‘The Call of the Wild’ sends mixed signals

click to enlarge This undated image provided by 20th Century Fox shows actor Harrison Ford as John Thornton from the film "Call of the Wild." - AP
AP
This undated image provided by 20th Century Fox shows actor Harrison Ford as John Thornton from the film "Call of the Wild."

Movie review

By Kaylee Brewster

Two out of four

“The Call of the Wild” combines Jack London’s famous novel with some humor, a CGI dog and Harrison Ford, putting a bizarre spin on London’s “being one with nature” theme.

The film follows the basic plot of the novel. Buck the dog is kidnapped from his home in the South to be used in the Yukon during the Gold Rush. Along the way he meets humans, some friendly like Francoise (Cara Gee), Perrault (Omar Sy) and later John Thornton (Ford); and some not-so-friendly like Hal (Dan Stevens). However, throughout Buck’s adventures and changing masters he feels drawn to something more, the titular call of the wild.

I say it follows the basic plot because the film is much more family friendly than the book. The abuses Buck suffers are diminished, though still upsetting. The deaths of characters, both human and canine, are significantly reduced and in their place are cute and funny antics by Buck for the audience to laugh at.

Some might enjoy the departure, especially those looking for a wholesome family experience, while literature enthusiasts may decry the simplification of the novel.

However, the biggest obstacle audiences must overcome is the decision director Chris Sanders made to use computer generated images to create all the animals, including protagonist Buck.

The film exaggerates Buck’s facial expressions, movements and behaviors to be more human and less dog. There are few moments where Buck appears to be a real dog but then he’ll flash a look that is unrealistic and it pulls the audience out of the movie and reminds them it’s all fake.

It’s a shame because the last thing that feels fake in this film is the emotion. Despite his distracting features, Buck has heart and the humans he loves show  genuine emotion as well, especially Ford’s John Thornton.

The weird juxtaposition of authentic feelings and artificial canines sets the whole film off balance. It also contradicts the message.

During Buck’s adventures audiences can see the natural beauty of the mountains, rivers and valleys, the starry night skies with the northern lights dancing in the distance --it’s all so real.

Then Buck plays the harmonica with John Thornton and the trance is broken.

You can’t tell people to free themselves in the wild when the dog that’s giving the lecture is composed of unnatural computer graphics.

As a viewer, this was an aspect of the film I couldn’t overcome, so while others might answer the call of the wild, I’d let it go to voicemail.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P8R2zAhEwg

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