Call of the Wild

This is the story of Buck, a behemoth St. Bernard and Scotch shepherd mix, a sweet pup enjoying a life of dog luxury in California when he’s dognapped all the way up to the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush. First he’s conscripted into a dogsled team for a mail delivery service, running across Canada’s northern frozen tundras until the telegraph makes his work obsolete. Next he becomes companion to John Thornton (Harrison Ford) who takes him out to the Arctic Circle where Buck can rediscover his primal roots.

Devoted fans of the 1903 Jack London novel will notice that neither Buck nor his dog colleagues closely resemble their characters in the book. In fact, the other sled dogs are also largely mutts, not the traditional Husky, and their personalities seem based upon the seven dwarfs. I’m not sentimental about the book so I don’t really mind the liberties taken with the literature so much as I mind the liberties taken with dogs. Because for a movie about a dog, and several of his doggie friends, there are no actual dogs in the movie. They’re all CG. And not only are they computer-generated, their expressions, especially Buck’s, are hyper real. Cartoonish. So they look out of place and they make it harder for me to relate to their characters. Buck and his pals get into some real danger. And of course, even out in the wilds, man is always any animal’s greatest threat. It’s likely too scary for very young kids, and yet it didn’t move me half as much as you’d expect from a bleeding heart with a recently deceased, dearly beloved dog. Because Buck’s movements and responses never feel real.

I have a slightly smaller pack now, but even with three dogs I’m very familiar with their methods of communication. If you live with a dog or a cat, and many times even a smaller pet, a bunny or a bird, then you’re likely pretty good at reading their expressions. You know what a tentative paw means, or a head tilt, or a lowered tail. You don’t need some ridiculous CGI eyebrows giving you Scooby Doo vibes. The constant reminder that these dogs aren’t real dilutes the story’s warmth and reduces our interest and empathy.

Ford is pretty solid, especially since he was almost always completely alone, perhaps acting only opposite a tennis ball on a stick that he had to imagine was man’s best friend. There’s a good story under all the effects, I think, but much like Tammy Faye Bakker, the message is lost, and the only story reported is the bad makeup.

18 thoughts on “Call of the Wild

  1. nationalparkswitht

    I did love the novel when I was assigned it a hundred years ago in school. Scratching my head over the decision to use breeds other than typical sled dogs, but I would probably see this just for Ford.

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  2. allthingsthriller

    I got the same vibes from watching the movie snippets. As always an entertaining read. So sorry to hear about your loss. My Blue Heeler, Moxie is 16 now. She’s almost completely blind and deaf, but she still gets around by scent remarkably well. I know that any day could be her last and I dread it, but I prepare myself and try to make peace with it.

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  3. Robert Horvat

    We will agree to disagree on some aspects here. I loved it. But I guess others will love or hate the movie depending on whether they can get passed the fact that Buck isn’t real. I also didn’t care that it loosely followed London’s book. In the end I don’t think kids will either.

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  4. Paul

    I quite liked The Call of the Wild, although part of that was that the film easily exceeded my (very low) expectations.

    I agree about the CGI though. There are some really jarring uncanny valley moments throughout.

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  5. Arionis

    As a dog person and one who read this book for school in the 9th grade (or grade 9 in Canuck speak) I was really excited for the movie. It was OK. You have already expertly outlined my problems with it. The CGI dogs did not look real to me and took away from the beautiful scenery they were in. It was very hard to get invested in Buck when he didn’t feel like a real dog to me.

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  6. Anonymole

    London’s time in Alaska was a bust too. As far as the original intent goes anyway. He spent one winter in a cabin starving, shriveling away from scurvy. Come spring he made it to Nome where he hopped a steamer home. Smick/smack done with this BS! But, his time there collecting stories from the sourdoughs was invaluable.

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  7. Liz A.

    My roommates rented this a couple days ago. I didn’t join them. I read the book, and I wasn’t a fan. Clearly, I didn’t miss much.

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  8. Snoskred

    NO.

    NO I COULD NOT EVEN GET THROUGH THE TRAILER WITHOUT TEARING UP.

    NO I cannot watch a movie with Harrison Ford and a dog that seems like the dog might not survive, or Harrison might not survive. Even if the dog is computer generated. Even if Harrison Ford was computer generated. Maybe if *I* was computer generated but they would have to Westworld my emotions somewhat.

    I CANNOT, WITH THIS. 🙂

    PS what about the dog actors who missed out on roles in this movie? I have a sad for them.

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  9. Pingback: Call of the Wild — ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES | FESTIVAL for FAMILY

  10. Pingback: Call of the Wild — ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES | First Scene Screenplay Festival

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