Current Issue #482

Film Review:
The Call of the Wild

Jack London’s endlessly-adapted 1903 novel is filmed yet again, this time by director Chris Sanders with a name cast, lots of carefully PC omissions and oodles of distracting CG.

Sanders, a longtime Disney collaborator here supposedly making his début with living-and-breathing actors after The Croods, the first How To Train Your Dragon and so on, might as well have been working with cartoon characters anyway given how little of this is real, a major issue when it comes to striving for the would-be-stirring emotions of the tale.

Much has already been made about the decision to make heroic dog protagonist Buck an FX creation, and although this means that a flesh-and-blood mutt doesn’t have to be lengthily and expensively trained, and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) didn’t condemn the finished product (as they did with, for example, A Dog’s Purpose), it also results in Buck never looking like he’s actually there. And yet, as he’s seen running around mainly computer-generated landscapes and/or a Californian studio, his jerky un-real-ness is only part of the problem.

Harrison Ford narrates Buck’s story, even though he’s only in about half the narrative and tells us about events that his character couldn’t possibly have known. We first see Buck, a St. Bernard/Scotch shepherd cross modelled on a pooch owned by the director’s wife, galumphing around the bustling homestead of Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford), making a nuisance of himself and even getting his head stuck in a hole in the ground, a little like Stephen King’s preferable Cujo.

Buck is quickly dognapped, experiences a cautiously-staged beating, and winds up in the Yukon at the end of the 19th Century. Here he has a spell as one of a CG team of woofers pulling the sled of rural postman Perrault (French star Omar Sy from The Intouchables) and his Inuit offsider Françoise (Cara Gee). Sy’s Perrault naturally brings some life to the proceedings, but he eventually vanishes from the plot, and Buck briefly and perilously becomes part of an exhausted pack hauling villainous prospector Hal (English actor Dan Stevens) and his missus Mercedes (Karen Gillan in barely a cameo).

Luckily Ford’s grizzled and grieving John Thornton intervenes, and for a time Buck becomes his bestie as the pair travel to an isolated spot where much gold is found, John confronts his pain (as only grumpy old Harrison can do) and Buck feels the call of the mild, sorry, wild.

Purists will inevitably note the absence of, for instance, the Native American Yeehats, who turn up late in London’s original book and serve as baddies, but they were never going to be appearing in this version, and Twin Peaks star Michael Horse has a bit as wise, non-violent Edenshaw to further smooth everything over.

Apparently directed at kids, who will surely be hoping for something with more spaceships, car chases and toilet gags, this plodding epic has an oddly anachronistic edge and is well on the way, even at this early stage, to be a doggie disaster.

Arf.

Reviewer Rating
5/10

The Call of the Wild (M) is now showing in cinemas

DM Bradley

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