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I came to appreciate Forrest Gump in a very roundabout manner. When it first came out, the comments I heard about it featured liberal helpings of words like “heartwarming,” “uplifting,” and “touching.” I’m not one to enjoy sticky-sweet, manipulative, tear-jerker movies, so I put it on my mental list of “movies to avoid seeing at all costs.” Then one day, on a dull eight-hour transatlantic flight with Forrest Gump being shown as the in-flight movie, I thought to myself, fine, I’ll start watching it and just go to sleep if it turns out to be terrible.

Forrest Gump: Collector's Edition
To make a long story short, I watched the movie in amazement, thinking “Is this the same movie I’d heard about?” Because while Forrest Gump is a feel-good movie, it’s also more than that, or it wouldn’t have had the staying power to win six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. While on one level Forrest Gump is a heartwarming “poor boy makes good” tale, it’s also a very funny and satiric look at the United States, its history, and culture. Director Roger Zemeckis certainly does use sentimental clichés in the process of telling his story, but he uses them with a wry awareness that they are clichés.

Forrest Gump is a movie that is completely and unreservedly character-based, with not much of a storyline. If asked “what is Forrest Gump about?”, I’d have to either go into a long-winded description of everything that happens in the movie, or give a much shorter and more accurate answer: “It’s about a man named Forrest Gump.” In a way the film could be described as a look at life in the United States over the past fifty years or so, but since we see everything through the perspective of Forrest himself as he experiences those years, this brings us right back to the movie being, in a nutshell, about Forrest Gump.

Tom Hanks’ Best Actor award for this film is richly deserved: he is the title character. With an amazing Alabama accent to top it off, Hanks brings the character of Forrest Gump to life and makes him believable. He’s the ultimate optimist, particularly when it comes to people: Forrest always sees the best side of everyone, which has the effect of actually bringing out the best in most of the people he meets, including the cantankerous Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise). The one relationship that never seems to work out quite right, though, is with his beloved Jenny (Robin Wright), who never exactly fits Forrest’s vision of her.

Of course, much of what makes Forrest Gump such an enjoyable trip is that Forrest’s life is far from ordinary. For one thing, Forrest manages to get involved in a number of important moments in U.S. history, including the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. With deft use of “movie magic,” he even becomes part of recorded history, in some cleverly-done historical segments. Some of the references here depend on the viewer being familiar with the political history of the U.S., and in fact I didn’t catch them all; but the scenes still work as scenes even if you don’t get all of the historical context.

Forrest Gump: Collector's Edition
As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, Forrest Gump also has a liberal helping of satire included in the mix, which provides the necessary humor and sharpness to prevent the story from becoming cloying. There’s no particular agenda or message to the satire in the film; it’s more like a gentle nudging to the viewer to appreciate the absurdity in many of the things we take for granted. College sports, military life, the pointlessness of war, athletes as diplomats, product endorsement, popular fads: they’re all presented through the eyes of Forrest Gump, a man whose lifelong innocence lets him point out wonderingly that the emperor has no clothes on.

Paramount’s edition of Forrest Gump presents the film in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer. As befits the generally cheerful tone of the movie, the colors are bright and vivid. Overall, it’s a good-quality image, but it looks to me that the print could have been cleaned up a bit more for this “collector’s edition” DVD; it’s not quite as sharp and clear as I’d expect.

There’s some good news and some bad news about the sound in Forrest Gump. The good news is that the audio quality is excellent, with nice, clear sound for dialogue and effects throughout the movie, not to mention some great music from each of the decades that Forrest lives through.

The bad news is that the rear channels are not used at all. Yes, the soundtrack is Dolby 5.1 (I double-checked on that), but in most scenes, it might as well be a simple stereo track. In the scenes with the most potential for amazing surround effects, such as the crowd scenes at the football stadium or the rainfall in Vietnam, I noticed that there’s not even a “general” surround sound as in Dolby 2.0 Surround; there’s just no sound being sent to the rear channels at all. As you can imagine, this makes for a much less auditorily immersive experience, in a movie with many scenes that would have benefited enormously from good use of surround.

The two-disc set of Forrest Gump is loaded with interesting special features. Disc one contains the film itself and two commentary tracks: one with Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey, and Rick Carter, and the other with Wendy Finerman. Disc two contains five featurettes on the making of the film, a small photo gallery, screen tests, and the theatrical trailers.

The featurettes offer a thorough and fascinating look at Forrest Gump. There’s a general documentary about the making of the film, a featurette on the makeup used in the film, one on production design, and one on the special visual effects used in the film. Each of these pieces features commentary by the crew responsible for that area, so we get a truly behind-the-scenes look at how the film was made. The featurettes are very well done; clips from the film are used sparingly, only to illustrate the subject being discussed, and there’s no overlap of topics among the different featurettes. The only thing I didn’t care for was the fact that several of the featurettes were made up of many separate segments that had to be selected and played individually; it would have been nice if they’d been worked into one whole piece. This is a minor quibble, however, given the high quality of the content.

Forrest Gump: Collector's Edition
I found Forrest Gump to be a very entertaining movie that lives up to multiple viewings. I’m a little disappointed in the DVD’s video and especially audio quality, but on the other hand I’m very pleased with the special features that are included. It’s worth getting to add to your collection, especially if you’ve already seen and enjoyed the film.