“Into The Wild” Feels a Little Tame

Emile Hirsch stars as “Chris McCandless” in Paramount Vantage’s adventure, “Into the Wild.” (Steve K. Zylius/Orange County Register/MCT)

Published: October 11, 2007

Alexander Supertramp would balk at the notion that we would even consider paying $10.75 to see the story of his travels on the big screen. Supertramp’s tale takes the form of “Into the Wild,” a movie based on the book by Jon Krakauer with the same title. Krakauer, who also penned “Into Thin Air” and “Under The Banner of Heaven,” created a literary portrait of  Christopher Johnson McCandless, who severs ties with his old life, adopts the moniker “Alexander Supertramp” and embarks on a pilgrimage to Alaska.

The movie’s director, Sean Penn, kept true to the text, aside from a few fleeting differences—for instance, McCandless worked at McDonald’s during his stint in Vegas, not Burger King, and his mother was a very thin girlish woman instead of a hulking Southern mother hen. The body of the cinematic and textual work mirrors itself in full.

The reader and viewer see the same man, a devotee of Jack London and Leo Tolstoy, who leaves home after graduating from Emory, rids himself of his material possessions and treks around the country.

The film as a whole is strong, though there are some very cliché moments, particularly a scene in which McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch of “The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys” and “The Lords of Dog Town”) stands atop the bus he is living in and screams into the Alaskan landscape, “IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?” then smirks to himself and says, “Hmmm, guess not!”

There are also several scenes in which the camera is acknowledged by the actors. This is done so sparsely that it is rather jarring. In addition to disrupting the continuity of the film, it is rather ironic since Krakauer notes in his book that there is some video of McCandless, but that he was usually shying away from the camera or requesting that it be turned off. In the film, however, Hirsch hams it up, even making a face at the camera in one scene.

Krakauer attempts to tie in his own personal experience climbing mountains in Alaska to serve as a parallel to McCandless, but I found it to be rather dull and unnecessary. However, he does give the reader a portrait of men who embarked on adventures that could be tied to McC  andless’s, giving a variety of those who make up the brethren of wanders and soul seekers.

Krakauer uses letters and interviews with family and friends to paint a full portrait of McCandless. In lieu of this, Penn has cast Jena Malone (“Saved!” and “Pride and Prejudice”) to play McCandless’s sister Carine, using her buttery voice to tell the tale of the troubled childhood they shared, letters he had written her and other information to give the viewer better acquainted with McCandless.

The movie, while enjoyable, pales in comparison to the energy and passion that McCandless poured into his life which is more clearly seen in the book. The literary excerpts that McCandless valued and the testimonies of those who met him on the road are what made the book inspirational and contemplative. In the end, Krakauer allowed the reader to know McCandless on a deeper and more personal level in his 200 pages than Penn did in his two and a half hours.