The Call of the Wild is yet another adaptation of Jack London’s classic novel and while the story may be basic, the treatment is hit or miss, but mostly hit. Just barely.
This version stars Harrison Ford as John Thornton, a loner living in the cold of the Yukon who befriends a St. Bernard/Collie named Buck. The dog has gone from aristocratic owners in California, to cruel dog traders, to training as a sled dog.
Buck’s journey is laid out in detail as we get to experience the pitfalls and perils he faces in the cold, unforgiving winter.
Sometimes his owners are just as frozen as the weather.
Dan Stevens and Karen Gillian play his former owners before he became a sled dog. Once Buck escapes their clutches, Stevens’ character is determined to get him back into captivity. Stevens is a good actor, but his character is mostly forgettable and perhaps one of the more conventional aspects of the movie.
After running into his new owners (Omar Sy and Cara Gee) and becoming a sled dog, Buck finally crosses paths with Thornton. The two become fast friends and embark on an adventure of their own in the Yukon. Ford and the dog have a chemistry that is much more convincing and effective than any leading stars you can find in a romantic comedy or a buddy cop comedy.
The Call of the Wild is beautifully shot thanks to long-time Spielberg veteran Janusz Kaminski. He shoots the locales in a fashion that feels authentic and impressive and puts us in the heart of the coldness.
However, the screenplay rushes hither and yon between Buck’s backstory and his interaction with Ford. Plus, the CGI is also hit or miss and feels a little incomplete, especially with Buck. The CGI does not look and feel seamless. I could say that for the rest of the dogs as well.
Having said that, I am still recommending this movie on the basis of the visual atmosphere, the breathtaking cinematography, and as mentioned, Ford and the dog do display a chemistry that is genuine. We have a rooting interest in these two as they journey throughout the wilderness.
Even though I didn’t think the story was working at times and was somewhat predictable, there was always another element to draw me in and show that it has heart and soul. It certainly feels like a faithful retelling and it works.