A Walk In The Woods

While it doesn’t have a lot to do with the Miocene epoch per se, and I am not a professional reviewer, I thought I’d give a shot at an assessment of the movie adaptation of Bill Bryson’s best-selling book of the same name: A Walk In The Woods. Anyway, hiking (along with conservation) is a major theme of this blog, and indeed of Opalescence, which involves a long trek by foot down the coast of prehistoric California.

The Appalachian Trail, one of a trio, or “triple crown” of long distance “thru-hikes” in North America – the others being the Pacific Crest Trail and the
Continental Divide Trail – was the course that Bryson took back in the 90s after he discovered that it ran nearby his home. Beginning in Georgia and ending in Maine (or visa versa), the AT wanders a total of almost 2,200 miles through 8 national forests and 2 national parks in 14 states.

Though it came out a year ago, I just watched A Walk In The Woods for the first time last night, and have to say that I loved it! It’s a comedic take on the many potential hazards of such a monumental endeavor, and I often found myself bursting into laughter. It stars Robert Redford as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephan Katz, his crusty hiking partner. Other memorable characters include Emma Thompson as Bryson’s devoted wife and the humorous sporting goods store associate who sells him the equipment he’ll need.

The first thing I’d advise you to do if you plan to watch the show is not to read the reviews ahead of time (except this one, of course 😉 ). After watching, I read a bunch of them and have to say I was dismayed at the tone of the criticism. While a few give awitw a good rating, most seemed decidedly hostile, and, I thought, unfair. The criticism revolves mainly around the fact that Bryson and Katz are tongue-in-cheek fat-phobic, centering around Katz’s attraction/aversion to extremely heavyset women. But the critics disparagement seems overly sensitive to me, especially as the pair make fun of themselves as well. Katz is big too, and wildly out of shape, a recovering alcoholic with a “trick knee”. He admits that the reason he’s going is because he has “a couple of outstanding warrants” he didn’t show up for. After a mere quarter-mile into the hike he’s a wheezing, sweating, trembling mess and looks ready to throw in the towel. In fact I found myself worried throughout that the man would have a heart attack trudging up and down those hills. But he has heart, and determination, and that sees him through.

We learn that Bryson himself hasn’t hiked in 30 years. When he first broaches his plans to his wife she’s understandably concerned and tries to dissuade him by leaving various news articles lying around. Stories of disease, bear and human attack. She asks him, “Can’t you just do this in the Volvo?”. But he’s just attended a funeral and has glimpsed his own mortality. He wants to, no, needs to do this.

On the trail, the duo meet with curious fellow hikers, like the shrill and obnoxious font of disapproval, Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal). She objects to Bryson’s food (“big mistake”) and then his tent (ditto). It’s not a three-seasoner, she scolds. He disagrees and informs her that, yes, it is a three-season tent. She decides to hang with them for the night. At sack time she keeps them awake with bad singing. In the morning they ditch her by running on ahead, then catching a ride into town. Katz feels bad about that.

One of the funniest scenes for me was when Katz and Bryson slog into a crowded bunkhouse for some much needed rest. Once inside, they are accosted by another equipment expert who quizzes Bryson about his pack. “What made you buy an XT85?” he asks him. Sure, it’s a solid pack, but his, a “Gregory Quad X” has “dual hydration ports” etc. Bryson at first gives him a blank stare, then answers, “I thought it was easier than carrying everything in my arms.” Like the women Katz runs into, these encounters seem to me an innocent lampooning of certain types of outdoors personalities, not a commentary on most.

Interspersed throughout this comedy of misunderstandings and clumsy accidents are scenes of profound beauty, as when they abruptly come upon Mcafee Knob and are rendered speechless.

While A Walk In The Woods does take some liberties with Bill Bryson’s book (for example, he and Katz were in their mid-forties when they made the journey, while their cinematic doppelgangers are in their 70s), and has other inaccuracies, all-in-all this is a funny, feel good flick in a world awash in negative and depressing programming. It’s also a counter-weight to the seriousness of that other recent hiking movie, Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail.

I give it rinr6jzjt

Thus ends my foray into the world of movie reviews. Was I insufferably snobbish enough? 😊


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