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I really can’t think of much to say about Forrest Gump that hasn’t been argued over the dining table or cubical wall for sixteen years now. I’m probably going to end up with angry replies no matter what I say, because few films in history have created such a lasting opinion schism. Usually the lovers and the haters eventually cool on the subject (hell, even The Phantom Menace debate has cooled), but Robert Zemeckis’ film still divides people almost violently. I’m pretty indifferent to the film these days, which will probably go over like a led balloon, as I’m not taking sides. Don’t worry, it gets worse. Just skip to the video section guys, because frankly, I don’t have much to say here you haven’t heard before.

Forrest Gump: Sapphire Series
Like most pop-culture phenomenon Gump was destined to create fanatics, and lead to oversaturation. Younger readers may not know or remember how massive the film was. Without dinosaurs, aliens, or bombastic special effects (save the Vietnam battle) the film managed to single handily rule over the 1994 yearly box office, and it eventually it took $677 million worldwide. According to Box Office Mojo Gump’s US take places it twenty-two of all time when inflation is taken into account. That’s five notches above The Dark Knight, and one notch below The Godfather. On top of this other markets were congested with Gump related self help books, television spoofs, and even theme restaurants. For some reason the Bubba Gump Shrimp here in Minnesota is still packed to the gills to this very day (I walked by it last week). Even those of us that enjoyed the film on first viewing started to hate it. The more lasting Gump haters often seem to be Pulp Fiction and/or Shawshank Redemption lovers that default to hating the film for winning the Best Picture Oscar. Though I appreciate what these films brought to the filmic landscape by recalling nearly dead motion picture styles, I don’t really like either one any more than Gump. I guess my vote for the year would go to Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, but that’s not really the point.

The general consensus on the anti- Gump side of the fence is hard to reject—the film is an oversimplification, and occasional outright dismissal of nuanced historical subjects, and the sweet-streak is a bit stomach turning. I don’t personally buy into the conservative agenda accusations thrown at the film upon release, because the people that made the film aren’t particularly right wing people on the record, but the Norman Rockwell on cough syrup tone, and general cheapening of some of the most important moments in US history are still particularly vexing. I’d almost prefer the film had a conservative agenda, because any political stance would’ve been preferable to the bland sideline take on some very divisive moments in American history. All things considered it’s probably the film’s structure that I really dislike the most. Narration is one thing, but the framing device of Forrest on the park bench physically telling the story is so aesthetically unnatural. I didn’t like it much more when screenwriter Eric Roth used it again on his uncannily similar Curious Case of Benjamin Button script. I suppose this is more an issue of personal taste than definitively bad filmmaking.

Forrest Gump: Sapphire Series
On the other hand, Gump features some wickedly comedic elements, even though it defaults to a somewhat nauseating Rockwell-esque tone, and the basic production is unabashedly grandiose. I’m particularly fond of most of director Robert Zemeckis’ movies, but his visual control and skills tear through the worst scripts in his repertoire. For Gump Zemeckis doesn’t draw attention to his constantly moving camera and subtle use of slow motion. Stylistically I’m reminded of Peter Jackson’s more subtle work (which brings me back to Heavenly Creatures, which Zemeckis clearly liked because he produced Jackson’s next film, The Frighteners). Zemeckis’ pacing isn’t too rough either, considering the breadth of the story, and the unnecessarily episodic nature of Roth’s script. The film’s technological achievements don’t hold up quite as well as those of the previous year’s Jurassic Park, but they have had a definite lasting effect on modern motion pictures, and have earned a place in cinematic history. The one element that seems to have aged well even among the film’s detractors is the overall acting quality, and I can’t argue with the general consensus. Watching the film again after years away begs the question—what the hell ever happened to Gary Sinise?

Forrest Gump: Sapphire Series

Video


Paramount started their Sapphire Series off with a definitively bad foot with their Gladiator transfer. The Braveheart disc that was released the same day was about as perfect as could be expected from the material, but the early bad news sullied the name. This latest release in the series isn’t spectacular enough to quite wash the bad taste out of videophile mouths, but it’s a worthwhile double dip for fans. Details are surely sharper than the DVD release. I now notice that Robin Wright is wearing flesh-coloured underwear in her singing scene, which was something I even missed in theaters. I was fourteen, I would’ve noticed. The depth of detail is lacking throughout the transfer, but often this appears to be a dramatic choice on cinematographer Don Burgess’ part (shallow focus is relatively common), and even when it’s a clear shortcoming of the source material this problem isn’t comparable to the grotesque, edge-enhancement burned shots on the Gladiator Blu-ray. The Vietnam sequences are full of pluses and minuses. The night shots feature a lot more detail than the DVD, and the blacks are much deeper, but the day shots, though lush with leafy greens, are some of the softest shots on the entire transfer, not to mention the dulling of those once impressive background effects. Colours are natural and well cut throughout the film, with a few nice primary pops set among the stylistically modest hues. The print is pretty clean, with omnipresent fine grain (more is added to the Gumpified stock footage), but very few noticeable bits of print damage, specifically during day scenes, and mostly consisting of black scratches or white flecks. Edge-enhancement is a slight problem, and I notice a slight flicker to the light throughout the transfer.

Forrest Gump: Sapphire Series

Audio


For this release Paramount swings the Sapphire Series back towards DTS-HD, after opting for Dolby TrueHD for their Braveheart release. This particular track isn’t quite the massive improvement over the DVD track some may have been anticipating, but it’s no pushover thanks its Oscar winning sound design and use of classic era music. Most of the soundscape is pretty unassuming, and most of the focus is placed on the dialogue, but the natural mix of elements is quite eloquent, and easy to overlook. The Vietnam sequences feature the bulk of the track’s reference level sound, thanks to a mix of incidental background noise during the narrative scenes, some abstract helicopter noise similar to that of Apocalypse Now, really powerful musical cues (‘All Along the Watchtower’ especially), lots of immersive rain effects, and of course, the central fire-fight, which features aggressive surround and directional bullet effects, and loud explosions pressed by booming bass. The storm at sea scene is another expressive bit of sound design that should cause some grinning among audiophiles. The incredible soundtrack, which may be the film’s most profoundly loveable element (though it is occasionally aimed too on-the-nose), is expertly infused within the mix, occasionally overtaking the entire track, and other times blended throughout the channels as if playing through off camera radios. It took me until this viewing of the film to realize that the film does away with the pop music as soon as the narration ends, which is another impressive little touch.

Extras


The special features start with the same commentary tracks that were featured on the original DVD release. The first track features director Robert Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey and production designer Rick Carter, and the second features producer Wendy Finerman solo. Finerman’s track is superfluous as all heck, despite her best efforts, but the first track is a pretty solid piece of work. It sounds like Zemeckis has been recorded separately from Starkey and Carter, but the track is well edited, filling the runtime without overwhelming with data. The tone is a little more self congratulatory than I’d prefer, but a wide array of subject matter is covered. The tracks are augmented by ‘Musical Signposts to History’, a series of HD featurettes that are branched to the film itself. The odd thing about the signposts is that during the cutaway descriptions don’t feature much music from the songs themselves. This is more than made up for by the fact that the disc’s producers managed to get brief interview footage with most of the surviving musicians.

Forrest Gump: Sapphire Series
Disc two begins with ‘Greenbow Diary’ (26:00, HD), a collection of behind the scenes footage mixed with on-set interviews. This stuff is pretty raw, but a solid sample of a few days in the life of production. I don’t quite recall the extras on the old DVD, but I think that some of this stuff was on the ‘Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump’ documentary, which is not available here. ‘The Art of Screenplay Adaption’ (27:00, HD), sort of speaks for itself—it’s an exploration of adapting a popular novel into a popular motion picture. As a glance into the movie making process this is an unexpectedly valuable bit of behind the scenes information. ‘Getting Past the Impossible: Forrest Gump and the Visual Effect Revolution’ (27:00, HD) is another featurette that is defined by its title, and another new addition made out of footage found on the previous DVD. The best moments come from the behind the scenes of totally unrelated films. ‘Little Forrest’ (15:00, HD) covers the casting of Young Forrest, and the actor’s impact on Hanks’ performance. The new stuff ends with ‘An Evening with Forrest Gump’ (55:00, HD) a roundtable shot at USC film school with Zemeckis, Hanks, Sinise, and Roth.

Disc two is finished off by a bunch of stuff already available on the DVD release, saved under the Archive Extras banner, including ‘The Make-Up of Forrest Gump’ (08:00, SD), ‘Through the Ears of Forrest Gump’ (five parts, SD)‘Building the World of Gump: Production Design’ (07:18, SD), ‘Seeing is Believing: The Visual Effects of Forrest Gump’ (nine parts, SD), screen tests, and trailers (in HD).

Forrest Gump: Sapphire Series

Overall


More than fifteen years after its initial release Forrest Gump still carries tons of baggage, both positive and negative, but it is a better film than I want to remember, being a bit of a curmudgeon. Negative Nellys won’t want to bother, but fans have plenty to be happy about with this release. The Sapphire Series banner might be sullied by the Gladiator disc, but the Braveheart disc looked great, and this one follows suit. It’s not a perfect transfer, but it is an improvement over the DVD, and the DTS-HD track is effective, if not a little unassuming. The collection isn’t overflowing with new extras, but the new stuff mixed with the included stuff from the DVD release is plenty to satiate your need for knowledge.


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