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Into the Wild: 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD Review

Into the Wild movie poster Into the Wild

Theatrical Release: September 21, 2007 / Running Time: 148 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Sean Penn

Cast: Emile Hirsch (Chris McCandless), Marcia Gay Harden (Billie McCandless), William Hurt (Walt McCandless), Jena Malone (Carine McCandless), Brian Dierker (Rainey), Catherine Keener (Jan Burres), Vince Vaughn (Wayne Westerberg), Kristen Stewart (Tracy Tatro), Hal Holbrook (Ron Franz), Thure Lindhardt (Mads), Signe Egholm Olsen (Sonja), Jim Gallien (Jim Gallien)

Buy Into the Wild from Amazon.com: 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD Single-Disc DVD Blu-ray

By Aaron Wallace

I can think of little less inspiring than a modern day hippie in a cross-country crusade against civilization. Yet that questionable premise gives rise to last year's most haunting film, Into the Wild. The true story adapted from Jon Krakauer's book of the same name proves that even objectionable motivation can inspire enlightening adventure.

In 1990, Chris McCandless stepped off the stage as a graduate of Emory University and headed for the snow-laden woods of Alaska, anxious to retire from academia and enroll as a student of the wild.
Disillusioned by the misguided priorities of a career-obsessed culture and a suffocating family life, McCandless sought meaning in his existence by traipsing into isolation, where he would live as man once did before the age of microwaved convenience. Adopting "Alexander Supertramp" as his alter ego, he set out without money or company and only a destination in mind. The end result of that trek captured headlines in 1992 and has held a spot in the national memory since.

It's difficult to make an emotional investment in a character whose plight is at least as selfish as it is brave. The trumpeting of nature over civilization that defined the counter-culture movement of the 1960s was distant from the comparatively content 1990s and is even more remote today. Tempted though we have all been to up and leave it all behind at some point, reason has persuaded us that responsibilities must be minded and so it's difficult to applaud one who turned a blind eye to those same considerations at the expense of future potential and the heartache of loved ones.

Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch), alias Alexander Supertramp, beams at the natural wonder he sees. Snowy mountains and cotton clouds are witnessed by both the movie's protagonist and the viewer in this sweeping panoramic shot.

Yet there's something fundamentally relatable about Chris McCandless despite his reckless disregard for wisdom. Perhaps it's his youthful idealism, perhaps his willingness to take a stand against a play-it-safe world that we've all felt threaten our dreams at some time or another. Whatever it is, McCandless' Supertramp emerges as a vicarious hero notwithstanding his folly. The fusion of envy and schadenfreude makes the plight an intensely personal and direct one.

Along his way, McCandless encounters a parade of characters who paint a decidedly slanted but nevertheless fascinating depiction of the American landscape. There's the overaged flower children who've matured in the decades since their prime, the fun-loving and scantily clad vacationers, the underaged potential love interest, and perhaps most notable, the kind-hearted but lonely old man who sees Chris as one of his own. Each encounter begins a new chapter in McCandless' epic journey. As he learns from them, they learn from him. In turn, the audience finds itself not only in awe at the simultaneous insight and immaturity that the protagonist embodies, but also in contemplative reflection of its own.

Chiefly responsible for the fine line that the McCandless character aptly treads is Emilie Hirsch, whose arresting performance carves an indelible mark that digs deeper with each viewing. He's joined by a capable cast that includes William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, and even Vince Vaughn in a minor and somewhat lighthearted role. Making the most meaningful impression of the supporting characters, however, is Hal Holbrook, who clocks in for only a portion of the screenplay but demands at least a tear or two in his role as a kindly grandfather type which earned him a rightful Oscar nomination.

Chris' family -- sister Carine (Jena Malone), father Walt (William Hurt), and mother Billie (Marcia Gay Harden) -- are seen briefly in our rare detours from his rambles. Unshaven and unshowered, McCandless looks like your run-of-the-mill hobo while walking the sidewalks of Los Angeles.

A moving score and songs from the unexpected but fitting Eddie Vedder complement the likewise stirring screenplay, adapted by director Sean Penn. The A-list actor sits comfortably in the director's chair, though his over-reliance on a handheld camera that jostles excessively over each bump in the wild was distracting on the big screen and is still a little annoying in the home theater.
The film is clearly a project of passion for Penn, however, and his cinematic sensibilities are otherwise in check as beautiful scenery is captured in a series of stunning shots and a bond is forged between protagonist and viewer.

Into the Wild effectuates poignancy where such veritable sentiment seemed unlikely. So even when we roll our eyes at McCandless' defiant refusal of a new car as a graduation gift from his parents, we rise in applause at his fervor for life. The mix is a difficult one to achieve but the movie does it brilliantly. Inspirational to the last minute, it is one that you absolutely must see -- probably even own.

Earlier this month, Paramount brought the film to DVD in two different releases: a single-disc edition without any bonus material and a 2-Disc Collector's Edition that offers only meager supplementary content. The latter is profiled below.

Buy Into the Wild: 2-Disc Collector's Edition on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 4, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98 (Reduced from $35.98)
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 & DVD-5)
Black Keepcase
Also available in Single-Disc DVD and on HD DVD


The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. The picture is generally quite pleasing, occasionally erring on the side of too soft.
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The audio is available in both Dolby Surround 2.0 and full Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. The former leaves no complaints. The same is largely true for the Surround Sound track, which sometimes makes good use of supporting channels and bass but could often benefit from greater reinforcement of music and atmospheric effects in the surround channels. In both tracks, dialogue is crisp and clear, emanating from the front channels in the 5.1 track. For foreign language viewers, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also available, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Director Sean Penn tilts his head and furrows his brow while discussing the film in one of the two featurettes. Emile Hirsch shows off his Supertramp physique, which he lost 40 pounds to obtain for only brief viewing in the film. The phrase from which the title "Into the Wild" springs is seen in the main menu montage so nice Paramount used it twice.


Disc 1 is entirely void of special features. That wouldn't be too surprising if Disc 2 wasn't almost void of them as well. Alas, you find only three items there.
Whether that's some sort of homage to the slim pickings that Chris McCandless faced in the wild or just a bid for the "Most Unnecessary Second DVD" title, I'm not sure. At least the little bit that the studio has made available is worth the brief amount of time that it demands.

Disc 2 begins with "Into the Wild: The Story, The Characters" (21:50), a featurette that spends time with Sean Penn, Emilie Hirsch, and author John Krakauer as they reflect on the characters and the actors assigned to bringing them to life. Christopher McCandless is of course given the lion's share of discussion but the supporting cast and even minor characters who show up for only a scene are considered as well. Though short, the piece provides some insight on the lengthy development process and the casting decisions.

Those interviews continue in "Into the Wild: The Experience" (17:19), which recounts the production and mulls over the significance of Christopher McCandless' journey. Perhaps most notable is Hirsch's alarming weight loss for the role, which is chronicled in brief here.

Finally, the excellent theatrical trailer (2:32) is included as well.

With such room left for improvement, it seems somewhat likely that another release of the movie will be coming at some point in the future, though it is rather odd that the studio didn't make this a single-disc affair and wait around for a double-disc Special Edition later. I'm more inclined to believe it's just a marketing ploy and not an indication that this is Paramount's definitive release.

Several previews play automatically when Disc 1 is inserted: There Will Be Blood, The Kite Runner, Beowulf, and Margot at the Wedding. From the main menu, one can access "Previews", which is one reel of trailers that play VHS-style, tacking Things We Lost in the Fire and The Heartbreak Kid to the other four previews. Paramount tends to present their trailers this way; a menu with individually selectable previews would clearly be more user-friendly.

The 16x9 main menu sets an appropriate mood, with clips from the movie rotating against a white background while text from McCandless' journal is written on the screen. An Eddie Vedder composition accompanies the menu. Disc 2 repeats the same menu scheme. Submenus are still and silent.

The packaging is as barren as the discs themselves. The cover art is nice but largely recycles the theatrical poster while inside, each disc sits on its own side of the case with no insert of any kind.

Ron Franz shares some of his life experiences with Chris. Hal Holbrook's short but affecting performance made him the oldest male to receive an acting Oscar nomination. Chris smiles in a pose that is an eery recreation of one of the real McCandless' final photo.


It is often said that life is a journey, not a destination. Indeed, the drama inspired by the true story of Chris McCandless' quest is much more about the Into than it is the Wild. Excellent acting and a well-crafted screenplay make this film an unforgettable one. Ranking among 2007's best, it should have replaced Michael Clayton in the Oscars' Best Picture lineup.

Unfortunately, neither of Paramount's concurrent DVD releases satisfy in terms of supplements. The 2-Disc Collector's Edition offers only two featurettes and a trailer, leaving one to suspect a better edition for sometime in the future. The movie is still a rental at the very least and one to own at some point, even if the DVD releases disappoint.

Buy Into the Wild from Amazon.com: 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD / Single-Disc DVD / Blu-ray

Buy from Amazon.com

The Book: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer / The Soundtrack: Eddie Vedder: Into the Wild

Related Reviews:
New to DVD: In the Valley of Elah No Country for Old Men Across the Universe The Darjeeling Limited
Never Cry Wolf The Straight Story White Fang America's Heart & Soul
Recent Paramount DVDs: Things We Lost in the Fire Beowulf: Director's Cut Margot at the Wedding

The Cast of Into the Wild:
Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) The Hoax (Marcia Gay Harden) Tuck Everlasting (William Hurt)
Wall Street: 20th Anniversary Edition (Hal Holbrook) Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) G-Force (Zach Galifianakis)

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Reviewed March 18, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment, 2008 Paramount Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.