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 who has made a journey from his home in California to escape from the aristocratic atmosphere of his original owners to the cruelty of new owners to being trained as a sled dog.
Buck’s journey is laid out in detail as we get to experience his pitfalls and perils in such cold, unforgiving winter and 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 and 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 and the two become fast friends and make an adventure of their own throughout the Yukon to discover what awaits both of them. 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 yawn between Buck’s backstory as well as his interaction with Ford. Plus, the CGI is also hit or miss and feels a little incomplete especially with Buck. When I looked at him in nearly every shot he’s in, I did a CGI effort instead of something that looks and feels 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 and we do 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 shows that it has heart and soul. It certainly feels like a faithful retelling and it works.
(Rated PG for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language.)
Justin Hall is a syndicated movie critic in South Georgia.