Directed by Sean Penn
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 148 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French; 2.0 surround English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: March 4, 2008
Review Date: February 23, 2008
The harrowingly sad but ironically triumphant true story of a young man eager to experience the natural world gets a first-rate screen treatment in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. Exquisitely and almost simultaneously joyous and sobering, Into the Wild will haunt you for days after you watch it.
College graduate Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) decides to ditch the usual career and social paths for someone as intelligent and sought after as he is and instead destroys his identity to live free and untenured in the world at large. His two year journey takes him far from his dysfunctional parents (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden) and into adventures as far flung as wheat threshing in South Dakota, kayak rafting on the Mexican border, riding the rails, hitching through many states, and making friends at every stop along the way with his easy, open charm and natural inquisitiveness to learn about facets of life about which he knows nothing. His big goal is to tame the Alaskan wilderness, and though it seems risky, his plucky determination, his physical fitness, and his collection of books he carries with him on edible plants and surviving alone (along with novels from Jack London to Boris Pasternak) might just get him through.
Writer-director Sean Penn has chosen a non-linear approach to the material using flashbacks and flashforwards continually as we journey with Chris (who uses the pseudonym Alexander Supertramp in his travels) across America. It’s a beautifully written screenplay staying in one location at one set time just long enough to hook us (along with the friends Chris makes) before setting off on another adventure and meeting an entirely new set of characters.
Throughout, Emile Hirsch is a magnificent Chris McCandless. Losing forty-six pounds during the ordeals of the wilderness survival, Hirsch not only resembles the real McCandless but exerts such a magnetic presence that everyone seems naturally and realistically drawn to him. His exuberance is completely ingratiating and memorable. William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden couldn’t be a more ideally combative couple (as seen in flashbacks; their present day concern over their missing son is palpably real). Along the way, we’re treated to superb character cameos from the likes of Vince Vaughn as farm foreman Wayne Westerberger, Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker as a pair of aging hippies still living life on the road, Kristen Stewart as a girl who momentarily piques Chris’ interest, and Hal Holbrook as the lonely, needy Ron Franz who becomes so enamored of Chris that he wants to adopt him. Jena Malone as Chris’ sister Carine, left behind in the unhappy household, narrates a good portion of the story explaining what was going on at home while Chris was living his anonymous nomadic life.
Director Penn keeps things moving at a steady clip (the film’s 146 minutes whiz by), but his direction is sometimes a bit overly fussy and self-conscious, relying often on lots of cinema effects (split screens, zooms, wipes, slow motion and sped-up motion, spinning overhead shots, light filters) when simplicity might better suit the everyday characters and their stories. He trusts these terrific actors to do their jobs, however, and they deliver in spades. There isn’t a weak performance in the film.
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented here in a very nice anamorphic transfer. Color is well delineated with very accurate flesh tones. Sharpness is very good with the well crafted fine object detail. If there is any edge enhancement, it is minor and unobtrusive. Black levels range from good to merely fair with good shadow detail. The white snow banks of Alaska are bright but do not bloom. The film is divided into 17 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is well recorded, but it remains stubbornly front-centric. The few surround effects that come into play involve the rafting sequences and a later swollen Alaskan river with the surging waters providing effective surround opportunities and good use of the LFE channel. Music also wraps around the soundfield occasionally but not continually.
Disc one contains previews for the current or upcoming releases of The Kite Runner, Beowulf, Margot at the Wedding, and There Will Be Blood.
Surprisingly, even though there is a second disc of supplements, they’re rather light.
“Into the Wild: The Story, The Characters” is a 21 ¾-minute overview of the original nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer (who is interviewed for the featurette) and also features director Sean Penn and actors Emile Hirsch, Hal Holbrook, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, and Jena Malone talking about their participation in the movie. It’s in nonanamorphic letterbox.
“Into the Wild: The Experience” goes more into the eight month location filming process featuring interviews with the movie’s costume designer, art director, cinematographer, and song writer (Eddie Vedder who composes a couple of original tunes for the movie) about their contributions to the film. The 17-minute featurette is presented in nonanamorphic letterbox.
The original theatrical trailer is presented as a bonus feature, and it runs 2½ minutes in anamorphic widescreen.
A haunting and uniquely fascinating true story of a young man’s quest for natural simplicity in living gets a sterling cinematic treatment in Into the Wild. It’s a film I can most highly recommend.