February 22, 2010

Gump & Shawshank: The Scores That Didn't Score

Two movies I could watch over and over and over again are Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption. Since their shared year of release, 1994, the legacies of both films have been cemented in somewhat surprising ways. Gump is considered one of the most undeserving Oscar winners of all time, Tom Hanks' performance as the title character is still lampooned in pop culture, and it's unlikely anyone under the age of 20 understands the significance of the movie. The irony is that a film about the timelessness of U.S. history has itself dated tremendously since 1994.

Shawshank, meanwhile, helped usher in - along with Pulp Fiction - a new era of independent filmmaking in Hollywood. It was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, but walked away empty-handed. In the years since it has gained an intense following among primarily 25-40 year-old males, many of whom have helped it maintain its vice grip on the #1 spot in the IMDb Top 250 list for the past decade (eat it, Dark Knight and LOTR fanboys!).

Anyway, my point with this post is not to compare and contrast these two films that I love, but to consider a relatively stunning fact that is rarely discussed: the original scores from Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption are easily two of the best from 1990's, yet neither won the Academy Award in the category. The prize went to The Lion King, of all things, which blows my mind considering I can barely remember any of Hans Zimmer's music from that film. What I do remember are Elton John and Tim Rice's original songs, three of which received Oscar nominations and one of which ("Can You Feel the Love Tonight") took the prize. (That The Lion King, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank and Gump were all released in 1994 also offers that year as the arguably the best of the decade, but that's a discussion for another time.)

So considering how often Gump and Shawshank are still shown on cable, and considering how iconic their original scores were, and considering neither won an Oscar, all I'd like to do here is show them some love.

Forrest Gump - Original Music by Alan Silvestri

"Forrest Gump, while not intelligent, has accidentally been present at many historic moments, but his true love, Jenny, eludes him." Imagine being Alan Silvestri and receiving that synopsis on your first day on the job. How do you score an epic love story spanning decades while evoking the appropriate emotions for all of the triumphs, tragedies, humor and horror? His final product was an astonishing achievement, especially considering he had to match the quality of the pop songs on the two-disc soundtrack.

Forrest begins running:

Watching the feather fly away (Forrest Gump Suite):


The Shawshank Redemption - Original Music by Thomas Newman

This is a score that just takes you to entirely different place. It was an easy enough task in the context of the film, with the cinematography of Roger Deakins and the art direction of Peter Smith, but you can close your eyes right now listening to this and it doesn't take much to put you inside Shawshank State Prison - even without Red's narration.

"That's when you know it's for real..."

Life on the outside:

Salvation lies within:



  1. Love both scores. I've never been a big fan of either film. I think they're VERY overrated, especially SHAWSHANK, which has some weird "modern classic" status that I just don't get. I honestly prefer THE GREEN MILE.

    But the fact that Thomas Newman hasn't won an Oscar yet is just a travesty. He really should have been nominated and won in 1998 for what I think is his finest achievement, MEET JOE BLACK.

  2. Huh. I pegged Gump as being the only overrated one; never considered Shawshank would have its detractors as well. Ironic that Thomas Newman did the score for The Green Mile, too, and that it was based on a Stephen King novel, if I remember correctly. I actually haven't seen it since the theater, believe it or not.

    Newman is due, that's for sure, and he ought to be a little sore after last year. One brilliant score (WALL*E) was nominated but lost, while another (Revolutionary Road) wasn't even nominated. Troubling that nothing is on his credit list for 2010 right now, too.

  3. Daniel, thanks for assembling the music of these 2 much loved movies in one page.

    Well, you took a great decision there by not comparing the 2 movies, though it would have been fun if you had ;)

    I've watched Forest Gump innumerable times when I was in school, though quite tragically, none ever since I graduated from school. Nonetheless, memories from the movie are still quite fresh, and I guess its time I watched it again. As for Shawshank, I like it allright, though perhaps not as much as Forest Gump... ok, I got that out of me :)

    And as for Lion King, I watche it when I was a kid, and do not intend to watch it anytime soon.

    Great piece!

  4. Cheers, Shubhajit. I know you may not get the cable television channel AMC in India, but believe it or not they are having a "Week of Gump" this week - literally showing Forrest Gump nightly for a week straight. I've never even heard of a channel doing that. Anyway I hope the music here spurs you on to check out both of them again - give Shawshank another try!


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