Today in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be looking at the 2007 biographical survival film, “Into the Wild”, directed by Sean Penn. The soundtrack album for this movie also served as the debut solo studio album for Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder.
Penn reportedly handpicked Vedder for the project, after hearing Vedder’s contributions to the films “Dead Man Walking” in 1995, and “I Am Sam” in 2001, which both starred Penn.
Before we get too much further into the soundtrack, let’s first get some context from the film.
“Into the Wild” follows the true story of the American hiker Chris McCandless, also known as “Alexander Supertramp”. After graduating college in 1990, McCandless hitchhiked across North America until reaching the Alaska two years later. Hoping to live off the land, McCandless set out with minimal supplies along an old mining road through the wilderness. McCandless’ body was found later that year. The cause of death: starvation.
Disclaimer: While the film is based on true events, the exact cause of McCandless’ death is still uncertain. The film is based on a book written by Jon Krakauer, which is, in turn, based on McCandless’ cryptic journal entries. Because of this, both the film and the book should be viewed as creative nonfiction interpretations. Some people might just call that fiction anyway.
Into the Wild
Fans of Pearl Jam may be surprised by the collection of songs written by Vedder, which fall more soundly into the realm of folk than rock. Although a few songs do straddle the barrier between the two. Overall, the soundtrack matches the tone of the film quite well.
Vedder manages to simultaneously capture the romance of freedom, as well as a sense of foreboding through the album. Songs like “Setting Forth” and “Hard Sun” do this quite well, and are two of Vedder’s songs that come closest to rock.
The most experimental of Vedder’s contributions might be “The Wolf”, which features a droning synth through its one minute and thirty-two second length. There are no lyrics, but Vedder’s vocals make an appearance in drifting, ethereal howls.
Overall, the “Into the Wild” soundtrack album did reasonably well. It hit the No. 11 spot on the Billboard Top 200, and No. 2 on the Soundtrack Album chart. “Hard Sun” was the most popular single from the album, hitting No. 13 on the Singles chart in 2007.
Vedder also won a 2008 Golden Globe Award for “Guaranteed”, and was nominated for another for his contributions to the film’s score.
While I enjoyed the experience of listening to the soundtrack as a whole, there were several songs that I felt didn’t do as much as they could have if they’d been a bit longer. “Setting Forth”, “No Ceiling”, “Toulumne”, “The Wolf”, and “Photographs” are all under two minutes long. There are sixteen songs on the soundtrack album, and nearly a third of them are no more than rough ideas. While they still match thematically to the rest of the songs, I feel like they could have done so more effectively if they’d been fleshed out more.
Still, what Vedder manages to do for “Into the Wild” is exactly what a soundtrack is meant to do. His music sets the right mood for the film, evoking a sense of wonder, romance, and foreboding. And it matches up with Michael Brook’s score seamlessly.