So this rich, smart guy gives up all his money and travels to the Alaskan wilderness, where he end up dying because he didn’t know what he was doing. Not exactly a pick me up story, is it? Interestingly enough, Into the Wild is a rather good story, although it is a bit on the depressing side, but it’s complemented by a haunting cinematographic beauty that makes up somewhat for the depression-inducing plot.
Intellectually, I have no sympathy for the explicit expression of the character’s ideals, yet the film’s cinematic vision does not work primarily on that level. Instead, it attempts to plug into the deeper spirit of what drove Chris to do what he did, to capture the drive that most humans can relate to: the desire for a simpler, more pure life outside the constraints and complications that modern life brings. Of course, most people would never go to the extremes that Chris did.
What ultimately makes the film work is that, at its heart, it’s an earnest endeavor. It’s not cynical, and it honestly tries to understand the motivation behind Chris’ actions and allow viewers to relate to his inspired wonder of the natural world. The result is Into The Wild being an often beautiful film, but never in a facile way. More often, it is painfully poignant knowing the ending to which you’re being drawn.
Paramount brings Into the Wild to Blu-ray with a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer framed at 2.40:1. To call this film visual poetry is not an exaggeration. While Penn’s precise direction and the actors’ consummate work help propel the story, the visual texture cements the overall feel of the film. There is very little to fault in the transfer. It has an appropriate but never obtrusive amount of grain, and I did not notice any forced digital processing of the image. It is definitely not realistically sharp, but a warm, film-like experience instead. While the movie is not razor sharp in every aspect, there is still abundant detail.
For some movies I have little or no interest in the related special features (or do not care if there are not any) and am content just to have the film. Others make me want to dig into the inspiration or production background. Into The Wild is such a film. Sadly, the extras do not do justice to either the making of the movie or the real-life events that inspired it. What we get are two short but serious featurettes and the trailer. This is a film that screams out for a commentary. Considering that Penn has done one previously and his devotion to bringing Chris’ story and Krakauer’s book to the screen, I do not know why one was not constructed for this release. A deeper look into the book, the movie and McCandless’ life along with supplements like maps and a timeline would have been very appreciated.
Into The Wild: The Story, The Characters (21:54) — This featurette delves into the real life events that inspired both the book and movie. Sean Penn discusses discovering the novel and how it took him over 10 years before the McCandless family gave him support to make the movie (he could have done it without their consent but refused). Jon Krakauer goes into some detail behind his writing of the book, and it is evident that both he and Pen are deeply moved by Chris’ story on a personal level. Fans of the film will find this a rewarding watch, but as previously stated this really does not delve deep enough or fully do the subject matter justice.
Into The Wild: The Experience (17:20) — This featurette goes into the making of the film. It looks like much of the footage was culled from the same source that the previous extra was with Emile Hirsch, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener along with producers, production designer, editor, costume designer, art director and the production sound editor all giving input. As with the previous featurette, this is totally worth watching. It is by no means a cheap promotional piece and fills its scant 17 minutes with interesting details. It is amazing to hear about Hirsch having to lose weight where he dropped from 156 to 115 lbs over an eight-month period. However, it leaves me wanting more.
Into The Wild took me totally by surprise. I went into it expecting some gorgeous visuals and while I got that, I also experienced a moving cinematic story. The visuals and audio are great, but the bonus features could (and should) have been so much more.
Amazon is running a great deal right now on Into the Wild on Blu-ray. Check it out if this movie sounds like it might interest you.
- Score: 8