DVD of the Week: 'Into the Wild'

From Stacie Hougland: New out this week is Sean Penn’s homage to nature and nature boy Chris McCandless, Into the Wild (2.5 of 4 DVD stars), in both one-disc and collector’s 2-disc editions (presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1). It’s a fascinating, poignant, and often frustrating true story about a disenfranchised young man (played by Emile Hirsch) who graduates from college, donates his life savings to charity, leaves his privileged family without notice, and sets out in a beat-up Datsun for the Alaskan wilderness. Sadly, it’s a one-way journey.


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He's no couch potato.

Along the way Chris meets an assortment of characters: a couple of troubled hippies (Catherine Keener—outstanding as always—and Brian Dierker), a grain farmer (Vince Vaughn), a lonely military retiree (Hal Holbrook). Jena Malone (Chris’s sister Carine) narrates the film, chronicling the sibs’ disappointment in their parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden), who abuse each other physically and emotionally while maintaining a crack-free façade of nuclear family happiness.

I haven’t seen a movie that left me as torn as this one in a long time. I expected to sympathize with Chris, but ultimately he’s a spoiled rich kid running away from his parents and responsibility under the guise of discovering “truth” in nature. Admirably adventurous, incredibly naïve and more than a little stupid, he kayaks his way from the Colorado River to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez without a helmet, burns his last few dollars and wanders into the forest alone with little food and equipment. Malone’s heavy-handed, literary quote-laden narration annoys. And go ahead, boo me, but I don’t see all the fuss about Holbrook’s few scenes. Maybe it was the Oscar buildup, but he didn’t do it for me.

On the other hand, the story itself is fascinating, especially when you realize this young kid actually had the cojones to do all this stuff. The film is visually stunning, and “the Wild” is almost as much a character as Chris is—gorgeous, sweeping shots of Alaskan vistas, running herds of caribou and wild horses, desert flatlands and crashing seashores, all captured in stunning color and detail. Eddie Vedder's haunting songs make beautiful magic over the scenery. These elements will keep you engaged through the 148-minute runtime. Almost three hours gives Sean Penn plenty of time for missteps in direction, but he wholly captures the essence of Chris’s misguided idealism.

Extras: Not many. In fact, the single-disc version has no extras. The 2-disc version has the trailer and three 40-minute featurettes, "The Story, The Characters" and "The Experience," which give a look at the film’s production challenges, casting, visuals, and the story. Surprisingly, no interviews with the McCandless family.

Overview: Though it’s overlong and frequently pretentious, a compelling story and first-rate performances set against a visually amazing backdrop make this DVD well worth a look.
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