Buck (played by a computer-generated dog) is a huge Saint Bernard whose wasted existence as a pet is brought to a halt when he is ripped off and turned into a Yukon sled dog. He goes through a revolving door of owners, although the one particularly taken with him is a sad prospector (played by Harrison Ford) who is in desperate need of a companion; the two brave the elements together and travel deep into uncharted lands in search of fortune.
This rugged, albeit very loose, adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 novel has enough exciting settings to overcome how the poignant London story was turned into a mainstream popcorn flick. Considering that most of this film is a special effects showcase, in which the four-legged protagonist is a CGI creation, Call of the wild is sort of a sumptuous experimental film. We can take this as a milestone in VFX tech 2020. Luckily, Buck the Dog (and his canine co-stars) is a lot more compelling than he appeared in the dubious trailers. Many individual shots are breathtaking in their realism, although the illusion is far from homogeneous. I was always aware of special effects but still got attached to Buck as a character.
Ford gives an engaging and fully engaged performance, with the warmth in his eyes creating a window on a man suffering from painful personal losses. It’s not worth anything Ford says, as it continues to be a controversial aspect of the famous Blade runner. Here, Ford’s growling voice is perfectly suited for imagery, even when its vocal features seem to be added to over-explain the plot.
Both very good Omar Sy and Cara Gee play the first round of human owners and Buck trainers. Dan Stevens, still on one note, co-starred in a ridiculous trick; his performance as a villainous character does nothing for the film. The quick turnaround also suggests that it was once a longer film that was cut short for multiplex appeal – Karen Gillan surely didn’t sign for a role that has a maximum of two minutes of film time. screen. The rarely seen Jean Louisa Kelly (best known for playing the rebellious teenage daughter in Uncle Buck) appears at first, as does Bradley Whitford in a beautiful appearance.
Think about what the Coen brothers could have done with this material. Or rather, what they have already done: the sublime part of Tom Waits directed by The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is superior to this movie. The same goes for the Gritty Astonishment, Better Than Anyone, in 1991 with Ethan Hawke, the London version. White Fang (although even this film took considerable liberties with its source material).
London is hard to pull off in the movies, as its wilderness survival tales have never wavered in the face of cruel and brutal violence and the harsher aspects of human behavior. Having reread the novel recently, I was taken aback by its difficulty and I wonder if an entirely faithful adaptation will one day be possible. This version has a few intense moments and even suggests animal abuse a few times, but makes the decision to keep this family approach most of the time (elementary kids shouldn’t have a problem enjoying it).
Call of the wild isn’t strong enough to fit into the genre of greatest canine cinema, simply for the reason that Buck and his co-stars are made up of pixels. In comparison, the syrupy but surprisingly captivating Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey from 1993 has that beat to use real animals – witnessing how a filmmaker can manipulate a performance of an animal will always be more impressive than anything or Life of Pi can achieve. Yet the idea is also that fake animals are a way to protect real ones from the damage and potential stress of working on a movie set. I enjoyed this sweeter but warm version of London and will see it again, but Buck is not Benji.
Rated PG / 100 Min.