Monday, July 6, 2015

Nothing But the Best: "Forrest Gump" (1994)

Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump
Welcome to the series Nothing But the Best in which I chronicle all of the Academy Award Best Picture winners as they celebrate their anniversaries. Instead of going in chronological order, this series will be presented on each film's anniversary and will feature personal opinions as well as facts regarding its legacy and behind the scenes information. The goal is to create an in depth essay for each film while looking not only how the medium progressed, but how the film is integral to pop culture. In some cases, it will be easy. Others not so much. Without further ado, let's start the show.

Background Information

Forrest Gump
Release Date: July 6, 1994
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Written By: Winston Groom (Novel), Eric Roth (Screenplay)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise
Genre: Drama, Romance
Running Time: 142 minutes

Oscar Wins: 6
-Best Picture
-Best Director (Robert Zemeckis)
-Best Actor (Tom Hanks)
-Best Adapted Screenplay
-Best Film Editing
-Best Visual Effects

Oscar Nominations: 7
-Best Supporting Actor (Gary Sinise)
-Best Cinematography
-Best Original Score
-Best Art Direction-Set Direction
-Best Sound
-Best Sound Effects Editing
-Best Makeup

Other Best Picture Nominees

-Pulp Fiction
-Two Weddings and a Funeral
-The Shawshank Redemption
-Quiz Show

And the winner is...

In the annals of Oscars history, there are few years as appetizing in nominees as 1994. There was the Palme d'Or winning Pulp Fiction, which came to define a new and more stylish type of cinema. There was The Shawshank Redemption, which mixed prison stories with spirituality and meditation. However, there was one film that topped them all. It was a film that mixed history with cutting edge special effects and an iconic performance from Tom Hanks at his commercial peak. It was director Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump: a film about a man with a low I.Q. and a penchant for sneaking into various historical events. While the film's reputation has started to wane, it's impossible to ignore the immediate impact.

The film was based off of a novel by Winston Groom. For those concerned on the book's actual loyalty to source material, there isn't that much similar. Majority of the story was based off of the first 11 chapters and the concluding portion. Among the professions not referenced in the film, the character also became a wrestler, astronaut, and chess player. While Groom would receive 3% of the gross, there's still the sense of hostility towards the film that is present in his sequel novel called "Gump & Co." During the concluding portion, the fictional Gump meets Tom Hanks while doing press for Forrest Gump and the subsequent Academy Awards. It explored how the media ruined Gump's life. While there have been considerations for a film sequel, they haven't progressed with it claiming that the events of September 11, 2001 made the story irrelevant.

Then there's the actual film itself. With Zemeckis having an impressive career in technologically-advancing films, it seems bizarre that he wasn't the first selection for the project. Terry Gilliam and Barry Sonnenfield were each at one point attached. Groom also thought that John Goodman was the ideal Gump, but he was never considered. Among the names of stars who would try out, there was Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and John Travolta. For Sally, Demi Moore and Nicole Kidman tried out (Robin Wright would get the part). For Bubba Gump, David Alan Grier, Ice Cube, and Dave Chappelle tried out for the role. Chappelle passed on the role believing that the film would bomb. The role eventually went to Mykelti Williamson. The film would also serve as Haley Joel Osment's debut as the older Hanks' son. Also, Sally Field played Gump's mother despite being only 10 years older thank Hanks.

There were several groundbreaking techniques used in the film. To cover them all would take up too much time and are up to the reader to research on their own. However, the major source of conflict comes from the very first image of a feather flying through the sky. Was it C.G.I. or practical effects? It was actually an incorporation of both. There was an actual feather that was shot in front of a green screen that was later mixed with digital shots to make its seamless look. There's also curiosity as to what the feather symbolizes. Both Hanks and Field believe it to be in some way tied to fate and being forced into different places. The bench that it would land in front of was actually shot in Savannah, Georgia. There were several benches made for these scenes, but none of them remain at the location and are instead at a museum nearby.

Hanks' performance was influenced by his co-stars. Despite being a southern character, Hanks didn't want Gump to have an accent. However when the younger Gump, played by Michael Conner Humphreys, revealed that he had an accent, Hanks imitated it. Among the other slight nods to the character, his many transitions through time all had him wearing the same blue shirt. He also always kept his eyes closed in every still photo. In one of the more subtle nods, he is told to keep his eye on the ball when he begins playing ping-pong. In the subsequent scenes, he doesn't blink whenever playing the game. Also, his brother Jim Hanks did a lot of the running scenes as a body double. For those questioning this particular authenticity, Tom Hanks acknowledged that autistic people are known to run away from situations.

The reception was also astounding. It became the fastest film from Paramount to gross $100 million, $150 million, and $200 million marks as of 2008. Even then, the studio was reportedly $62 million in debt from promotional sales. The reviews were also very strong, praising Hanks' now iconic performance. It did however get lumped in with politics against Hanks' thoughts that it was a non-political story. It ended up appearing on several lists such as "Best 100 Conservative Movies of All Time" by National Review. It has since earned this reputation as well as being a film that panders to Baby Boomers, of which the film's subject matter mostly focuses on from Elvis Presley to Vietnam War to Watergate. It has also gotten some dismissive reviews from those upset that it beat "superior" films The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction at the Oscars.

Despite having been hosted by the notoriously panned David Letterman, that year's Oscars was the most watched since 1983. Forrest Gump ended up winning six awards total. Among the bigger controversies was the fact that in all of those instances, Groom was never mentioned. It was also a major night for Hanks, who became one of the few actors to win back-to-back Best Actor statues (previously for Philadelphia). It was also a film that referenced a previous Best Picture winner. During a scene, a character shouts "I'm walking here" as Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talking" plays. This is a direct reference to Midnight Cowboy.

The legacy of Forrest Gump has been a sort of odd one. Prior to Titanic, it was one of the most popular and lampooned Best Picture winners of the 90's. Gump's suit and haircut were very noticeable. "Weird Al" Yankovic wrote a parody song called "Gump." The aforementioned sequel novel served as the author's own frustrated critique with his creation's popularity. While it has yet to spawn a filmed sequel, the parodies ran rampant and phrases like "Life's like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get." have become some of the most recognized movie quotes from the decade. However, the notion that it is a very conservative film has caused many to consider it a sentimental and pandering film to a specific audience. While it isn't referenced as much anymore, it still remains hotly debated. It also received an IMAX rerelease in 2014 in honor of its 20th anniversary.

So whether or not this is the last time that we'll hear from Forrest Gump, it is an interesting footnote in Best Picture history. It was a film that crossed all major quadrants, appealing to those into history, quasi-comedies, drama, and cutting edge films. While Zemeckis would continue to play around with techniques as immediately as Contact, he wouldn't be able to top the success of this film. To an extent, Hanks hasn't either. He may continue to make largely appealing movies, but few characters have remained as synonymous and iconic to him as Forrest Gump. Whether or not the film is misconstrued, stripping it of its innocence, is up to the viewer. The controversies will remain. But for now, we'll always have this strange little film that put a new spin on history and captured our hearts for a brief moment in time.

1 comment:

  1. Man oh man, if The Lion King were nominated instead of Four Weddings & A Funeral, 1994 would've showcased a top 3 all-time great Best Picture category.

    Even I sort of grapple between Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption in terms of who should've won. In the end, I'd rather just be happy Forrest Gump claimed victory.