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Into the Wild (2007)
Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/4/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/24/2008
When Sebastian Junger wrote his non-fiction book The Perfect Storm he was only working with about 75% of the story. He knew about the men who took that ill-fated voyage, how their fishing trip began, the weather conditions which they entered, and how their journey ended. And yet, there is little information about what occurred on-board the ship, so Junger had to make assumptions. A similar task awaited author Jon Krakauer when he tackled the story of Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild. Now, writer/director Sean Penn has taken that challenge a step further by bringing Into the Wild to the screen.
Into the Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless. The film begins in 1990, as Chris (Emile Hirsch) graduates from Emory University. He is joined at the ceremony by his father, Walt (William Hurt), his mother, Billie (Marcia Gay Harden), and his sister, Carine (Jena Malone). They are all very proud of Chris and are overjoyed to hear that he's looking at law school. However, once they leave town, Chris destroys all of his identification cards, gives his life savings to charity, and heads West in his beat-up car. Chris begins going by the name "Alexander Supertramp" and once his car is lost, he begins to hitchhike cross-country. His goal is to eventually make it to Alaska. Along the way, he meets many interesting people who aid him on his journey. Meanwhile, his family has no idea where he is and they are very concerned. The movie intercuts Chris' journey with footage of him arriving in Alaska and heading off into the snowy wilderness on his own. He finds an abandoned bus which has been converted into a shelter (complete with a stove) and decides to live there. But, having "gone back to nature" will Chris' journey prove to be too much for him?
Into the Wild is a film which must be judged on two levels. The first is a purely aesthetic one. Sean Penn has obviously taken great pains to craft a very eloquent film which is faithful to McCandless' life. The movie was shot in most of the real locations which McCandless' visited, and features landscapes which go from the city, to the dessert, to wheat fields, and to a frozen tundra. The cinematography in the film is simply beautiful at times. We see Chris visit some amazing places, and the fact that Into the Wild was shot in the actual locations certainly lends an air of realism to the film. The editing of the film also enhances the story. According to the DVD extras, the script was written in a linear narrative, but Penn and editor Jay Lash Cassidy have divided the film into two storylines -- the story of how Chris got to Alaska and what he did one he arrived -- are intermingled, thus creating an interesting reaction in the viewer. We know that he'll achieve his goal, but we also assume that something important must happen when he's alone in the wilderness. Penn also gets some great performances out of his actors. Hirsch is probably best known to most as the goofy teenager in The Girl Next Door or the guy who will be playing Speed Racer. But, he gives a good performance here, especially considering the physical nature of the role. Not only does his body go transform, Hirsch does many stunts in the film as well, again, adding to the believability of the movie. Oscar nominated Hal Holbrook is very good as one of the kind souls who help Chris, as are Catherine Keener and non-actor Brian Dierker, who seems like a natural.
Few who have seen the film would argue with the above points. However, the amount to which one enjoys this film is going to depend completely on one's world view. Some will admire Chris' actions and really respond to his story. This is a boy who grew up in a family which was filled with shameful secrets and he often watched his parents fight. Having had an affluent childhood, Chris turned his back on all material things and was determined to live a truly natural life, free from all bonds of society. There will be audience members who have dreamed of getting away from it all, and will applaud Chris' decision to truly break away. However, some will take a different view. Chris' parents were millionaires and Chris had been given an enormous college fund. The film tells us that his parents fought, but we are never told that Chris was directly abused. One could assert that Chris was merely a spoiled kid who decided to take an "adventure" knowing that he could return to his charmed life at any point. Also, the fact that he never told any of his family members where he was going (not even his sister, who was basically his best friend), can be seen as cruel. These differing opinions will definitely influence how one views Chris' journey. But, the fact that the film will make you think and question how you see the story is a testament to the power of the movie. No matter one's opinion of Chris and his odyssey, there's no denying the heart-wrenching and disturbing nature of the film's final act.
Sean Penn seems to have an affinity for making films where characters are placed in desperate situations and faced with moral challenges. However, the challenges faced by the main character in Into the Wild may be the most intense that Penn has yet tackled. This true story features a subject which will potentially divide the audience and will, at the least, spark debate. Outside of that, this is a very well-made film which, due to its attention to detail, must be considered one of the most accurate biographies ever made.
Into the Wild goes off the beaten path to DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is a very good transfer, as the image is very sharp and clear. Most of Into the Wild takes place outside, often in extreme environments, such as the dessert or a snow-filled landscape. These shots show barely any grain, which demonstrates the clarity of the image. There are no defects from the source material. The colors look good, especially when placed against all white or all beige backgrounds. I didn't detect any notable video noise or artifacting here. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The score for the film sounds very good. The movie has several examples of excellent stereo and surround effects. We get some great surround from rushing water and from passing traffic when Chris is hitchhiking. I didn't note any significant examples of subwoofer activity.
The single-disc version of Into the Wild has no extras at all. The two-disc Special Edition release contains only three bonuses. "Into the Wild: The Story, The Characters" (22 minutes) definitely contains some good information. Author Jon Krakauer reveals how he came across the story of Chris McCandless and what drove him to write a book about it. Sean Penn discusses reading the novel and a decade-long pursuit of the film rights. From there, we get comments from the cast who discuss their characters and their experiences on the film. They also share their views on McCandless' life. "Into the Wild: The Experience" (17 minutes) focuses on the actual production of the film. Hirsch details what it was like to deal with the physicality of the role. We then learn about the creation of the bus location. There are discussions of the production design, the costumes, the editing, and the music. The last extra is the film's THEATRICAL TRAILER, which is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and 16 x 9. Hirsch mentions that he remembers seeing McCandless' story on 20/20. I wish that had been included on the DVD.
Paramount Home Entertainment brought Into the Wild to Blu-ray Disc on December 16, 2008. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material, save for the flashback scenes, where these have been added as a stylistic choice. Much of the film takes place outdoors, on scenic vistas and these shots show off the great deal of depth to the image here. The mountain ranges, rivers, and frozen tundras seem to go on forever. The colors are very good, and we get a real sense of the natural beauty encountered here. The image is nicely detailed, allowing us to make out all of the trees in the wide shots. The image is never too dark or bright. The Disc contains a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an excellent Dolby TrueHD track as it offers very good stereo effects which are nicely detailed, brining in the slightest sound from the wilderness. Simply check out the kayaking scene, and you'll get a sense of the powerful surround sound and bass effects on this track. The stereo separation is very good, and the track's ability to move sounds from the front to the rear and from side to side really enhances the viewing experience.
The Blu-ray Disc contains the same bonus features as the DVD.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long