CVIndependent

Wed08122020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

A grumpy Harrison Ford sporting a David Letterman beard stars alongside a CGI dog in this latest cinematic take on the Jack London classic The Call of the Wild.

The filmmakers went for a kid-friendly PG rating, so much of the novel’s violence, against humans and dogs alike, has been removed in favor of a more-family-friendly take—and the dumbing down of the original text might’ve been forgivable if some of the CGI animal antics weren’t so jarringly unrealistic.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m in no mood to see real dogs getting hit with clubs and pulling sleds across frozen tundra, but Buck the cartoon dog would’ve been far more suitable in a completely animated affair. It’s actually the humans who sometimes throw things out of whack: Neither the humans nor the CGI beasts look like they belong together. The scenes where it’s just humans sitting around, or a bunch of dogs fighting on their own, look OK.

Ford plays John Thornton, a character who showed up much deeper in the novel. In the novel, Thornton was one of the many men prospecting for gold; in director Chris Sanders’ film, Thornton is a grieving loner who has left his wife after the death of their son. He drinks a lot of booze, and when he joins forces with Buck, they discover a gold-filled river while just sort of passing through. They weren’t even really seeking it, and I, for one, don’t see why this change was made.

Buck, who will eventually lead a sled-pulling dog team, is a curious-enough technological creation. He doesn’t look bad; he just doesn’t look and act “real.” He’s smart in ways that are complete bullshit, including figuring out that booze is bad for John and stealing his bottles. Again, this is the stuff of cartoons, not live-action/cartoon mixes.

Another big change from the novel is the portrayal of Hal; he’s a negative presence in a small part of the novel, but a full-blown villain in the movie. As played by Dan Stevens—with a mustache-twirling spin—he’s a little over the top. Karen Gillan might’ve been fun as his spoiled sister, Mercedes, had she been given more than five minutes in the movie.

The Yukon scenery is breathtakingly shot by famed cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, so that’s a plus. While most things might look out of place in this movie, the outdoor scenery is never short of gorgeous.

Chewbacca was essentially a big walking dog, so who better than Ford to play a drunk guy who talks to his dog a lot? Ford narrates the movie with his huffy grumble, and his onscreen persona has surprising nuance. (He smiles sometimes!) He makes much of the movie watchable, at times even heartwarming … then Buck the dog bounces around like Scooby-Doo and kills the moment.

Because the violence has been toned down, I can give the movie a mild recommendation if you are looking to take the kids out for the night. Yes, this movie slips into that category of clumsy family fare that will please the kids and allow the parents to watch a movie comfortably knowing that nobody gets fully naked or rips somebody’s tongue out. Hey, it might even inspire a nice conversation on the ride home: “Say kids, alcohol is bad for you. … Don’t drink like grouchy Harrison Ford in that movie!” As straight-up adult viewing, with no kids, The Call of the Wild, however, doesn’t suffice.

The Call of the Wild is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews