I'm sorry I never had the chance to see Into the Wild when it was originally released in theaters, because it probably would've been a nice experience to watch up on the big screen. Needless to say, it's still one of the best films from 2007, and one that was kind of overlooked once flicks like No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Juno hit the streets. Into the Wild isn't the kind of film you watch for set pieces, story points or character arcs -- it's an "experience" film; whether or not we like Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) as a person or believe in whatever it is he's trying to achieve, we're stuck with him -- forced to join him on this journey across the country.
And we feel for him; we feel for his friends, we feel for his family -- but we can't help but get sucked up in the beauty of life, of nature. I don't fully agree with James' review of this film when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, though I completely understand how McCandless, as a character and a person, might not be the most likable guy. He makes choices we don't understand, and while he may appear as if he's out to intentionally hurt the ones he loves -- all he's really hurting is himself. But McCandless never saw it that way. This is what he wanted. This is the road he chose to walk down. Based on the best-selling book by Jon Krakauer, and directed by Sean Penn, this is a story that's magnificent and heartbreaking all at once. Yet that's exactly the way McCandless lived his life, and I imagine it's the way he'll always be remembered.
While major kudos go out to Penn for a tremendous job behind the camera (of course, credit should also go to mother nature herself), Into the Wild boasts a damn solid supporting cast featuring tiny but memorable performances from folks like Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Brian Dierker (who's role in this film comes with a funny story, told during one of the DVD's special features), Jena Malone and, of course, Hal Holbrook (who was nominated for an Oscar for this part). Kristen Stewart also shows up as a young teenager with family issues and personal demons -- but when doesn't she play this character? Those not familiar with the actress will probably find her role quite charming as well. Myself? I just think the girl needs to explore other options.
Such a great movie deserves a great DVD, however you won't get that here. Unfortunately, I was pretty let down by the sparse features -- two of them, to be exact. Both are behind the scenes featurettes, with one focusing more on story and characters, while the other focuses on the making of the film. Honestly, both could've been combined for one long behind-the-scenes documentary, but instead, they split it up (in order to beef it up?). The sad part is that I'm talking about the two-disc collector's edition DVD -- a two-disc set that gives you no commentaries, no outakes, no deleted scenes, no alternate anything. Just two featurettes on the second disc. That's it. And I really wanted to hear from McCandless' family on one of those featurettes; they even go so far as to show his parents on set working with Penn, but I imagine neither agreed to appear on camera and talk about what went down.
It's unfortunate, because you really want to hear more from his family. After all, part of the reason McCandless decided to journey off was because of them, and the way they raised him. I wanted to hear from his real sister, who was also on set for a lot of the film (played by Jena Malone). It's one thing to toss out a two-disc collector's edition with two special features, but it's another to tease us with the real-life people who inspired the story ... then not interview them at all! Argh! I'm still pissed about that. Krakauer's a nut though, and I dug listening to him talk. All that being said, if you didn't catch Into the Wild when it first hit theaters, do pick it up and check it out now. It's a darn good film. Sad, yes. Emotionally draining, definitely. But good. Trust me.