the "Back To The Future" series to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", "Death Becomes Her" and beyond, through "Contact" and "Cast Away", Zemeckis has matured into a consummate artist dealing with complex personal issues. Though Zemeckis' films are 'high concept' films, they go much deeper - and they leave a lasting impression; for weeks after I saw "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" at a preview (with the ILM folks who had provided the shadows for the cartoons) I chuckled at the concept alone - "Chinatown" with Toons and "Forrest Gump" brings a lump to my throat very time I think of it. While he is far from finished directing new films it would be inappropriate to say that "Forrest
Gump" is the zenith of his career; for almost any other director working these days that might be certainly be a worthy assessment, but both "Contact" and "Cast Away" prove he has considerably more on his mind, and the cinematic means to say it only time will tell if he tops "Forrest Gump". Eric Roth's brilliant screenplay, adaptated from Winston Grroom's novel, is the basis for this extraordinary film. Aided and abetted by Arthur Schmidt's editing, Don Burgess' photography, Rick Carter's production design, Joanna Johnston's costumes, Ellen Lewis' casting and Alan Silvestri's sweeping score, as well as the inventive and seamless visual effects from Industrial Light And Magic, "Forrest Gump" is truly unique and wondrous. Picture: An anamorphic THX-approved transfer in 2.35:1 is nearly perfect at replicating the theatrical presentation. There are a few minor imperfections in the elements used, such as dirt and the occasion scratch, but they are fleeting and hardly distracting - kind of like what you'd see at a theater after a couple of days of a new print being shown. Colors are superbly rendered, sharpness and contrast always right on the money, and the entire presentation allows for immersion in the material. Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 makes this film quite exciting on DVD. Mostly filled with ambient sound and the great score (underscoring the emotions) alternating with period songs (underscoring the geography and history), it comes alive most vividly during the battle scene in Viet Nam, and will give your system quite a workout. Zemeckis points out in his commentary how this was this first all-digital soundtrack he'd been able to get, and how he loved being able to make the sounds of chaotic combat as thrilling as they are replicated with this transfer. Dialogue is always clear and crisp, and subtle ambiance is as much a part of Randy Thom's sound design here as it was later in "Cast Away". Extras: Two commentary tracks are supplied on Disc One of this 2-disc set. First up are director Robert Zemeckis (recorded by himself), and producer Steve Starkey with production designer Rick Carter (recorded together). All three offer insight into the production process, with Zemeckis being a bit more technical (but certainly not going over the heads of commentary listeners). Starkey and Carter talk more about the logistics of such a large production, and the various contributions made (including Zemeckis' writing the "Shit Happens" and "Smiley-Face" scenes in the running sequence), and seem to have been recorded while watching the film; Zemeckis sounds like he is being interviewed and not watching the film, as his comments are never truly screen-specific, and he provides details of helming such a project, what drew him to it, and how he managed to pull it off without ever seeming as if he is the wunderkind of the whole show. The two separate commentaries together provide a rich understanding of the production, even though they are not wall-to-wall, and the gaps between comments grow longer as the film progresses. Producer Wendy Finerman has her own commentary track, as this was her baby from optioning the book to hiring writers to adapt it. Finerman adds to the other commentaries, but often has the same take on something - and there are enough gaps in her track that the two tracks with the four participants could have been combined nicely.
All the commentators express pride in their product, and all give credit to the enormous contributions of others - there is no sense of 'egocentrism' associated with their words, and in fact there is delight at seeing and crediting the wonderful work of the persons and departments involved. Disc Two begins with "Through The Eyes Of Forrest Gump", a 30 minute documentary made contemporary with the film's shoot and theatrical release. It is certainly more in-depth than the standard promotional featurette, and does a fine job of intriguing the viewer into seeing the film (perhaps a second time) while taking them through a good overview of the production. Under the Production menu, we find screen tests: 3 of Michael Conner Humphrey and Hanna R. Hall, 2 of Robin Wright, and 2 of Haley Joel Osment; it is Wright's 2nd test - the scene where Forrest meets his son - which is most illuminating, but because of Hanks: he had yet to find Forrest's voice, but he had ideas about reactions, and it is quite extraordinary to watch the genus of his performance opposite Wright in this test (though Wright acquits herself perfectly, with little difference other than accent between her test here and her final performance of the shot in the film). The short featurette "Building The World Of Gump" details Rick Carter's production design. It's a bit over 7 minutes long, and shows sketches for the Gump house, talks about location scouting, using the Watergate Hotel as a practical location, and designing and executing the anti-war signs and posters. "Seeing Is Believing" looks at 11 visual effects, including 2 which didn't make the film and are seen here for the first time by the consumer. Each segment is introduced by Ken Ralston, the VFX supervisor on the show. The 2 sequences which didn't make the film are unfinished, so production footage is offered - they would have been sequences with Forrest interacting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his march on Selma, and playing ping pong with US Ambassador to China George Bush. One of the segments has to do with how the VFX folks 'enhanced reality', like multiplying crowds, adding birds in flight, and mirroring a mountain range in a lake. The rest go into detail about how the effects were conceived, set up, shot and manipulated, with the final finished sequences in the film shown at the end of the segments. "Through The Ears Of Forrest Gump" focuses on Randy Thom's sound design. Five segments are presented, the most interesting of which is an 8 minute deconstruction of the beginning of the Viet Nam firefight sequence; the various elements of ADR, foley, machine guns, tracer bullets, explosions and such are played individually to show the complex layering of sound which gives you the verisimilitude of the sonic environment. "The Magic Of Makeup" is an 8 minute featurette hosted by make up artist Dan Striepeke, giving details on the work done on the major adult players, and the 'period' Washington Monument sequence crowd. The original theatrical trailer and the "Remember" theatrical trailer (which was shown when the film was playing everywhere, making a bundle, and Paramount wanted you to see it yet again) are presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 with Dolby 4.0 surround, and are in very good condition.
A small gallery of 25 or so stills ends Disc Two. Summary: If you don't cry at least once during this film you'd better go see a doctor - this is a film for the heart as well as the head, unabashedly sentimental yet rife with cynicism (notice how time passing is represented by television broadcasts of assassinations and attempted assassinations, and the reactions of those seeing the broadcasts), and it allows us freedom to experience grief in a way few films ever have. I suspect older audience members will feel the film most completely, as it will take them through their own journey of the turbulent times depicted while they watch the story presented here unfold, but there is plenty for almost all ages to appreciate and respond to (I first saw this film with an 18 year old young woman who was laughing appropriately, and extremely moved by its entirety, so I know this to be true). It's too bad the set doesn't include DVD production credits I could find, as this is one very well put together package. Paramount has put out an exemplary Special Edition of the truly special "Forrest Gump" - one worthy of the film, and worthy of our dollars to own this classic. This film is pure cinematic joy, and that's all I have to say about that.
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