Despite being adapted for film and directed by Sean Penn, the buzz around Into the Wild seemed relatively subdued prior to its theatrical release. The star, Emile Hirsch, hadn’t been in any big films so there were no big names aside from Penn to carry the film along. Even though it had a small theatrical debut with a release of only 660 theaters, Into the Wild managed to pound out near twenty million in the states alone, bringing in near forty-five thousand worldwide.
Based on the true life story of Christopher McCandless, Into the Wild follows his journey through life after he leaves college, donates his entire bank account (twenty-four thousand dollars) to charity and sets out to explore the world and live in the wilderness. Taking jobs only as he needs them, Chris eventually works his way to his destination of Alaska. Through his long journey he meets up with several individuals that would help shape the rest of his young life. Although he had a life of comfort and was even flirting with the notion of attending Harvard Law, Christopher opted to leave all of the money and his family behind to live amongst nature.
If anything, Into the Wild is one of the more emotional movies of the year I’ve seen. While it starts out slow and has you wondering what the entire film would be about (and how a film about a man living alone could be interesting for over two hours), you quickly become riveted with the events, even if they’re given to us at a leisurely pace. All of the characters that Christopher meets are clearly affecting his personality and outlook on life every step of the way; despite gaining help from them, he also helps out those who he meets with only his presence and the college education he received.
The most baffling thing about this story is that it is true. While I’m not sure what liberties Penn may have taken, it is really remarkable what Chris did after college. Simply bonding with nature and working his way to his destination of Alaska was a remarkable effort and really something that still amazes me even days after watching the film.
While the film started out sounding overly pretentious, with constant quotations from authors that Chris read and constantly pulled from to fit his everyday experiences, it quickly evaporated into a more general way of storytelling. I was hesitant to fully dedicate my attention to the film, because the dialogue that was coming at me was, while not over my head, overly intricate with a seeming bouquet of words that you had to smell individually to fully understand their meaning. That sentence I just wrote should give you some sort of idea of what it was like to watch the first half—it made sense (well I hope it did anyway), but it took some time to fully process the meaning of it all. I actually had to hold back a laugh as the dialogue reminded me completely of Sean Penn’s appearance on The Colbert Report, where he attempted to outwit Colbert with metaphors. A random thing to think of while watching this true story, but that’s what happens sometimes.
The film is largely laid back and despite some explicit language and nudity (of both sexes), the film is relatively tame in terms of content. It really is about Chris and his experiences in the wilderness; some of the scenery we see in the film could have been pulled straight from the Discovery Channel—it was so pristine and beautiful looking. I first watched this film on standard definition DVD, and it still looked absolutely gorgeous; the HD version of the film, however, simply stunned me even more and I didn’t hesitate tossing out my old disc in favor of this new edition.
There were only a few jarring elements in the film that kind of took the viewer out of the whole experience. A particular scene with Chris where he’s eating an apple seems utterly random and the resulting stare and head thrust into the camera seems more like an outtake by Emile Hirsch rather than something that was actually planned. Also awkward was the random appearance of a group of nudists; I suppose it was all part of some artistic flare Penn had going on, but it did cause my eyebrows to raise a little bit for each one.
Aside from the few quirks, the action and performances in the film are absolutely outstanding. While the eventual outcome of the film left the viewer feeling disappointed, that’s what happens when something is based on a true story. Chris’s complete lack of communication with his family, even his sister whom he obviously bonded so much with over their parents violent and disturbing bickering, was depressing to see and know that she would never again hear from him. It’s a sad story and one that obviously must have been very difficult for the McCandless’s to agree to allow Penn to do.
There’s a lot to be culled from Into the Wild and while it may move slow in some spots, the film is terribly interesting, if only from a character study standpoint. Combined with some truly great acting by the entire cast, a superb soundtrack headlined by Eddie Vedder and a remarkable amount of gorgeous scenery supplied by mother nature, it’s no wonder that even in its limited release that Into the Wild received the box office intake that it did. Highly Recommended.
Paramount is revisiting this great film on Blu-ray for the first time and has ported over the contents of the two-disc edition in full. The set itself arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with grey washed disc art and inserts for firmware notices and information on the $10 rebate you can get if you upgrade from the DVD to this edition. Menus for the set are simple and easy to navigate, although there isn’t a whole lot to navigate to, per say.
As mentioned in the film review, the transfer for this film is gorgeous. A VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer brings to life the vivid imagery that this film brings forth and you’ll be hard pressed to find something that looks this good that isn’t a product of the Discovery Channel. Unfortunately while the video is amazing, the surrounds for the film aren’t used too intensively, but there’s the occasional rear channel motion that shifts the viewers attention. It’s a solid transfer through and through, and one that will definitely amaze the viewer. The audio isn’t astonishing, but the soundtrack is clean and clear throughout and you couldn’t ask for more from a relatively quiet and dialogue driven film.
Moving onto the extras we have only two short bits on the second disc, none of which are in HD. First up is “The Story, The Characters” (21:52) which covers the history of the film and the characters in it. This is about as much of a historical documentary as we get for the film, which is weird; as moving as this film was and as long as Penn waited to make it, you’d think this extra would last a bit longer. The other extra, “The Experience” (17:18) details what it was like to make the film and Hirsch recounts the first day on set where he had to walk in snow up to his waist. A trailer (which is in HD) is provided as well.
And…that’s it. It’s a rather weak set and not one that’s gotten any better with the Blu-ray format. On top of that both extras are in 4:3 and we don’t get any deleted scenes, commentary by Penn on the film itself or anything. While the two extras are worth watching if you enjoyed the film, they were hardly worth picking put the two-disc edition of the original DVD, but since they come standard here it’s hard to fault them much.
Overall the Blu-ray release is certainly not any more impressive in the extras department than the original release, but the video upgrade may be worth it to some…plus the $10 mail-in-rebate would make the upgrade easier to swallow. The movie is a really great piece of film that will definitely stick with you and maybe leave you a bit teary eyed at the end. Don’t hesitate to pick this film up. Highly Recommended.
Into the Wild is now available on Blu-ray.