I’m sensing somewhat of a pattern emerging this week; what with Emma yesterday and this today, it must be ‘New Adaptations of Old Books’ week, or perhaps something snappier, I’ll work on it, but in the meantime, here’s a review of a film about grumpy old Harrison Ford and a dog.
I can’t say I’m familiar with the book, but then again it doesn’t really matter, I’m not familiar with a lot of books, but I’m unsure of whether I’d even heard of Call of the Wild before this film was being advertised; but apparently it’s a very popular story, and has been adapted before – naturally – although not since 1935, so at least some restraint has been shown.
I remember last year in a review I said that dogs were effective ticket sellers (or something to that effect), in their position as ‘man’s best friend’ a film featuring the lovely fluff-balls are sure to make more money if the dog is front and centre, which it is here.
Only, there’s a difference in The Call of the Wild, whereas in the past films have used real dogs on set, and added effects in the editing room, for the additional cuteness factor of seeing a real dog, in this film, the dog(s) are entirely CGI, and boy-howdy does it show.
I know the saying goes: ‘never work with children or animals’ but surely when you’re making a film about animals, it’s advisable to use real ones to make sure they look like they’re actually there, CotW’s lead dog Buck is so obviously CG and unbelievable that it really takes some of the wind out of the films sails.
To make things more ridiculous, the effects used to make the dog give it distinctly human facial expressions, which looks corny and laughable and is utterly against the serious tone the fine is going for, people will have long, detailed conversations with this dog, which it obviously can’t understand, then the film acts as though he can, it’s really bizarre and jarring.
It seems that I only mention effects on this site when they’re bad, which is a tad unfair on all the hard work the artists have done in making it, but special effects are a thing that we shouldn’t really notice, but be glad are there, like public toilet cleaners.
It’s a shame, because the story is actually quite charming. Set during the late 19th-century gold rush in North America, a big-hearted dog named Buck is dog-napped from his life of luxury and taken on an odyssey as a working dog, pulling the mail sled around Alaska, eventually this leads him to meeting a grizzled, elderly Indiana Jones, or as he is known in this film: John Thornton.
While it is charming and effective in parts, it’s also rather lightweight and disposable. I like the chemistry between Ford and his CGI friend, the notoriously difficult cinematic veteran seems to be enjoying himself and putting his best effort in, which is more than can be said for his brief appearance in Rise of Skywalker.
Even before he gets to that stage, there’s a nice arc involving Buck moving up the rank as a sled dog, and fitting in with his pack, all that is fairly standard stuff, if a bit ludicrous when the dogs start acting more human in their reactions, and the effects really start to groan under the strain.
I found the film a mixed bag, to be honest. At times charming and dependable, but also rather dull and silly, it, like Emma yesterday, takes no chances with its source material, and pushes no boats out, but it is at least presenting a story we haven’t seen retold in a while, and it manages to be quite entertaining at times.
The cinematography is a mixed bag too, again, its weakness is its reliance on CGI to create epic landscapes, when there are plenty of pleasant landscapes in the world to get a more realistic shot, it feels unmistakably like a film shot in a studio, which does have its merits, I admit, but not in a setting of such grand adventure.
Its later act twist sort of lost me as well, it was going for the heartstrings, which is hardly effective on me as my heartstrings froze up long ago, but it utterly misfires by asking us to stretch our suspension of disbelief to breaking point. It had me in for a while, but lost me one too many time for me to actually recommend it.
So, I suppose that’s my final summation of The Call of the Wild, a good little adventure that loses its focus and strays into the ridiculous one to many times to stay invested. Harrison Ford gives a decent performance, but you may be put off by the dog hailing straight from the Uncanny Valley.