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DVD Review: Into The Wild

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Written by El Puerquito Magnifico

Into The Wild, based on the book by Jon Krakauer, tells the true story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, and his journey of self-discovery. After graduating from Emory University in 1991 at the top of his class, McCandless donated his entire $24,000 life savings to charity, severed communication with his family, and hit the open road in an attempt to live as simply as possible, exchanging services for food and shelter. His ultimate goal was Alaska, to live in the manner of his heroes Jack London, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau: on his own, in communion with nature.

I read Jon Krakauer’s book last year, shortly before the movie was released. To say that it was a moving account would be putting it mildly. Krakauer, through interviews and tales of his own experiences in the wilderness, gives the reader a very complete picture of a young man searching for something modern society could not give him. Though I’m not much of an outdoorsman, I found a lot I could relate to in McCandless’ disillusionment, and the book became an instant favorite of mine. It’s the type of book that makes one very hesitant to see a filmed version of the story. It didn’t seem possible that a movie could hit the same notes, and have the emotional resonance that the book did. There simply would not be enough room for detail.

Who am I to doubt Sean Penn? The man was so in love with the book, he fought for ten years to finally secure the film rights before not only writing the screenplay, but directing as well. Penn is as talented behind the camera as he is in front of it, and with Into The Wild, he has delivered a masterpiece, doing justice to both Krakauer’s book and the real life of Chris McCandless. It’s as good of an adaptation as one could hope for.

The movie takes a slightly different approach than the book, going for a less documentary style, and a more linear storytelling technique. For those of you who haven’t read the book, that probably doesn’t matter much. For those of you who have, it’s pretty amazing how well this film manages to adapt the story, and how completely it gets into McCandless’ head to examine all of his motivations. Certain elements are embellished somewhat, but the focus of the book remains intact.

But you’re not reading this review for a book-to-film comparison, you want to know how the movie was, right? It’s amazing. The scenery in this film is absolutely breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Since this was the source of McCandless’ inspiration, a lot of attention is shown to the beauty of the natural world.

The same could be said about the actors. Emile Hirsch plays McCandless with such a gee-whiz naiveté that while you can’t help but like him, you also see a clear view of the lost little boy in his soul. If the real life Chris McCandless was this genuine, then it isn’t hard to figure out why this young man touched so many lives on his journey. William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Catherine Keener, and Vince Vaughn each play their parts to perfection. Hal Holbrook is just…wow. The story of the character he portrayed was one of my favorite parts of the book, and Holbrook did it a great service with his performance.

Of course, one cannot overlook Eddie Vedder’s contribution to the film. Hand-picked by Sean Penn to provide a few original songs, Vedder enriches the entire experience, whether he is singing an obviously McCandless-inspired song, or simply wailing and plucking strings on a guitar. There’s a very ethereal quality to his music which gives the film the same sort of feeling that one might have when looking back fondly on a particularly moving experience in their own life, melancholy and heart warming at the same time. The movie is top-notch all the way around.

In addition to the film, the DVD also features two short documentaries on the filmmaking experience. One focuses on the characters, the other on the film as a whole. Featuring interviews with the director, most of the actors, and even author Jon Krakauer, it’s well worth your time to watch them. The only thing missing from this 2-disc set was a copy of the book, which deserves a spot on everyone’s personal “to read” list just as the film deserves a spot on their “to watch” list.

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