The excitement and anticipation for a new take on Jack London’s classic short story “The Call of the Wild” is one that was not easily turned off given the faulty CGI showcased in trailers. One tells themself ‘that’s ok, They’ll fix that in post, before the film releases’. Well perhaps unbeknownst to the filmmakers their February 21st release date appeared to come much sooner than they may have anticipated. Although armed with a fantastic story given the source material, an exceptional cast and crew, and a modest budget, not everyone came to answer the call.
This film by Chris Sanders (“Lilo and Stitch”) in his live-action directorial debut is one of the closest adaptations to London’s original work, thanks in part to screenwriter Michael Green (“Logan”, “Blade Runner 2049”) for essentially bringing page to screen. The picture feels like it does get in London’s head quite a bit and crafts what the author may have brought to life in a cinematic sense. At the center of the story is a dog named Buck who feels out of sorts in his elements as a domestic animal. Throughout his journey in the film, which is well paced over a 100 minute runtime, he goes through a few owners before finding himself and his true destiny. This motif is in itself part of the human condition and experience. Throughout our lifetimes we continuously attempt to find our place of belonging and our purpose for living along our journey called life. It is not an easy challenge to go through and even our hero Buck learns that along the way. The story of this film is quite relatable as Buck faces ups and downs like a human might, and audiences can not help but evoke their own emotions in response to his situation or even think about their own experiences.
As for our dog Buck, he is not real. Sure in the film he is a dog and a beautiful one at that, but his role is performed motion-capture via Terry Notary with CGI added later. Without spoiling either the book or the film, this choice makes sense given how difficult this film would have been to shoot with a live dog on set. Moreover, as alluded to earlier; initial trailers for the film demonstrated Buck to be the element to hold back the film. He appeared like a nuisance in scenes and ironically felt like he didn’t belong. However, for a vast majority of sequences in the film, Buck feels like an actual dog. There are a few instances where it’s blatantly obvious that he is CGI, which takes viewers instantly out of the film. These are few and far between but do happen in many key scenes to the film that it can’t go ignored, which is a shame because audiences get invested in the action up until those moments.
Also helping round out Buck and his story comes Harrison Ford who portrayed John Thorton in a supporting role. Ford may receive top billing but pulls a “Blade Runner 2049” where he doesn’t make any great impact on the story until the second half of the film. As per usual with Ford, he is nothing short of amazing. Viewers can feel the uneasiness and alcoholic edge to Thorton, but also come to understand how lost he is himself. Never does it feel like audiences see Harrison Ford, which the more recent “Star Wars” outings felt like, but they see John, a man whose demons have yet to overcome him.
Although the film is a bit bogged down by its usage of CGI, the heart and soul of the human experience is front and center of the movie. This is a prime example of telling a story with a particular backdrop. In this case the story is finding yourself against the backdrop of dog sledding and it’s associated elements in the 19th century. Buck may not be human…or a real dog, but he will nonetheless make audiences feel loved and cared for in their life. “The Call of the Wild” may not be perfect, but then again neither are our lives. It’s the journey of discovering that’s more important than the actual discovery, which brings anticipation and excitement.
Colin gives this film 7 out of 10 Saints