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Comments about the soundtrack for Forrest Gump (Alan Silvestri)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
• Posted by: Todd China
• Date: Saturday, September 20, 2008, at 10:23 a.m.
• IP Address:

(The following donated review by Todd China was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in September, 2008)

Forrest Gump: (Alan Silvestri) Who can forget the magic and beauty of the main theme of Forrest Gump? Supported by a syncopated line based on an open fifth interval, the piano voices a lyrical, bittersweet melody. The melody bounces along, just as the feather bounces across the screen in the wind, before being taken up by the strings. According to Silvestri, the opening "feather theme" was written with surprising ease. Silvestri related the story of how he watched the opening reel of the film, rushed home to compose the main titles theme that night, and thought he'd "had it made." As it turned out, though, the theme, while perfect for the opening scene, did not fit in with any other scene in the film. The feather theme instead serves as a bookend for the score, in the same way that the feather functions in the film as a metaphor for the vicissitudes of life.

For the rest of the film, Silvestri wrote several themes for particular situations. The cue "You're No Different" underscores Forrest Gump's childhood and relationship with his mother. This theme has a simplistic and innocent character, and Silvestri would unfortunately revisit this idea when writing the score to Contact. "You Can't Sit Here" introduces a melancholy theme for Gump's relationship with Jenny, followed by an eight note "friendship" motif which underscores their childhood exploits as well as Gump's friendship with Lieutenant Dan ("That's My Boat"). "They're Sending Me to Vietnam" features a lovely chorale.

The most popular theme of Forrest Gump is the triplet-based action theme used to score Forrest Gump running. Whenever Gump runs--escaping from bullies ("Run Forrest Run"), playing as a running back for Alabama ("The Crimson Gump"), running across the country ("The Crusade")-- this rousing, bombastic theme is playing. In "Run Forrest Run" and "The Crusade," Silvestri opens the cue with a clarinet arpeggio and builds the mood with rising strings. Silvestri and Zemeckis showed an astute dramatic sense in the spotting process for "Run Forrest Run;" the moment the music starts is when the leg braces magically fall away from Forrest's legs as he experiences the joy and freedom of running for the first time. For "The Crimson Gump," Silvestri provides a brassy, marching band styled "rah-rah" version of the action theme.

Although entertaining, the action theme of Forrest Gump has several musical shortcomings. It was obviously inspired by the football action music from Jerry Goldsmith's Rudy, and it would take tin ears not to notice the thinly disguised similarities in melodic structure, chords, and rhythm. There are two melodic lines in Forrest Gump's action theme. The 'a' melody is from Rudy, but Silvestri does manage to come up with a fairly original and heroic 'b' melody. Unfortunately, the music never goes anywhere once the 'b' melodic line is stated. The orchestra simply fades out without any attempt to resolve the action theme. The lack of an appropriate ending to this theme, even in the end credits, leaves this listener unsatisfied and frustrated, almost with a sense that Silvestri had a great idea and didn't know how to follow through with it.

During the post-production process of the film, Zemeckis informed Silvestri, "I won't be needing what I usually need from you," meaning that Zemeckis would be scoring many of the film's scenes with classic American rock songs, in addition to Silvestri's music. The results for Silvestri's subsequent score were mixed. On the one hand, Silvestri came up with a lot of themes for the characters and situations. On the other hand, there is little variety in the way the themes are used, resulting in a score that resembles a library of generic, wallpaper cues that could be flexibly applied in a variety of situations. "Run Forrest Run" and "The Crusade" are interchangeable. So are "You Can't Sit Here" and "That's My Boat," as well as "I Had a Destiny" and "I Never Thanked You." This gives me the sense that Silvestri really had few dramatic points to hit. There are a few exceptions. The spotting of "Run Forrest Run" is excellent. "Washington Reunion" is a very stirring and emotional cue, but it was unused in the film. "Jenny's Grave" features a restatement of the friendship theme of "You Can't Sit Here," only this time it is performed at a low volume by the violins. This quieter, more subdued version of the theme is actually a little touching. It hints at sadness and loss.

For the most part, though, the lack of thematic development leaves me feeling that this score was intended more to enhance a mood rather than help to tell a story. Some of the most dramatic moments of the film are set against a backdrop of songs. It was appropriate for the film; the use of songs reinforced the film's historical setting. The emotional farewell between Forrest and Jenny in Washington, DC was accompanied by "Turn, Turn, Turn" by the Byrds. I just wonder, though, what would Silvestri have come up with for this scene, as well as other important dramatic scenes in the film? While not a masterpiece of film scoring, the score to Forrest Gump is a memorable, melodic effort that remains one of Silvestri's most enjoyable scores. ****

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