Movie Review: The Latest Adaptation of ‘The Call of the Wild’ is a Reminder of Simpler, Wilder Times Following Buck’s Epic Journey

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MANILA, PHILIPPINES – It’s become a bit of a cliché to say that a dog is man’s best friend. Hundreds of stories have been written about this relationship and dozens of film and television adaptations have elaborated on it. Among all of these, however, one classic remains well-loved over a century after its publication, The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Set during the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada in the 1890s, the novel starring Buck, a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix going from domesticated companion to his more feral roots, has been adapted several times since 1923. For the latest adaptation, Director Chris Sanders has acclaimed Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and Harrison Ford on board to bring new life to Buck’s tale.

The Call of the Wild | Official Trailer | 20th Century Studios

In the 1890s, gold has been found in the Klondike region in Canada and strong, powerful dogs are in high demand for the ways that they can assist people there. Buck is the slightly awkward yet beloved pet of Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford) in Santa Clara, California. Buck is beloved by the judge and his family, though he doesn’t know his own strength and is usually a victim of his instincts. When Buck is snatched and sold for money to be sent to Canada, the dog is unprepared for the harsh life outside the judge’s home and the cruelty of man.

Beaten on the boat that takes him to the Yukon territory, Buck meets the sad outdoorsman John Thornton (Harrison Ford), who has moved as far away from civilization as possible to try and forget a personal tragedy. Buck is then purchased by the French-Canadian dispatch team of Perrault (Omar Sy) and Francoise (Cara Gee), who team Buck with other dogs in their sled team tasked to deliver mail across the trail. Finally part of a pack after an adjustment period, Buck learns to love being in the group despite the team’s leader, the husky named Spitz, not being fond of him.

A power struggle soon ensues between Spitz and Buck for leadership of the pack while Buck is haunted by visions of a ghostly dark wolf he keeps seeing as they deliver mail. At the same time, Thornton is writing letters to his estranged wife even as more and more prospectors are heading north with dreams of finding gold beyond what information has been mapped out. When Buck and Thornton’s paths cross again, can they save each other from the fate that awaits them both?

After making a name for himself as a director of animated films like Lilo & Stitch (2002), How to Train Your Dragon (2010), and The Croods (2013), Chris Sanders’ first foray as a director of live-action actually involves a lot of computer generated effects. It’s a credit to Sanders, motion capture actor Terry Notary, and the CGI-team of The Call of the Wild that it’s almost impossible to determine that Buck isn’t a real dog. The level of special effects in 2020 now allows the anthropomorphic Buck to look and feel like a real dog while interacting with actors like Ford.

With Ford also serving as narrator, London’s classic novel that traces Buck’s travels from a domesticated pet to exploring his wild instincts becomes even more beautiful thanks to the cinematography of Kaminski. Though shot principally in Los Angeles and Santa Clarita, California (with CGI used for sets as well), Sanders and Kaminski will convince you that they’ve brought entire sets to frozen parts of Canada. The harsh winter and challenging atmosphere are simulated exceptionally well, creating the illusion that the dogs are traversing the Great White North to deliver mail or running around in wide open spaces away from civilization.

 

It was a bit of a surprise to see Dan Stevens as the film’s antagonist, Hal, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Then again, it’s refreshing to see someone who has been building his portfolio after starring on Downton Abbey and Legion, as well as portraying the Beast in the live-action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 2017, doing something completely different here. The same can be said for the very tiny role of Hal’s companion Mercedes, played by Karen Gillen. Blink and you’ll likely completely miss her and Jean Louisa Kelly as Katie Miller.

Though the film’s posters have large images of Ford on them because of his star power, this film, like London’s book, is unmistakably Buck’s story. Different from traditional Disney animated fare, Buck does not speak here nor do other animals around him. Yet through the use of Ford’s narration as well as the computer-generated animation over Notary’s acting, the audience becomes invested in Buck and the journey that he goes on.

Perhaps it is that innate affection that many humans have for dogs, perhaps it is the combination of Ford embracing a role that doesn’t hide his 77 years, but The Call of The Wild is a testament to the power of London’s prose that still resonates more than a century after it was first published.

The Call of the Wild opens in Philippine cinemas on February 19, 2020.

 

About the Author:

Jason Inocencio was once the Digital Editor of adobo magazine who still loves seeing great campaigns from all over the world. He proudly shows off his love for all kinds of geeky things, whether it be movies, TV shows, comics, sports, or trivia.

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