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There are three undeniable facts about this world. Canada, especially Northern and Western Canada, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. CGI and political correctness has come a really long way in the last century. And most importantly, Harrison Ford has carved out a highly successful niche for himself that we affectionately call The Han Solo Zone.
If you were to put these three facts into a blender and spread the paste across director Chris Sanders’ film reel, you might just discover the secret behind The Call of the Wild.
I read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, first published in 1903, during my teenage years and to call it brutal and visceral would be like calling Antarctica a bit chilly.
Perhaps that’s why this semi-biographical account became Jack’s magnum opus. He wrote about the sometimes heinous yet sympathetic lives of beings barely surviving at the very edge of the known world; where Buck, a domesticated dog, is subjected to abuse and torture at the hands (paws?) of man, beast and nature itself, until he emerges a primal yet liberated version of himself.
The book has spawned seven screen adaptations of the novel and for me, the 2020 version was just ferocious enough without wading into Tarantino-level violence against animals.
And yes – let’s get it out of the way, the dog is completely computer generated. Yes, it starts to become fairly obvious 20 minutes into the movie, but that’s okay – I wouldn’t want a real dog to even hear half the things that Buck experiences in the novel.
The movie starts off with Buck, a domesticated St. Bernard/Scotch Collie dog, who is entirely too big for his master’s house. He devours furniture and destroys food (or is it the other way around). A truly care-free dog’s life.
Soon however, he is lured into a trap and sold to freight haulers in Yukon, becoming part of the Klondike Gold Rush. He learns the law of the club, becoming a slave to pain and abuse. This doesn’t diminish his childlike wonder at snow, licking the first flake of snow to fall on his nose right off, executed with perfect comedic timing (let’s see real dogs pull that off).
This is also where he first sees his spirit wolf and runs into John Thornton (Harrison Ford), a lonely yet experienced outdoorsman. As Buck survives encounter after encounter with man, beast and nature, a different kind of beast starts to emerge: savage, albeit always with a noble edge.
All in all, The Call of the Wild is a beautiful movie. Never before has a movie’s cinematography made me nostalgic and emotional, but with breath-taking shots of the Northern Lights against an untouched snowscape, lush shots of river shores and foley audiology that perfectly recreates the ambience of the wild, this movie is worth experiencing on the big screen just for those shots.
Harrison, as a swashbuckling lone ranger who has an unspoken bond with a hairy beast, reminiscent of his war-starring days, is also perfect for the role. And the dog, played by a 51-year-old former Cirque du Soleil performer named Terry Notary who was digitally transformed in production, is surprisingly not as jarring as I was expecting. Not only are the movements accurate, even the emotional intelligence is adorable yet poignant.
And yet, the story was riddled with plot-holes. From unbelievable human stupidity to just as fantastical furry wisdom, many scenes, even with suspended disbelief, seemed im-paws-ible.
While I understand creative liberties, when a dog starts to understand the nuances of deeply human problems like family separation and alcoholism, it gets un-fur-giveable. Okay, I’ll stop with the puns. They are getting ruff. Alright, ALRIGHT.
In summary, I’d strongly recommend watching this movie for the visuals and strong acting, just don’t howl too much when the plot is more hole-riddled than Swiss cheese.
And for that, it earns its 3/5 stars.
The Call of the Wild
CAST: Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan
Director: Chris Sanders
Genre: Action, Drama, Family
Runtime: 100 minutes