A movie like Into the Wild -- a really haunting, beautiful film that took a lot of time and effort to make and that's based on a true story -- is the type of film you would expect to be released in a big, collector's DVD package with more extras than you could ever get through. That's why I was so excited to find out it was being released in a two-disc collector's edition.
Well, let me spare you the heartache. There are two discs, sure, but I have no idea why. There are three special features on the disc; only two if you don't count the trailer (which is a good trailer, but trailers really shouldn't be considered special features at this point; they should automatically be part of any DVD release).
Luckily, the two featurettes here make up in quality and content what they lack in quantity.
First up is the 20-minute documentary Into the Wild: The Story, The Characters, which takes us from the moment Sean Penn read the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer to the making of the film.
Penn says he more ore less judged the book by its cover (but in a good way), bought it, took it home and read it cover to cover that night, and spent the next 10 years trying to get the rights to turn it into a film. Obviously, he did, and the rest is history.
We also get Krakauer's reflections on how this story came to him, and how he eventually became obsessed with Chris McCandless (the main character in the book and film), and had to tell his story and explain him, to also in a way explain himself.
The doc goes on to talk about virtually every character in the movie, all the way down to the smallest bit players, and to explain how each actor was cast in his or her role. The coolest tidbit is finding out that Brian Dierker, who plays Rainey in the film, wasn't an actor. It was a part they hadn't cast when they started filming and they ended up casting Emile Hirsch's kayak trainer. Seriously. If you look Dierker up on IMDb, you'll see his credits include the one acting credit, along with "river unit" on The River Wild, and production coordinator on a movie about the Grand Canyon.
In other words, the casting stories are a lot more interesting than the usual, "He auditioned and after that we couldn't see anyone else in the role" (though there is some of that, particularly about lead Emile Hirsch). For example, there was the guy Penn got out of jail for a night to perform in a concert for the film. Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Hollywood anymore.
The other featurette, Into the Wild: The Experience, is a 17-minute documentary about...well, the experience of making the movie. As good as this one is, if you've seen the movie (and why would you be watching it if you haven't?), it will leave you wanting more.
You'll find out a few really fascinating things: how the "Magic Bus" scenes were filmed (Penn chose to create an exact replica of the trailer rather than use the one Chris actually lived in, out of respect for his family); about Emile's weight loss (he dropped from 156 to 115 in eight months); how they used the actual production sound in nearly every scene (unlike most movies that add background noise and even have actors re-record a lot of their lines in post-production); and how they used the exact locations Chris actually visited whenever possible.
This documentary truly does take you inside the experience of how this film was made, but it doesn't answer everything, so you'll wish it were more complete. Basically, what this DVD is sorely lacking is a commentary track with the filmmakers, where you usually end up getting those memories of filming from the cast and crew as they come to them. These docs, as good as they are, mostly serve to remind us why commentaries are such popular DVD extras.
One of the biggest criticisms of this film, and the book before it, is that it glorifies Chris McCandless. And people who feel that way will hate these featurettes most of all. They definitely end up heroizing McCandless. The cast and crew talk about how amazing he was, and while he certainly had some wonderful qualities, it's hard even for a fan to agree with this level of glorification of someone who made some big mistakes. Leaving asides the mistakes he made in Alaska that ultimately killed him, he took off for years without so much as calling his sister to tell him where, why, or how long he planned to disappear. She says she understood, but it's still hard to fathom why he'd do that to someone he loved so much.
This is a terrific movie and worth owning for anyone who's a fan of the story, but don't let the two-disc edition fool you with its measly three extras and its lofty "Collector's Edition" title. It's really just a basic DVD with a couple of short docs, and not worth the extra money they're charging for the second disc. -- DeAnn Welker
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