I could probably fare decently in the wild, as I certainly have enough camping experience and have picked up a few tips along the way. However, there is a large difference between "could" and "would" - as in, I could go spend days in the wild, but I would - if we're being honest here, and I think we are - instead Priceline myself a 4* hotel for a few days. Fortunately or unfortunately, I'm just too used to the comforts of home, or the pseudo-home of a Westin (or a Marriott, or maybe an Intercontinental?)
Based on the book by Jon Krakauer and directed by Sean Penn, "Into the Wild" stars Emile Hirsch as Christopher McCandless, a young man who essentially decided - after graduating college - to leave everything behind and head into the wilds of Alaska to live. He eventually comes across a bus that both looks like it would be best in a scrap heap and like an adequate home.
The movie flashes back at times to show what lead up to Chris deciding to head out into nature, starting with his graduation from Emory, while his parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) - whose relationship has seen difficult times - look on. His parents offer to assist in his potential attempt to get into Harvard, as well as a new car. However, as his sister, Carine (Jena Malone) - who also narrates - looks on, he tells his parents that he doesn't want a new car and gets upset that they are always about "things, things, things."
Shortly afterward, he headed out on the road, giving the remainder of his college fund to charity. After having to abandon his car, he hitchhikes the rest of the way, meeting up with a nice hippie couple (Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker) who share some insights with him and vice versa. Chris also has stops working for a grain farmer (Vince Vaughn), at a gypsy camp and with an older man (Hal Holbrook) who begins to view Chris as the son he never had. Meanwhile, his parents get word of the news that his car was likely intentionally abandoned - while they are initially comforted that he is okay, they also realize that his intent must clearly be not to be found.
The film eventually meets up with Chris on his final weeks, and - despite reaching his goal of living in the country - he appears to be aging twice as fast in his ideal environment. As the film goes on, Chris tightens his belt further and further, eventually needing to make new notches on his belt. After a mistaken bite of a plant that shouldn't have been eaten, Chris becomes weaker and weaker.
"Into the Wild" is a beautiful and powerful picture, with a magnificent performance from Hirsch, who hasn't impressed me this much in prior roles. The easygoing road movie aspect of part of the movie remains entertaining, as each of the meetings feels natural and organic, each a learning experience for both Chris and the ones he meets. Fine supporting performances from Malone, Hurt, Holbrook, Harden and Keener also add to the richness of the picture, as well - these are all subtle, nuanced performances that are quite memorable.
The film is visually gorgeous, with beautiful cinematography by Eric Gaultier and some absolutely stunning locations. Costume design, production design and other technical elements are all first-rate. The film's editing is wonderful, as the picture smoothly moves back-and-forth in time. Still, there are a few concerns, such as a narration that really doesn't add enough to the movie. While I was never bored by the film, the picture does admittedly feel loose and long, with nearly 150 minutes feeling a little more like three hours.
Overall, this is a poetic, mostly engaging film with excellent performances. Penn has handled the story wonderfully, not judging Chris - only presenting his story and allowing the audience to absorb this tale of a man who left everything he knew behind to persue what he believed was his dream.
VIDEO: "Into the Wild" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is terrific, with superb sharpness and detail. Fine details are often crisp and clearly visible, as well. The picture does have some minor instances of grain, but those are intentional. The picture is free of edge enhancement, pixelation and print flaws. Colors look natural and spot-on, with no smearing or other faults. Flesh tones also remained accurate, as well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't terribly active, but it is enjoyable, as the surrounds provide ambience and occasional sound effects, as well as some slight reinforcement of the score. The picture's audio is very naturalistic and convincingly puts the viewer out in these environments. Audio quality is fine, with crisp dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: The 2-DVD special edition contains no extras on the first DVD, and not a great deal on the second DVD. The second platter offers "The Story, The Characters" and "The Experience", as well as the trailer. The two featurettes run a total of around 38 minutes or so and do a reasonably good job giving an overview of the production and its difficulties (many locations, Hirsch's weight loss, etc.) We also learn more about how Penn became involved with the story, casting, working with the actors and the film's visual style, among other elements. These featurettes are nice, but they alone aren't worth paying the extra money for the 2-DVD Special Edition.
Final Thoughts: Overall, this is a poetic, mostly engaging film with excellent performances. Penn has handled the story wonderfully, not judging Chris - only presenting his story and allowing the audience to absorb this tale of a man who left everything he knew behind to persue what he believed was his dream. The DVD presentation offers great audio/video quality, but the extras on the 2-DVD edition are nice - but not worthwhile. Definitely recommended, but the single DVD edition is what I'd recommend..