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Sean Penn
Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Brian H. Dierker, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook
Writing Credits:
Sean Penn, Jon Krakauer (book)

Your great adventure on Alaska.

This is the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch). Freshly graduated from college with a promising future ahead, McCandless instead walked out of his privileged life and into the wild in search of adventure. What happened to him on the way transformed this young wanderer into an enduring symbol for countless people - a fearless risk-taker who wrestled with the precarious balance between man and nature.

Box Office:
$15 million.
Opening Weekend
$212.440 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$18.173 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 148 min.
Price: $35.98
Release Date: 3/4/2008

• “Into the Wild: The Story, The Characters” Featurette
• “Into the Wild: The Experience” Featurette
• Trailer
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Into The Wild: Special Collector's Edition (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 3, 2008)

Make no bones about it: no one will ever mistake me for some sort of outdoorsman. My idea of “roughing it” means staying at a Motel 6. Perhaps someday I’ll understand why people happily spend days sleeping in dirt and urinating on trees, but probably not.

I can say for certain that I will never comprehend why someone would engage on the kind of life-threatening journey depicted in 2007’s Into the Wild. Based on a true story, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) graduates from college in 1990. Rather than go to Harvard Law as his parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) expect, he sends his savings to Oxfam, destroys his credit cards and Social Security card and embarks on a lonely journey. He even rejects his own name and adopts the nom de plume “Alexander Supertramp” as he cuts ties with civilization and sets off on solo trek north to Alaska.

Why does Chris do this? Primarily because he wants to completely reject society and be one with nature. As Chris follows his quest, his parents freak out and attempt to find him. The movie depicts Chris’ path as well as the folks he meets along the way and related events.

Perhaps this will betray my disdain for self-righteous poetry-spouting “rebels”, but I gotta admit I pretty strongly disliked Chris right off the bat. Not only does his quest seem dopey to me, but he comes across as such a brat with his unbending concept of society’s ills that he appears unsympathetic and downright annoying. Smug, condescending kids like Chris are a dime a dozen, though most don’t take their nascent beliefs to such extremes. He remains something of a hypocrite in my view, though, since the movie shows that he accepts and embraces societal conventions when they suit his needs.

I will admit that my take on him changes somewhat as the film progresses – though not entirely. On one hand, Wild manages to show the positive effect Chris’ free-spirited, irrepressible nature has on those with whom he comes into contact, but on the other, it demonstrates the harm his selfishness does. Indeed, the film’s first shot demonstrates the continued pain Chris’ departure causes his mother.

This continues in other ways. While we see how Chris opens up the lives of others and inspires them, his refusal to stick with any of them causes anguish. This comes out most clearly in the scenes with Hal Holbrook as Ron, a lonely old man. Chris gets Ron to break out of his isolated shell, but then when he departs, it looks like the resultant heartbreak might make things worse for Ron than before Chris’ arrival.

Don’t expect Wild to heavily embrace that side of things, though, as it doesn’t present a balanced picture. It focuses much more on the usual tale about a determined dreamer who did things his own way. I must acknowledge that some of these scenes work, as they helped diminish some of my dislike for Chris. I still thought he was selfish, but at least the film allowed me to see his side of things a little better.

And yet, Wild feels to me like something of a cinematic Rorschach, as I believe it’s open enough to interpretation for each viewer to view Chris in a different way. It would be easy to see Chris as the inspirational adventurer who went out on his own terms. It’s also be easy to think of Chris as a selfish brat who died alone and miserable due to his own stupidity and overconfidence. Neither interpretation – and any others you can conjure – exists as an absolute. Probably more people will embrace the former than the latter, but they’re both completely valid takes on the character.

Hirsch’s performance helps allow such disparate interpretations and brings a potentially one-dimensional role to life. It would’ve been easy for Hirsch to make Chris nothing more than a beatific inspirational character, but he doesn’t stop there. He shows Chris’ weaker side as well and allows us a broader view of his personality. Hirsch appears in almost every frame of the film, so it was his flick to win or lose. He shoulders the load capably.

Hirsch gets a lot of assistance from a stellar supporting cast as well. Catherine Keener stands out as an aging hippie who acts as a maternal figure for Chris, and Holbrook earned an Oscar nomination as Ron. It was probably unfair for the Academy to single out Holbrook among such a strong group of performances, though I think I can spotlight the moment that got him his nod: when he says goodbye to Chris. Holbrook delivers a very powerful piece of work in very limited time onscreen.

All of these factors help make Into the Wild a memorable experience. I find aspects of the film that I don’t much like, but they come more from my attitude toward the story itself than anything connected to the filmmaking. Sean Penn turns this fairly typical “beautiful dreamer” tale into something vivid and impactful.

Casting quirk: Jena Malone plays Chris’ sister here, while Kristen Stewart appears as a friend of his. Malone was cast as a young Jodie Foster in Contact, while Stewart showed up as Foster’s daughter in Panic Room.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus C+

Into the Wild appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film boasted a consistently strong transfer.

At all times, sharpness appeared positive. Very little softness crept into the presentation, as even in the widest shots, the image provided nice delineation and clarity. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement remained minimal. Outside of some stylistic grain, the movie stayed clean; no source flaws interfered with the picture.

With all its daylight shots out in nature, Wild featured a rich, natural palette. As with that grain, a few scenes went with some more stylized tones, but for the most part, the colors remained realistic and vivid. Blacks were dark and dense, and shadows looked clear and appropriately visible. I felt quite pleased with this excellent image.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Into the Wild, it also proved to be highly satisfying. With all its outdoor settings, the soundfield enjoyed quite a few chances to create a vivid landscape. These gave us a clear feeling for the various environments and melded together smoothly. The mix used the surrounds in an unobtrusive manner but in a way that accentuated the atmospheric elements. I thought the track worked really well for the story.

Audio quality was consistently good. Music appeared warm and vibrant, as the score and songs seemed well-reproduced. Speech came across as natural and distinctive, while effects were clean and accurate. Both music and effects showed very nice bass response, as the mix featured warm, tight lows. I really liked the soundtrack and found it to be surprisingly effective.

A few ads open DVD One. We get clips for There Will Be Blood, The Kite Runner, Margot at the Wedding and Beowulf.

Otherwise, all this set’s extras appear on DVD Two. In addition to the film’s trailer, we find two featurettes. Into the Wild: The Story, The Characters runs 21 minutes, 53 seconds as it combines shots from the set, movie clips and interviews. We find notes from writer/director Sean Penn, author Jon Krakauer, singer/musician Eddie Vedder, and actors Emile Hirsch, Hal Holbrook, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, and Kristen Stewart. We find out what attracted Penn to the project and how he brought the novel to the big screen. We also learn why Krakauer wrote his book as well as research, casting, performances and aspects of the characters, Penn’s style as a director, and some experiences during the shoot.

Though “Story” doesn’t run long enough to offer great depth, it provides a nice snapshot of a few different issues. We get a decent overview of the actors and the tale across this short show. I’d like more detail, honestly, but what we find informs.

Into the Wild: The Experience goes for 17 minutes, 19 seconds and features Penn, Hirsch, Holbrook, Vedder, Krakauer, producer Bill Pohlad, production designer Derek Hill, art director Domenic Silvestri, costume designer Mary Claire Hannan, production sound mixer Edward Tise, editor Jay Cassidy, producer Art Linson, and actor Catherine Keener. This piece looks at locations and related complications along with Penn’s work during the shoot, physical challenges for Hirsch, visual design, cinematography, and a few other production specifics. “Experience” acts as a good complement to “Story”. It throws out a mix of useful thoughts about the different technical aspects of the flick and entertains as it does so.

By the way, if you wonder why Paramount packaged Wild as a two-disc set when it only includes about 40 minutes of extras, I’d guess this was a bit rate decision. Since the movie lasts almost two and a half hours, the extras would’ve made DVD One awfully crowded, so it’s likely a good thing they put them on a separate disc.

Due to my feelings about its lead character, I maintain some ambivalence toward aspects of Into the Wild, particularly in the way it moderately advances the idiotic notion that someone who craps in the woods is more alive than the rest of us. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to like here, especially since Sean Penn manages to bring a moral ambiguity to the tale that leaves it much more open for interpretation than I’d anticipated.

The DVD comes with excellent picture and audio, but it skimps on extras. That’s a disappointment, as I’m sure there’s much more to tell about this flick and its story; I particularly would’ve appreciated a documentary look at the lead character. Still, the DVD presents the movie itself well, and it’s enough of a quality flick to earn my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.8888 Stars Number of Votes: 18
3 3:
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