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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "The Call of the Wild" belongs in the movie doghouse

Feb 21, 2020 02:40PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Harrison Ford in The Call of the Wild - © 2020 20th Century.

The Call of the Wild (20th Century)

Rated PG for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language.

Starring Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Colin Woodell, Cara Gee, Scott MacDonald, Terry Notary.

Written by Michael Green, based on “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London.

Directed by Chris Sanders.



Technology was supposed to make life better. I believe that in many ways, it has certainly made our existence more comfortable, albeit less fulfilling. For instance, most of us live in decent homes with central heating and air conditioning - but we rarely feel the warmth of a campfire or appreciate breathing in the clean, crisp air of the wilderness. The same can be said about our movies, I suppose. We marvel at the way pixels can be technologically manipulated into imaginative visual scenes - yet fail to appreciate great performances or cinematography shot in real life. Computer-generated characters can nearly match the real thing but never capture the soul of an actual character. Perhaps it’s convenience that inspired 20th Century to use computer-generated graphics to bring dogs to life in the latest adaptation of Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild.” Maybe it was easier to use CG instead of real trained dogs, but It’s certainly less fulfilling.

Since there are a lot of liberties taken from the original story, I’ll dispense with the many of the discrepancies as briefly as possible. It’s the story of “Buck,” a St. Bernard–Scotch Collie mix who is abducted from his plush California home and shipped off to the Yukon, where he is forced to join a team of sled dogs running the mail during the Alaskan Gold Rush. Buck has difficulty adapting at first but eventually ascends to leader of the pack. He eventually falls into the hands of John Thornton (Harrison Ford), a disenchanted gold prospector mourning the loss of his young son. After dealing with a snobby, rich prospector (Dan Stevens), John and Buck head off on a new adventure, seeking their fortunes and perhaps peace in the wilderness. When they reach their destination, both man and dog must face their destinies, for better or worse, as the dog must choose between a life with man or to succumb to his animal instincts.

The Call of the Wild might have been an adequate retelling of a literary classic, but it’s a movie shackled by extremely inconspicuous computer-generated dogs, especially Buck. It’s an annoying and embarrassing distraction, filling nearly every scene with unnatural dog movements, facial expressions, and implausible stunts. It might have been forgivable if the CG were any good, but it’s subpar, at best in most scenes and just plain awful otherwise.

Adding to the embarrassment is the presence of Harrison Ford, who not only narrates the entire story but is also tasked with most of the grumbling dialogue in which he converses with Buck, who seems to understand every word he says. Conversely, Buck’s master is some kind of mind reader, being able to express understand what the dog is feeling. I have a pretty good idea what my own dog wants most of the time, but it’s usually two things: Food and being let outside to relieve herself. This sort of buffoonery is beneath an iconic actor like Ford, not to mention a talented cinematographer like Janusz Kamiński, who also contributed to the film.

There are plenty of other flaws in The Call of the Wild, including a lot of poetic license with London’s original story that filters out a lot of non-PC stuff (by contemporary standards). It’s a blatant retrofitting of a gruff, harsh frontier tale into a sterilized stroll to “Wokeville.”   

Look, I have nothing against dogs or dog movies. I just prefer the real thing instead of a cheap imitation.  I also prefer leaving well-enough alone when it comes to adapting literature, even if it doesn’t match contemporary standards.  

"The Call of the Wild" Trailer