THE CALL OF THE WILD 3.5 out of 5; Directed by Chris Sanders; Written by Michael Green; Starring Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford; Rated PG for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language; Running time 100 minutes; In wide release February 21.
The latest adaptation of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild takes moviegoers on a snowy journey with Harrison Ford and a dog with a boundless spirit. What’s not to love?
However, I approached this film with caution because one of my personal commandments is Thou Shalt Not Watch Dog Movies. Marley and Me. Old Yeller. Hachi. Turner and Hooch. K-9. I Am Legend. John Wick (okay, I make an exception for that last one). And it’s been a very long time since I read anything by Jack London, so I couldn’t remember how the story ended.
So, the good news is this film didn’t make me cry, though I heard plenty of sniffling at my screening. Proceed at your own risk, but though there are certainly scenes that indicate cruelty to animals, it’s really handled offscreen or very lightly. It may also help to realize (if it’s not abundantly clear) that the dogs are CGI. Each animal from Buck, the boisterous lead of the film, to Spitz, the jerk husky who dislikes the new pack member, has very animated faces. Literally. Based on the buzz after the release of the trailer, this may hurt the film, but it didn’t really bother me. Probably helped to keep some emotional distance since they weren’t 100% realistic.
The story follows spoiled rotten Buck, living in the lap of luxury as the pet of a local judge, but his world is turned upside down when he is abducted and sold to be a sled dog in Alaska. The territory has lured the greedy seeking for gold, and Buck realizes his days of lounging on the porch and eating a buffet off the table are long gone. He’s bounced from owner to owner, each in their own way teaching him about endurance and strength, and he becomes increasingly less domesticated.
John Thornton, a tragic figure of a man, encounters Buck, and they form an instant bond. Played by Harrison Ford in what I will argue is one of his finest roles, Thornton isn’t out hunting for gold or riches. He just wants some peace. But watching Ford interact with Buck (in reality a person in a motion cap suit) is a sight to behold. It’s an honest, sincere portrayal of a haunted man, and he looks at Buck the way I look at my dog–with complete love. Even if you have trouble believing in the dog because of the visual effects, Ford makes you believe. Or at the very least, want to believe. (I believed).
Add in some picturesque cinematography by none other than Janusz Kaminski (longtime collaborator to none other than Steven Spielberg), and you have a film that’s lovely to look at and heartwarming to watch.
And though no tears were shed, I’ll admit, I got a bit choked up.