A Walk In The Woods: A Movie Review

I fell head-over-heels in love with the Appalachian Trail years ago. I dream of, one day, consumating that relationship with a thru-hike. For those of you unaccustomed to the term, a thru-hike of the AT would consist of me shouldering a back-pack, beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia and following the white blazes, hiking north for 2,189.2 miles (This year. It changes each year.) until arriving at the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. (This is not the only way to thru-hike the AT; there are myriad options. This is how I would prefer to do it). And to answer your question, yes, people really do this…every year. Many more attempt and bail than succeed but still, a lot of people make it to Katahdin (Or Springer, for those contrary Southbounders.)

In the meantime, while I try to pay off my house, eliminate a mountain of medical debt etc., I bide my time by doing section hikes of this beautiful footpath, reading AT books, memoirs (I have a bookshelf full of them), poring over maps etc. The first AT book I ever picked up was Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. (For the hilarious account of how I discovered it, listen to the first few minutes of episode 2 of the All Who Wander Podcast: http://allwhowander.us/002-all-who-wander-becoming-odyssa-book-launch-part-2/).
I really, really enjoyed the book. I also care deeply for the guy in the aforementioned story who really, really hates this book. Jack, if you know him, is a hard-hiking, hard-drinking character with a heart as big as all outdoors. He so despises this book that he is often seen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Bill Bryson is a Candy-Ass”. Was I surprised that Jack went to see the film adaptation of the novel? Yes. Was I surprised that he didn’t care for it? Really? Do I need to answer that? Jack posted a seemingly sincere query on facebook several days ago. It read,

“Well, someone else will, no doubt, start a thread like this, so it may as well be me…the film version of A Walk In the Woods opens nationally tomorrow. Some of you have already seen it. I’ve already viewed it and have my own opinion…but I’d much rather hear YOURS. Looking forward to hearing from lot of you.” I responded simply, “We plan to see it this weekend.” He replied, “Save your money.” Daniel Quinn, a mutual friend, commented, “So much for I’d rather hear from others. LOL”

 

Hee hee hee. Funny stuff.
So, notwithstanding Jack’s friendly economic admonition, Dana and I bought our tickets, mandatory $20 worth of popcorn and root beer and settled into our seats to see what Redford had done with this (mostly) beloved book.

Disclaimer: As I mentioned at the start I fell head-over-heels in love with the Appalachian Trail years ago. This, undoubtedly, colors my perception of all things AT…including this movie. Jack and thru-hikers like him (He has 7 completed thru-hikes under his belt) take issue with the fact that Bill didn’t finish the entire trail. Well, I’ve most certainly hiked fewer AT miles than Bryson so I’m not sure where this places me on the scale in terms of hiker-cred. In addition, I’m no movie critic. I’ve only known one and, true to his title, he was terribly critical of nearly every movie he saw and looked down his nose on anyone who actually took pleasure in a film. I’m not that guy and hope I never will be. I’m much more easily entertained. Also, this whole process is awfully subjective. Because I so love this trail, hiking, backpacking and all things wild…I’ve no idea how a non-hiker might perceive the film. But here it is through my eyes:

 

I liked it

Yeah, I know. With that lead-up you were expecting a little more.

Okay, here’s a little more.

I liked it a lot.

I didn’t love it but I loved parts of it.

 

It’s a movie about the Appalachian Trail. You had me at “hello.”
It’s filmed on the Appalachian Trail. You set the hook.
It’s a movie based on a (mostly) beloved best-selling AT book which stars Robert freakin’ Redford and Nick Nolte. Really, what more could you ask for?
Were some of my favorite parts missing? Yes?
Did some of the jokes play out better in the book than on the screen? Yes.
Was it too short? Sure did seem that way.
All things considered, I guffawed through much of the film. Because of my deep love for the Trail, moments touched me on a soul level and caused my eyes to well with tears. I guess part of me wonders if I ever will see my dream of a thru-hike fulfilled. I’m nearly 50, with a laundry list of ailments doctors haven’t found a diagnosis for, a boatload of debt, two aging parents that need me to be around and a love for my family deeper than my love for the Trail. Yes, I identified with both of the main characters, Bryson and Katz. Maybe that’s where the magic happens.That connection. Will that happen for everyone? I don’t know…but it certainly did for me. It made me long to spend more time on my beloved Trail. It inspired me to do more to protect and defend our wild places. Maybe, just maybe it’ll do the same for someone else. I’d say that would be a success.
The gist:

Good film. Grumpy Old Men meets Homeward Bound. I hope you like it. That’s my Trail up on that screen. I give it 4 trowels.

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2 Responses to “A Walk In The Woods: A Movie Review”

  • I loved your review and was glad to see a fellow hiker who saw it as I did. For me I was hooked just because it was AT related. I did not care got the book in it’s entirety but that did not stop me from going to see the movies. There was enough AT in it to bring the memories flooding back. Just seeing the Amicalola Lodge brought back my first morning jitters and I was flooded with emotion. Things in the movie were out of sync but I did not care. I was happy to share what there was with my non-hiking friends. The movie was a cute and funny movie about two old dudes. It was not meant to be an AT documentary but all in all, I enjoyed it.

  • I haven’t read the (whole) book, and I haven’t seen the movie. Probably walking on the Trail for a few hours is a lot more interesting than either, but I’m going to take your recommendation on this one. Any film that shows as much mountains as actors is worth the time it takes to watch it.

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