“Run, Forrest, run!”
Forrest Gump is one of the most beloved films to be released in the past 25 years. The movie received critical love (to the tune of 6 Oscars, including the Academy Award for Best Picture) and commercial love (this was the highest-grossing film of 1994) upon its release. For better and worse, Gump can be seen as a reflection of its good-natured, dim-witted hero: it’s a classic example of heart triumphing over head. Time — and, specifically, the internet — hasn’t been nearly as kind to Gump as it has to several other films released the same year, but the movie endures thanks to some unforgettable sights, sounds, and a miraculous lead performance.
“My name is Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.”
It feels silly to lay out the plot of Forrest Gump for two reasons: 1.) If you haven’t seen Forrest Gump by now — or at least have some vague idea of what it’s about — I’m honestly curious to hear what you’ve been doing with your life since the mid-1990s. (Leave a comment below!) 2.) More importantly, relaying the plot of Forrest Gump out loud will make you sound like a crazy person.
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) sits on a park bench in Savannah, Georgia and recounts his incredible life to several strangers. As a boy (Michael Conner Humphreys), Forrest was deemed to have a below average IQ of 75. But with the support of his sweet, doting Mama (Sally Field) and buoyed by the love of best gal Jenny (Robin Wright), Forrest becomes a college football star, Vietnam War hero, ping pong champion, and billionaire businessman. I guess I should also mention the part where Forrest crosses paths with the likes of Elvis Presley, JFK, John Lennon while playing a surprising role in the Watergate scandal, among other historical events.
“Mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates … you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Forrest Gump is technically based on a 1986 Winston Groom novel, but it plays more like a movie version of Billy Joel’s 20th century-spanning “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The film’s action primarily takes place between 1956 (Forrest’s first day of school) and 1981 (when Forrest is sitting on that park bench). The story’s timeline allows director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Eric Roth to revisit one of the more tumultuous periods in U.S. history with innocent eyes.
The idea of boiling down such crucial, emotionally-charged events to the experiences of a simpleton feels like a bold, polarizing conceit today. In other words, it’s impossible to imagine Forrest Gump getting made — much less becoming a blockbuster — in the current “woke” era. The movie also feels outdated with how over-the-top sappy and obvious it is: Zemeckis never met an on-the-nose rock music cue he could resist. (We get Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” during Forrest’s three-year, cross-country jog.) On top of that, the film’s practice of inserting Forrest into archival footage with historical figures feels even more gimmicky now since the visual effects haven’t aged very well.
So why does this movie still work for me (and millions of other people)? Well, by taking the sorts of big, emotional swings that lead to eye-roll-worthy sequences — Forrest running for over three years straight will never not be stupid — Zemeckis and his team also created a series of powerful moments (Forrest’s leg braces falling away as a boy, the monstrous crowd at the Vietnam War rally in Washington, D.C., etc.) that are absolutely indelible. Alan Silvestri’s rousing score also provides a big assist.
Naturally, none of this works without the perfect person playing Forrest Gump. Earlier, I referred to Hanks’ work here as “miraculous”, and I realize that might sound like a bit much. But it’s simply impossible to imagine any other actor on the planet taking on this role and not being a complete embarrassment, much less succeeding wildly and becoming a catchphrase machine. Hanks’ Oscar-winning work here came before the idea of an actor playing a disabled person to try and snag trophies became a total punchline. The performance works because of Hanks’ unique combination of technical skill, star power, and innate likability.
Additionally, Forrest Gump served as a star-making vehicle for Gary Sinise, who was previously best known for his stage work in Chicago. As Lieutenant Dan, Sinise gets to play the salty, sarcastic audience stand-in who scoffs at but eventually succumbs to Forrest’s charms. The movie was also the first extended glimpse audiences got at Mykelti Williamson as Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue, Forrest’s kindred spirit throughout the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Wright was a perfect choice to play Forrest’s dream girl, and the role gave the actress a chance to dirty up her pristine Princess Bride image. Towards the end, we also get to see a very young (and very charming) Haley Joel Osment in one of his very first roles.
I’m not quite sure when the idea that Forrest Gump is a good movie became controversial, but I’m glad I had a reason to revisit it. The movie defies my usual nitpicky, critical instincts, but what can I say? When it comes to this movie, “I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.”
Forrest Gump is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate that reaches into the 70’s mbps. The fact that the original material here is film gives us a native 4K source that translates quite nicely on a UHD release. The film was known for some f/x that were groundbreaking at the time of its original release. With even this level of resolution I’m captivated by how well the insertion of Gump into archive footage remains. The lip-syncing issues of the historical figures stands out a bit here, but it’s still groundbreaking work. The HDR color reproduction stays true to an often less-saturated color palette. The vivid stuff remains in the Vietnam segment. Here the lush green of the jungles is outstanding. The explosions deliver an awesome red/orange explosion of rich colors with the support of fine contrast. This is also where textures stand out in the mud and rain. A comparison with the Blu-ray appears to show some brighter colors on the HD release, and one might tend to lean toward that delivery, but it’s not what was intended. You will experience the film the way it was created, which includes pale colors of Gump’s jacket and soft colors in the Alabama settings. Black levels aren’t the greatest. I wouldn’t call the blacks very deep or inky. Still there is rather nice shadow definition. Again the black levels are better in the Vietnam segment.
The Dolby Atmos presentation defaults to a comfortable 7.1 track. You never get anything very aggressive. Even the war scenes stay a bit lean on the surrounds. But you do get constant sub action that fills the firefights/explosions and adds depth to the dialog. The dialog is a huge part of this film, and it was never intended to be aggressive in the audio design. The treat is the iconic selection of songs from the various eras. While not usually as up-front as I might have liked, they add immeasurably to the overall experience. This film always had a rather good soundtrack CD, and you’ll get that kind of clarity here.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of the film:
All of the bonus material has been ported over from the film’s previous home video releases. Everything except the Archival Special Features is presented in HD.
(Bonus material available on the same disc as the feature film)
Commentary with director Robert Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey, and production designer Rick Carter: The trio recorded their bits separately, which eliminates any sort of conversational flow. However, the combination of Forrest Gump‘s long development process, the technical and thematic challenges it presented during production, and the movie’s impact after it was released means that Zemeckis, Starkey and Carter each had plenty to talk about.
Commentary with producer Wendy Finerman: Offers a more personal touch, since Finerman’s is the only voice we hear on this track. The producer talks about the impact Winston Groom’s novel had on her, while occasionally chiming in with some production detail. (She’s not shy about sitting silently while the film plays.)
Musical Signposts to History: There’s a brief Introduction (3:54) that includes some of the musicians — members of The Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, and more — featured in the film. Zemeckis also says he limited his selection to American acts because considering tunes from the British invasion would’ve been too overwhelming.
Afterwards, Rolling Stone rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres (31:23) pops up to offer some background on each of the soundtrack’s classic rock tunes. Features a Play-All option.
(Bonus material available on the Special Features disc)
Greenbow Diary: (25:59) Greenbow, Alabama might be fictional, but the Forrest Gump crew really went down to the American South to make this movie. This fly-on-the-wall visual diary takes us to South Carolina and Georgia to capture on-the-set action, including sequences set in Vietnam. Also includes extensive comments from Zemeckis, Hanks, and more.
The Art of Screenplay Adaptation: (26:58) Forrest Gump, which earned Eric Roth a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, famously takes very little from the novel on which it is based. This intriguing featurette outlines the movie’s development process, which included “Forrest Gump” author Winston Groom taking a crack at a draft that stuck closely to his own book and producer Wendy Finerman recalling that the project almost died following the success of Rain Man and its own savant hero. Despite the name of this featurette, Roth considers writing screenplays more of a craft than an art form.
Getting Past Impossible — Forrest Gump and the Visual Effects Revolution: (27:04) A close look at the painstaking process that led to the film’s groundbreaking-at-the-time visual effects. (Most notably, the process that allowed Zemeckis to insert Forrest into archival footage with some deceased icons) This featurette also doubles as a brief history of mega-successful effects house Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).
Little Forrest: (14:48) Focuses on actor Michael Conner Humphreys, the novice who played Forrest Gump as a boy. Hanks credits the young actor with literally helping him find Forrest’s voice.
An Evening with Forrest Gump: (55:08) Zemeckis, Hanks, Roth, and actor Gary Sinise join Elizabeth Daley of the USC School of Cinematic Arts for an extensive roundtable discussion. (This is a homecoming for USC alum Zemeckis.) The group discusses everything from adapting the novel, the story’s themes, the idea of Forrest as a “conservative hero,” and much more.
(Archival Special Features)
The Makeup of Forrest Gump: (8:03) Makeup artist Dan Striepeke — a long-time collaborator of Hanks’ — discusses his work on Gump, which included aging the character through several decades and trying to make Robin Wright look bad.
Through the Ears of Forrest Gump — Sound Design: Randy Thom breaks down the sound design for five scenes: “Bike” (2:29), which features Forrest’s leg braces falling away; “Crowds” (1:43) focuses on capturing sound for the college football sequences; “Vietnam” (7:59) allowed Thom to go out and record a wide variety of noises for the battle sequences; “Rain” (2:00) details how the film combined manufactured downpours and the real stuff; and “Ping Pong” (1:23) reveals all the table tennis sounds were recorded in post-production, with every single hit being recorded separately. There is no Play-All option.
Building the World of Gump — Production Design: (7:18) Rick Carter talks about traveling to Alabama early on, but settling in locales like Savannah, Georgia for the classical southern look he and Zemeckis were looking for. Interesting featurette on the work of a production designer and the role they play in creating a fictional world on screen from scratch.
Seeing is Believing — The Visual Effects of Forrest Gump: Oscar winner Ken Ralston discusses the creation of nine key sequences: Gump outrunning bullies in a truck during “Run, Forrest, Run” (2:02); a deleted meeting with “Martin Luther King Jr.” (3:05); blending live action and archival footage for “George Wallace” (2:22); the various aspects of creating the chaotic “Vietnam” (7:35) sequences in the American South; a deleted moment of Forrest playing “Ping Pong with George Bush” (1:26); “Lyndon B. Johnson” (2:24) created a different challenge since it required that the former president walk away from a mooning Forrest; “Enhancing Reality” (7:21) focuses on the CGI crowd in Washington, D.C. for the Vietnam rally; “Dick Cavett and John Lennon” (2:14) featured the real Cavett donning a wig to make himself look younger; and “Richard Nixon” (1:54) was deceptively tough since, in addition to morphing his mouth in the archival footage, Forrest’s name needed to be added to the plaque he was holding. Removing the overly goofy “MLK” scene — featuring Forrest playing fetch with a group of attack dogs set loose on the civil rights icon — was a major bullet that was dodged here. There is no Play-All option.
Screen Tests: There are three screen tests with Michael Conner Humphreys and Hanna R. Hall — Test #1 (1:08), Test #2 (0:39), Test #3 (0:42) — who played Young Forrest and Young Jenny; we also get to watch two screen tests with Robin Wright — Test #1 (1:48), Test #2 (2:09) — as Jenny, and Haley Joel Osment — Test #1 (1:08), Test #2 (1:38) as Forrest’s son. The second test scene with Osment is simply Hanks chatting with the little boy and trying to make him feel comfortable in front of a crew (in case there was any doubt that Hanks is the nicest guy in Hollywood).
Forrest Gump picked up Best Picture in an absolutely loaded year, which has contributed to the subsequent backlash against it. It’s certainly not as innovative or impactful as Pulp Fiction. The Shawshank Redemption did emotional drama even better and produced just as many indelible moments. Heck, I even ride for movies like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Robert Redford’s Quiz Show, and my favorite film of the entire year is probably The Lion King.
In other words, there’s absolutely nothing cool about Forrest Gump, and it’s certainly not cool to admit that you enjoy it. But, for all the reasons listed in this review, I do. I just do. “And that’s all I have to say about that.”
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani