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Review: Forrest Gump DVD

Reviewed by Ivana Redwine

Tagline: "The world will never be the same once you've seen it through the eyes of Forrest Gump."

Length: 142 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for drug content, some sensuality and war violence

On August 28, 2001, the popular fable-like 1994 film Forrest Gump was released for the first time on DVD. In its theatrical release, Forrest Gump won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Eric Roth). The new DVD release is a two-disc set that contains the movie in widescreen format, two commentary tracks, and a lot of special features of varying interest.

I hadn't seen Forrest Gump since it was new in the theaters, and while I enjoyed it more at home on DVD, I still have mixed feelings about this movie. I admire the craft of the film and admit it has some magical moments, but its pop sensibility and short attention span sometimes grate on my nerves a little. Nevertheless, I think the movie is worth seeing as a sort of a social history of the United States from the 1950s through 1982.

I think the most memorable thing about Forrest Gump is its depiction of the American scene as perceived by young adults in the 1960s and 1970s. The movie mainly follows a naive, Candide-like character named Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) from about ages 16 through 36 as he becomes a college football star, is a war hero in Vietnam, grows wealthy in the shrimping business, and becomes a celebrity as he jogs back and forth across the United States several times. While doing these things, Forrest meets three U.S. presidents, addresses a huge peace demonstration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., observes the 1972 burglary of Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate, inspires John Lennon's song "Imagine," and has an imprint of his visage turned into the ubiquitous smiley face image. These episodes are related with a mixture of humor and pathos and accompanied by snippets of pop songs of the era.

Counterbalancing the rather saccharine story of Forrest are the tragic stories of Jenny (Robin Wright) and Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise). While Forrest stays pretty much in the American mainstream, Jenny takes a prolonged tour of the counterculture, from being a free-spirited hippie to snorting cocaine in a 1970s disco. Lieutenant Dan has his legs blown off in the Vietnam War, leaving him with a bitterness that Forrest later helps him work through. But the film does manage to strike just the right note of poignancy when Lieutenant Dan comes to see Forrest and Jenny get married in 1981, apparently symbolizing the reconciliation of various segments of American society that had become estranged during the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s.

In addition to containing the movie itself, the Forrest Gump DVD Disc One contains two separate audio commentary tracks. The first features commentary by director Robert Zemeckis, production designer Rick Carter, and producer Steve Starkey. Both Zemeckis and Carter have quite a few interesting things to say about the film, but I don't see that Starkey adds much. The other audio track contains commentary by producer Wendy Finerman, and this seems to me to be a pretty unrewarding way to spend two-and-a-half hours. I'm beginning to believe that producer audio commentaries aren't such a good idea: The ones I've heard so far sound too much like sales pitches.

DVD Disc Two contains a documentary and five production featurettes, all of which are pretty good. I recommend watching the documentary, which is called "Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump," just to see how the actors simulate playing a world-class Ping-Pong match without a ball. The players get a sense of when they're supposed to be hitting the imaginary ball by listening to a metronome. The image of the Ping-Pong ball is digitally added to the picture later.

One of the production featurettes is called "Screen Tests," and I highly recommend Robin Wright's "Screen Test #1," where she does a scene as Jenny with Tom Hanks as Forrest. You might find it a little unsettling that Hanks doesn't play Forrest exactly the way he did later when the film was actually shot, but Wright's performance in this screen test stirs my emotions in a way that the movie itself seldom does. It's interesting that the scene done here has been changed so much in the final film that it's barely recognizable.

Another of the production featurettes is "Seeing Is Believing: The Visual Effects of Forrest Gump," and I found three of the eleven segments particularly interesting. The first is "Lt. Dan's Legs," where visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston shows how an audience is made to believe that actor Gary Sinise, who has normal legs, has only stumps when he is portraying Lieutenant Dan. The other two are "Martin Luther King, Jr.," where Forrest saves the famous clergyman from attack by vicious police dogs, and "Ping-Pong with George Bush," where Forrest is seen slamming a Ping-Pong ball into the crotch of the elder George Bush. The last two scenes mentioned didn't make it into the final cut of the film.

Selected Special DVD Features:

  • Commentary by Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey and Rick Carter
  • Two-Disc Set
  • "Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump" Documentary
  • "Seeing Is Believing" Eleven Visual Effects
  • "Building the World of Forrest Gump" Production Design
  • "Through the Ears of Forrest Gump" Sound Design
  • "The Magic of Makeup"
  • Photo Gallery
  • Screen Tests

Formats Available: The above information refers to the DVD; this film is also available on VHS.

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