Adventures from Back of Beyond

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Back to Into the Wild

Sean Penn's take on the tragic short life of the hapless Christopher McCandless in the movie Into the Wild is a worthy cinematic experience, but it was difficult for me to muster much sympathy for its main character.

Penn tries his best to make the self-dubbed Alexander SuperTramp seem likeable, but after studying Jon Krakauer's book of the same name and reaching my own conclusions, it was hard for me to focus on much other than how Penn changed things around to maximize his literary license.

For instance, Penn would have us believe young Mr. SuperTramp illegally floated the treacherous Grand Canyon's rapids solo in a kayak, with no support, and no prior experience. Then, when confronted with an approaching ranger checking for permits, he escapes by hiking out with his boat. Complete nonsense.

But maybe Penn felt obligated to put that in to appease his friend and Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon boatman Brian Dierker, who has a surprisingly substantial part in the move, albeit one comprised mostly of straightforward one-liners.

Penn also apparently completely fabricates a love interest, unrequited, for McCandless, which never happened according to Krakauer. But this tangent to the main story makes him appear to be a better balanced person, more likable, and easier to identify with; and less of the critical, narrow minded, self-centered, asexual being he was -- as well documented in the book.

In the small print after the ending credits roll (and with a 2.5 hour movie, you've got to wait a long time to get there), Penn does state some of the events were dramatized, but most of the movie was based on fact. And indeed most of the story is in large part faithful to the facts as told by Krakauer, although interpreted cinematically to maximize sympathy.

The cinematography was beautiful, shot outdoors, and almost completely on location in Grand Canyon, the woods and beaches of Northern California, the deserts of California, and in Alaska's backcountry, specifically in the forest down Stampede Road, in the area surrounding the junked body of Fairbanks bus #142, the site of McCandless' senseless, and tragically preventable, demise.

Entertaining, yes, completely factual, no. But worth seeing, and a good effort from first-time screenwriter and director Penn.