Jack London’s classic adventure novel The Call of the Wild has been adapted a number of times before, and as such, the story is pretty much bulletproof. The treatment is another matter, and this latest adaptation, courtesy of screenwriter Michael Green and director Chris Sanders, has been criticised in some quarters for over-reliance on CGI. Whilst the computer-generated animals didn’t exactly sink the film for me, I must confess to the politically incorrect opinion that real animals (and occasional animatronics) just look so much better, and I wish they had used them here.
Staying with visual effects for a moment, what’s been remarked on less – and indeed, something that irks me a great deal in general these days – are computer generated or computer enhanced landscapes. With this film, the landscapes may look fabulous, but I can always spot one that’s been digitally tinkered with, or one that is entirely unreal. Increasingly I long for the yesteryear of cinema, where it was harder and more expensive to photograph real locations (not to mention work with animals and their handlers), but the results looked so much better.
Well, no matter. CGI quibbles aside, the good news is that this latest take on The Call of the Wild works very well in other departments. The story of Buck – half St Bernard, half shepherd dog – retains its power to grip, enthral, amuse, move, and tear-jerk in equal measure (despite a few tweaks and changes which blunt some of the savagery of the novel). Buck is initially the pampered pet of rich Californian Judge Miller, but he is abducted during the great gold rush of the 1890s, and taken to the frozen Alaskan Yukon region, where he is sold to a mail-delivery dog sled team. Buck gradually acclimatises to his new job, and throughout the story passes from owner to owner – some reasonable, some cruel – before finally ending up the hands of kindly but bereaved John Thornton (Harrison Ford). Together they head out into the wilderness on an adventurous journey Thornton had originally intended to take with his dead son, to do a bit of casual gold prospecting. At the same time, Buck feels increasingly drawn to his wild surroundings, especially when he begins to interact with a wolf pack.
I’m sure most are familiar with the plot, and as I’ve already stated, it’s pretty much bulletproof. However, a big plus here is Harrison Ford’s performance. Another is regular Spielberg lenser Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography (which Iooks particularly great when not obviously tweaked by CGI). Yet another is John Powell’s stirring score. In fact, there is much to enjoy in this film, and it is – if you’ll forgive my use of an obscenity – “fun for all the family”.
UK Certificate: PG
US Certificate: PG