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Into the Wild Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 December 2008
ImageIn 1993, Jon Krakauer wrote an article, called "Death of an Innocent" for a popular magazine, "Outside."  Jon then spent three years doing research for a full-length book on the topic.  The book, "Into the Wild" was published in 1996.  In 2007, Sean Penn adapted the book into a screenplay and subsequently directed a movie of the same title.

"Into the Wild" is the story of Christopher McCandless, a college graduate that lives a life of comfort.  However, he is determined to live his own life, free of the rules of society – and his parents.  After graduation, Christopher donates his life savings to charity and takes off in an old beat up car to parts unknown.  His sister and parents have no idea where he is, or what has become of him.

Christopher journeys from Virginia over to Arizona, in hopes of reaching Alaska.  He ditches his car and remaining possessions in Arizona and begins his travels on foot.  Along the way he meets several interesting people that shape his life.  HE remains free to make his own choices.  All of his choices ultimately stem from having parents that argued quite often and were abusive in one way or another.  Most kids out there live through this, but hardly any take off without a word and live life in the country.

Sean Penn has done a wonderful job of adapting the book into a screenplay.  All the thematic elements are present, and most all of the book is covered in the two and one half hour film.  However, the directing is lacking a bit.  Many of the shots are haphazardly put together.  In some cases this is intentional. However, it stops working after a while.  Many other choices in cinematography are intentional and easy to interpret.  For example, the city sequences consist of virtually all close-ups and extreme close-ups to convey McCandless' feeling of suffocation and claustrophobia.  The country sequences are full of much wider shots to convey a sense of openness. The story is brilliant, and of course is based on the real life of Christopher McCandless, also known as Alexander Supertramp.  Using family and friends interviews and the book, Penn is able to successfully convey the tragedy that befalls McCandless.  The only thing that keeps me from giving the film a higher rating, is some of the cinematography and the fact that the story is utterly depressing in the end.

There is one part of the movie that doesn't fit with the rest.  When McCandless finds that the river is much too wide to cross back into civilization, he immediately gives up and returns to the Alaskan wild.  This sequence did not convey the extremity of the situation.  The book does a much better job describing the situation.  Either way, I can't believe anyone would just give up. There had to have been some place in which crossing the river was plausible.

In addition to great screenplay, the acting is superb.  Emile Hirsch is brilliant as Christopher McCandless.  He embodies the soul the real McCandless, and makes the audience believe in his journey.  Jena Malone has a brief role as McCandless' sister, Carine.  However, her narration is very powerful.  Kristen Stewart does a great job as Tracy, the girl with a crush in Slab City.  She brings a complexity to the part simply with her look, let alone her actions.  Unfortunately, the film is plagued with Vince Vaughn.  I had just completed the "Dodgeball" and "Old School" reviews when I sat down for this film.  And low and behold, Vince Vaughn's name appears in the opening credits.  It darn near ruined the entire movie for me.  I am not joking when I say that Vaughn is exactly the same in every movie he's been in.  This film is no exception.  I really doubt, at this point in time, that he has any acting abilities.

Eddie Vedder does a marvelous job with the original music for the film.  His raw music enhances the depth of the screenplay and supports the acting of Emile Hirsch.  You can read K L Poore's review the soundtrack here.

The video quality is great for the most part.  Paramount gives us a 1080p/VC-1 encode.  It seems that Paramount has upped their bitrates, as this film reaches nearly 40 Mbps.  The style of the film is meant to portray real situations, and so the contrast is rather low, with the colors a bit muted.  Still, some of the scenery is beautifully colored.  The Alaskan scenes favor a push toward blue, while all the desert sequences push toward the oranges and yellows.  There is a fair amount of detail and texture in the foreground.  However, background objects suffer in terms of details.  For most of the film, the image has a natural softness to it.  Extreme close-ups however, do present incredible textures.  The black levels are strong for the most part.  They waver during some of the Alaskan scenes.  Shadow delineation is excellent.  There is some minor vertical banding during the beginning of the film.  There is also a bit of edge enhancement on the image.  If noticed early, it almost ruins the film.  A good transfer overall.

The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  The audio presentation is fairly weak, not inherently due to the transfer, more for the original sound design.  The mix is largely front-heavy.  The surround channels disappear for much of the film.  Occasionally, there are some discrete effects in the rears.  Mainly however, when the surrounds are engaged, they are slightly filled with ambience and music bleeding.  There is not much in the way of dynamics, but the dialogue is always clear and audible.  I would have liked to hear more discrete activity in each of the channels.  The LFE channel is hit or miss, much like the surround channels.  The music however, does have a strong presence and a clarity in the balance of instruments and vocals.

There is not much in the way of bonus materials on this disc.  However, what is present is fairly powerful.  This is one film that I would have definitely loved to hear an audio commentary by Sean Penn.  First, the featurette, "'Into the Wild:' The Story, The Characters" covers the background of the story and how it was developed.  "'Into the Wild:' The Experience" is a behind the scenes of the filming of the movie.  Lastly there is a theatrical trailer in high definition.

This is a powerful film, and thoroughly enjoyable.  I wish it had ended differently, but you can't change real life.  It is truly sad, but I am glad that the story was told and told well.  The video quality is above average, while the audio suffers from front-heavy mix.  You definitely need to see this Blu-ray disc.

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