I didn’t realize how old the story of The Call of the Wild was. It remarkable to know that this tale of loyal canine companionship is over 100 years old! With a film adaptation that has already had three separate adaptation marking back to 1923. It’s like the canine equivalent of A Star is Born in that sense. So, knowing this going into what is now the fourth adaptation, I knew that I had to observe how enduring the story is. I didn’t disappoint, that is from a narrative standpoint. Unfortunately, the film carries a lot of excessive technical baggage.
Being written by Jack London in 1903 and set in the 1890’s you could almost call it semi-contemporary for those times, but times have changed, but having stood the test of time, the story doesn’t alter in this film. You can split The Call of the Wild into a consumable three-act structure and the solidity of that narrative structure is fantastic. Buck is a wonderful dog that everyone can cling onto for the duration of the film. His journey sees him jumping from owner to owner having been taken from his California family, you see him become a pack leader, being subjected to physical abuse until finally, he meets up with John Thornton (Harrison Ford) and their dynamic kickstarts the third act. I can see people becoming frustrated with how much Harrison Ford they get, particularly because his name and face are plastered all over the poster, but they shouldn’t be because it’s a very entertaining story without his star power.
Despite the star power, the name cannot possibly carry the story by itself, the character dynamic of Buck and John is an essential part of making this story work, and The Call of the Wild plants the seeds to this dynamic well with two brief meetings and hints to their friendship. Once these seeds bloom, it is a very warm friendship in a cold environment. You’re hit with the sense of adventure almost immediately as they march on into the unknown regions together. Despite the obvious technical issue which I will come to later, Harrison Ford gives a performance worthy of the effort put in.
This is always a visually stunning film; the Yukon region is extraordinarily beautiful both in it’s Winter and Spring setting. As much as I love where I come from, I’d move to Yukon in a heartbeat. You also get a stunning shot of an iconic scene where you see lines of prospectors and explorers in a line taking the brute force of a snowstorm. you hear the phrase “nature at it’s finest” and The Call of the Wild’s depiction of the natural Yukon is a perfect summation of that phrase
Now let’s get down to something that is going to become instantly apparent in this film and some may argue that it brings the film down altogether. Buck the dog is not a real dog, it’s CGI. Already I can hear the alarm bells of those reading this review who are disgusted at the thought but here me out, it is understandable why they do this. One, the actions Buck has to perform are too precise for a real dog to perform, you can have a well-trained dog that moves where you need it to for the scene or barks on cue, but when it comes to precision, I understand how a real-life dog could be time-consuming. With that being said, the film uses similar photo-realism to that seen in The Lion King reboot, however, give it a few years and I guarantee The Call of the Wild will not have aged well.
I have had a bone to pick (no pun intended) with films that go the CGI route for animals which is the animals don’t really behave like animals. Buck is the same, some of his actions and reactions felt a little too human for my liking. If you replaced all the animal characters with humans, there would be very little difference in what they had to do (apart from the obvious that can only be done by a dog). In a book, this too human behavior can be gotten away with because you lack a visual aid, so it works the mind more.
Most of the characters are nice and decent, however, the antagonist of the film Hal (Dan Stevens) really grinds my gears. I felt that Dan Stevens’ performance was way too over the top even for a typical stubborn villain, but worse than that is that his character overplayed how petty he is. Fair enough his delusions make him this way but the lengths the character goes to for revenge is too much. It boils down to the film making changes to the novel to suit its target audience. A lot of more mature moments are either taken out or altered, and unfortunately, it hasn’t paid off.
Nevertheless, this adaptation of The Call of the Wild is a peaceful watch with just enough happening to keep your interest in Buck’s adventure. Harrison Ford lovers won’t be disappointed with his performance, just his length of screen time and the timelessness of the story is proven. I wish that the film could have gone that little extra further into maturity. The potential of this story could teach lessons to younger viewers through mildly mature scenes, but it plays it safe and that, combined with questionable CGI, it what will bring it down for some. For those who look for good stories, it will delight.
Final Result: 6/10
Have you seen The Call of the Wild? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: The Invisible Man