Whether it’s Lewis Milestone’s somber 1930 film “All Quiet on the Western Front” or Greta Gerwig’s highly praised 2019 film “Little Women,” the film industry loves adapting books. So, it’s no shock Jack London’s beloved adventure novel “The Call of the Wild” got it’s fourth turn on the silver screen as a family friendly film.
The story is rather unconventional, especially for an adventure story, given the main character is a dog that never speaks. Raised in the lap of luxury in California, Buck is taken to become a sled dog in the Yukon and must learn to survive. During this ordeal, he meets John Thorston (Harrison Ford) and forms a bond with the aged frontiersman, but struggles with his desire to be free from the cruelty of civilization.
Ben: Mans best friend
At first glance, “The Call of the Wild,” released Feb. 21, seems like an odd choice to make into a family picture, given the more violent nature of the book, but strangely, it works. This film is far from high art, but as a family film, it’s entirely serviceable. The bond between John and Buck is genuinely heartwarming and on the whole the film is exciting and enjoyable.
The computer-generated images start firmly in the uncanny valley, with Buck looking entirely out of place, sporting unmoving hair and anthropomorphic facial expressions. This is mostly made possible by the lighting which is very dynamic and natural looking. This pseudo-natural lighting makes the lackluster CGI seem much better than it really is.
The main selling point of this film is the relationship between Buck and John, which is caring without feeling cliche and fun without feeling forced. This is accomplished by having them meet multiple times during Buck’s journey.
John is a sad, broken character who relies on Buck to help heal his scars. While this has been done in other films many times before, Ford’s lively performance makes this simple character seem more real and believable.
The movie is, at its core, an adventure story, so of course it’s full of action sequences and exciting set pieces. While bland cinematography holds some of these back, a few scenes are suitably flashy and dramatic — notably Buck’s showdown with Spitz, his rival sled dog. Compared to the source material, these scenes are much less brutal but that’s simply a product of the PG rating.
Sam: The book was better
When it comes to adapting books, staying true to the source material is necessary for being a faithful retelling. As a fan of the original, “The Call of the Wild’’ deviates from this in its entirety, since the film was marketed as a family film. Yet the novel is anything but family-friendly, as the book is increasingly brutal with multiple instances of death. The book portrays Buck as a pampered dog that grows into a gruff leader due to the severe conditions he faces. The film, however, removes this brutalism for more PG content, making Buck’s development fall flat.
As much as Buck grows in the film, his character feels incomplete by the end compared to his book counterpart. There are plenty of problems with Buck’s character in the film, but the biggest one was the fact that he was computer-generated throughout the entirety of the movie.
When viewers are introduced to Buck during the opening scene, there’s a glaring problem with how he’s animated. His model spawns from the deepest crevices of the uncanny valley, at times looking real but other times like the live-action Scooby Doo. It’s jarring to watch, and can leave a haunting impression on its audience. Younger viewers may not mind or even notice, but an older audience could catch on to the unnerving sight of Buck.
It’s obvious this movie was geared toward kids, thus leaving older audiences left out to dry. Fans of the novel are known to be an older demographic, and the movie leaves something to be desired with its simplistic retelling and cartoony moments. Hell, the beginning of the movie starts off like a cheap “Beethoven” ripoff. It’s a complete slap in the face for people who know what the book is like, and though it gets “grittier” near the end, it doesn’t get close to the book.
Though it’s not a perfect adaptation of London’s classic book, “The Call of the Wild” is an average yet somewhat enjoyable family film. Aside from Buck’s CGI model and differences from the original novel, this movie can be an exciting adventure for kids, but older audiences and fans of the original might not be as invested.
“The Call of the Wild,” rated PG, is showing in theaters nationwide.