It's always dangerous to attempt to pre-judge a movie. Highly anticipated movies like Star Wars: Episode I can land with a thud. Before it was released into theaters, stories ran wild that James Cameron's Titanic would be the biggest flop in movie history; instead it was exactly the opposite, becoming the highest grossing film of all-time.
The point being one never knows how good a film will be, nor how successful it will be, until it gets in front of an audience.
I raise these points as a caution (mostly to myself) about the upcoming Sean Penn adaptation of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. I have no idea, of course, how good or bad the movie will actually turn out, but I am cautiously skeptical about Penn's ability to transform the spirit of Krakauer's book onto the screen.
The trailer for the film is now online (thanks to JS for pointing this out to me this morning) at Apple's trailer site, and I am less than impressed with how the movie is, at least, being marketed. I read Into the Wild for the first time earlier this week and while it's a very good book, it's one that doesn't read as the basis for the inspirational movie that the trailer sells.
Now, I am fully aware that trailers don't always represent the truth of the film, so I hope the film embraces the complexity of Christopher McCandless and his decision to go "into the wild" that the trailer forgoes in favor of the up-with-individualistic-loner-who-spits-on-the-capitalist-world take on McCandless. There's certainly some of that in McCandless, but what's so engaging about Krakauer's book is that McCandless resists any easy categorization. Instead of either celebrating or damning McCandless (though Krakauer is clearly tilted more to the former position than the latter), Krakauer's book is an attempt to figure out the totality of McCandless and his actions.
The inconsistency in McCandless is what makes him (and Krakauer's book) so interesting. He's unable to forgive the sins of his father's double-life, yet doesn't apply the same moral indignation to his literary heroes (notably Jack London and Leo Tolstoy): "Like many people, Chris apparently judged artists and close friends by their work, not their life, yet he was temperamentally incapable of extending such lenity to his father" (Into the Wild, 122).
Dennis Harvey's Variety review offers some hope; both that the film is Penn's best directorial effort and that the movie keeps a some of the incongruities of McCandless' story. Harvey also references Terence Malick's amazing The Thin Red Line as an influence, which is a good thing given that film's constant thematic of people simply trying to figure out who they are and what they're doing while not getting themselves dead. TRL is also about the disconnect between the individual and his nation and that's a theme of Into the Wild, as well, though here it's not about duty and war but rather cultural expectations.
Similar to Into Thin Air, Krakauer's book is as much about himself as it is about his subject. There's no reason to expect Penn to have made Krakauer a character in the film but it would have been a clever move.
I'll go see Into the Wild when/if it hits theaters around town, but I hope I leave the film more conflicted than inspired. There's much to admire about McCandless, but his story is a cautionary tale, as well. We can't forget that he's a kid and like many passionate youths (myself included, back in the day) he often comes off as a insufferable, derivative prig, speaking in absolutes to hide the troubled interior that's still trying to figure things out. What makes McCandless' death poignant is that his experience in Alaska might have allowed him to find answers and peace.
I hope that comes through in the film.