‘Into the Wild’: Sean Penn Adapts Jon Krakauer’s Book for the Big Screen

Travel Blog  •  Michael Yessis  •  07.20.07 | 10:26 AM ET

imageSean Penn lined up some impressive talent for his adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s beloved book Into the Wild, the story of twentysomething Christopher McCandless’s self-imposed exile from mainstream society and tragic journey into the Alaskan wilds. Penn wrote and directed the film, which stars Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, Zach Galifianakis, William Hurt and others. Eddie Vedder and Gustavo Santaolalla contribute to the soundtrack. The movie opens Sept. 21, and already I’m getting that dueling “I can’t wait to see it/I can’t believe what an awful idea this is” feeling of seeing a favorite book get turned into a movie. 

After watching the trailer, I’m cautiously pessimistic. Krakauer’s diligent, thoughtful telling of McCandless’s travels, his turning his back on his family and the path that led him to his death near Alaska’s Denali National Park seems to have gained a layer of Hollywood slickness. See for yourself:

I’ll overlook it as part of the marketing of the movie.

One obstacle I think might be difficult to overcome, though, is the lack of Krakauer’s voice. One of the elements that made “Into the Wild” powerful to me was the presence of Krakauer himself. In the book, he recounts his own reckless man-against-nature adventure climbing Devil’s Thumb on the Alaska/British Columbia border. Krakauer, of course, survived, but the perspective he gained from the experience informs the book and helps the reader see McCandless as more than a snotty kid in over his head.

I hope Penn was able to bottle some of Krakauer’s sympathetic perspective. I’ve read “Into the Wild” twice—once on a trip to Denali a few years back—and, despite my pessimism, I’m rooting for him and the film to succeed. McCandless’s story and the questions it raises deserve the wide audience a major motion picture involving Oscar winners and rock stars can bring in.

Related on World Hum:
* Outside’s Top 25 Adventure Books
* Travelers Who Come Down With Hypothermia or Whose Ship Crashes Into an Iceberg Will Pay a Surcharge
* The Critics: ‘The Happiest Man in the World’ by Alec Wilkinson

10 Comments for ‘Into the Wild’: Sean Penn Adapts Jon Krakauer’s Book for the Big Screen

Eva Holland 07.20.07 | 11:51 AM ET

Great cast - Emile Hirsch has yet to let me down in anything he’s done. It’s really going to hinge on Sean Penn’s screenplay though I think… Hopefully he can writebetter than he can row a boat.

TambourineMan 07.20.07 | 9:51 PM ET

I’ve always wanted to read the book and this reminded to pick it up. So that’s a good thing. As for the movie, the trailer is lame. But at least over-the-top Penn isn’t actually in it. So there’s hope.

Whatever the case, I doubt this flick can top Werner Herzog’s bizarro doc, Grizzly Man.

Rachel 07.27.07 | 4:43 PM ET

Somehow I doubt Sean Penn has spent much time in the Denali wilderness. It’s going to be interesting to see how they pull this off given that the main character spends most of his time utterly alone and not talking. Who are all these other charaters? It’s not like they can pull the “wilson” thing like they did in that Tom Hanks flick Castaway.

Carl Hancock 07.27.07 | 7:40 PM ET

Rachel: Actually when I was in Alaska last August the crew of Into The Wild (including Sean Penn) were in the area.  He was in Denali a few days before I was from what I was told by park service rangers.

Granted he probably hasn’t spent significant time, but it is pretty easy to helicopter to a remote area of Denali and it doesn’t take too long to realize how utterly remote and dangerous it is for someone who is unprepared for the environment.

I’m pretty positive the crew, including Sean Penn, made a visit to the location where McCandless spent his final days.

Ironically I ran into Ben Affleck on that Alaska trip.  Made me wonder if he was connected to the “Into The Wild” movie but he wasn’t, just a coincidence.  I ran into him while having dinner at the Double Musky Inn in Girdwood, Alaska.  Great restaurant.  Who would have thought at the end of a dirt road an hour outside of Anchorage you could have a world class meal… and run into Ben Affleck in a white stretch limo.

jonathan frith 08.14.07 | 10:48 PM ET

hello.  I wrote a song about Chris called “Outside,” about five years ago.  It may not be Vedder-quality, but I wonder if anyone would like to hear it and where I can post it.  JF

A Traveler 08.25.07 | 11:57 AM ET

If anything, the publicity generated by the film finally got Chris McCandless’s last photograph of him waving goodbye published and I finally got to see it.  One of the most poignant photographs ever, knowing the back story.

Michael Yessis 08.27.07 | 11:24 AM ET

A Traveler, is that photo online? Got a link?

A Traveler 08.27.07 | 2:57 PM ET

The picture is in the lastest issue of Men’s Journal (Sept 2007) along with a few other photographs of McCandless out in the wilderness.

You can see it briefly on a dvd about another misadventure in the wilderness called “Survivor:  The Aron Ralston Story.”

Mike, I’ve emailed the pic to you.

Charli 09.08.07 | 4:03 PM ET

I agree.  I also greet the film with cautious pessimism. Let’s face it, we are never as enamored with the film as we are with the book.  I can think of one exception off the top of my head; I enjoyed Walter Mosley’s “Devil In A Blue Dress” on the big screen as much as I did the book. But for every “Devil In A Blue Dress”, there’s 100 Da Vinci Code’s.  One noticeable change you’ll notice from the “Into The Wild” trailer is that instead of steering an old metal canoe from Bullhead City to Mexico, searching for an outlet to the ocean, the movie has McCandless in a nice looking kayak taming the wilds of the Colorado R. in the Grand Canyon.  I think McCandless’ spontaneuous, harrowing expedition down into Mexico is much more interesting than a Hollywood whitewater trip.

a roh 09.18.07 | 4:52 PM ET

I read the book in the spring of 99 before I left for my own “wild”. I was touched and certain the story changed my life. The only suggestion i would make, read the book and listen to nick drake, five leaves left. I think Penn could have picked a better sound track. we’ll see if the movie comes through.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.