Into the Wild Review
When Into the Wild was released for R1 DVD back in March of this year, I wrote a fairly lengthy review here at DVD Times. After watching the film again a few months later and reading over the review afterwards, my opinions are basically the same. I found myself preparing for the final scenes with an impending sense of doom. The character of Chris McCandless and Emile Hirsch's performance are steeped heavily with reckless confidence. It almost makes repeat viewings more difficult, knowing not just the fate of McCandless but exactly how it all comes to be in the film.
I was especially struck this time by Jena Malone's low-key, but essential narration as McCandless' sister and how emotionally grounded it keeps the movie. As I said previously, there's a sense of this being almost a fairy tale regardless of its basis in truth, and having that narration reminds the audience of what McCandless left behind, no matter how tenuous the situation at home may have been. It also, along with the grainy home movies, makes it difficult to forget that our protagonist had an enormous amount of financial freedom when he set out for Alaska unannounced. It's not that I doubt that those of privileged backgrounds have inner turmoil, but they certainly have a wider range of choices for escape than the average person. Perhaps unintentionally, but Into the Wild thus is a film that concerns economic class and the associated luxuries, even journeying to Alaska with no money, that come with a more comfortable existence throughout one's formative years. In short, Chris McCandless could only have made the journey he did because of the ideas that go along with not knowing financial struggles.
His idea of happiness seemed dependent on having nothing, but that little light bulb was borne out of having, or at least having available, everything. Not begrudging him that, certainly, and I find his story and Penn's film entirely compelling despite those nagging dissents. Like Vince Vaughn's character Wayne says in the movie, though, he seems to have been making a mistake by getting preoccupied with things that most people, out of necessity, are forced to set aside in favour of living and working and simply existing. It's to Penn's credit that he doesn't fall head over heels for McCandless' often naive plan, and part of the film's accomplishment is in allowing the character to be romanticised by the viewer while still not completely forcing a perspective onto everyone.
Into the Wild is quite easy to respond strongly to and only some of that is because of McCandless' story. This is a highly impressive and affecting film, certainly one of 2007's best, and Penn's treatment of the material is downright masterful. He basically gets everything right, from locations and cinematography to structure and the entirely brilliant use of Eddie Vedder's songs. The filmmaking so often feels alive and exuberant, like the version we see of McCandless for much of the picture. It may not necessarily reward repeated viewings, but I personally found it to be nearly as enthralling and devastating the second time around as the first.
Into the Wild was, I believe, Paramount's last HD-DVD in the U.S. market. That release had all of the same extra features as the two-disc DVD, as well as the same, somewhat inferior cover art. The film now hits Blu-ray with identical bonus material, but the more appropriate and attractive cover art used for the one-disc DVD.
Maintaining a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this looks really quite good. As with the DVD, I'm slightly surprised that the detail doesn't doesn't totally knock me out, but everything still comes across with extreme clarity. It's nearly stunning. The water and trees look as brilliant as expected. The few darker scenes that seem to use the light of an outdoor fire are equally impressive. No artifacts or muddiness at all. The blacks in these scenes are as deep as one could hope for. I didn't see the HD-DVD, but this Blu-ray image is, as it should be, a marked improvement over the DVD transfer.
Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are available in English, and Spanish and French dubs. A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track has also been included for the Blu-ray. As expected, the latter provides a very full sound and lets Eddie Vedder's songs and the remaining score completely envelop the home viewer. Nature sounds also manage to really set the mood of the film. The English DD 5.1 track is quite good in its own right for those unable to utilise the TrueHD option. Subtitles are provided in English and English for the hearing impaired, plus French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Remember those inadequate special features from the two-disc Collector's Edition? They're here on the Blu-ray and they haven't been improved any. Worse still is that the two featurettes are in standard definition and letterboxed so you get black bars on all four sides. "Into the Wild: The Story, the Characters" (21:53) is standard stuff with Penn, Jon Krakauer and others being interviewed. "Into the Wild: The Experience" (17:19) is an even more basic behind-the-scenes type of deal. The only bright side to these extras is that the theatrical trailer (2:32) has been included in HD. Better than nothing, I guess.