“Call of the Wild” is based on the novel by Jack London. It is about the adventure and the danger found in the Yukon territory during the Gold Rush. The main character is a rugged outdoorsman, a prospector who values his freedom over gold. He meets up and befriends a very large dog, and they make their way up North into a massive and open wilderness. Harrison Ford plays the main role, and his adventures with Buck, the dog, are quite something to behold. Harrison Ford with a very, very big dog – you might want to call it “Raiders of the Lost Bark”, or “The Empire Barks Back”….
Buck, the dog, is big and shaggy and has a curious streak that matches his size. He starts out in Santa Clara, in the home of a nice man (Bradley Whitford) who wants to also keep his home nice. Fat chance of that, with Buck having free rein running around. So Buck is put outside for the night. But bad dog poachers are stealing family pets to take up to Alaska to sell to prospectors. Buck is taken away and learns to fear ‘the club’. He is mistreated and abused for being a big softie. When they arrive way up North, Buck is sold to a mail carrier named Perrault (Omar Sy) for his sled dog team. Perrault runs the mail up to small towns through the snow and ice. He can tell that Buck is smart dog, but Buck does not get along well with the cruel Alpha dog – named Spitz.
Buck, has had enough of Spitz being a bully to all the dogs, so he takes him on. Guess who winds up as the new Alpha dog? Buck does many great things for Perrault and his wife by leading the sled team. Buck has saved their lives a few times, but he never asks for compensation. Maybe an extra bone would be nice… But one day, when the mail team get to a small town named Dawson, Perrault gets bad news. The new-fangled ‘telegraph’ is starting to replace the mail delivery. The sled team is broken up and Buck is no longer the leader. But not for long. A couple of new city-slickers come into town wanting a sled team to take them to Gold Country. Hal (Dan Stevens) and his wife Mercedes (Karen Gillan) have no idea what they are doing. They just know that Buck and the other dogs better pull all their junk to a spot with lots of GOLD!
Hal mistreats Buck and the other dogs, and he almost leads them into a dangerous river. A rugged prospector named John Thornton (Harrison Ford) gets involved and frees Buck and his friends. Hal is furious, and Mercedes will not stay in this cold wasteland. Thornton and Buck become close pals in the wild open spaces. Hal tries to plot his revenge, and if Thornton finds any gold – Hal has a plan to steal it away. He hates Buck and he hates Thornton for being the dog’s best friend. Thornton goes to explore off the edge of the map, and he and Buck find some marvelous things. But as they forge deeper into the Wild, Buck begins to hear his own ‘Call’. A local band of timber wolves seem to adopt Buck as their equal.
“Call of the Wild” is a mixed pan of prospector’s sand. You think there are some gold nuggets in there, but a lot of it is “Fool’s Gold”. The basic option to have all the animals in the movie be a CGI creation of visual effects is — odd to say the least. Buck is a ‘photo-realistic’ computer graphic image of a dog, and not real. So are all the other pooches and other animals. Maybe this way the producers can honestly say “No Animals Were Harmed”, because no animals were used in the filming. These animals look more like “The Lion King” (the latest one, not the animated one). That means every interaction of all the actors with Buck were not actually real. It does not make that bad, but it still does look a little off.
Harrison Ford is fine and makes quite a nice ‘mountain man’. He physically fits the part, and he uses an appropriate growly voice to do some voice-overs. He takes a meager character and gives John Thornton a bit of back-story and emotional heft. Dan Stevens does not fare as well, becoming a one-dimensional bad guy. Omar Sy is good for the short time that he is in the movie. The story has been adapted from Jack London’s original ideas, but it still retains the sense of adventure. But it lacks the motivation to be more than a travelogue into the Great Northwest Wilderness.
“Call of the Wild” is a movie that does not quite run with the pack, but it does not entirely go to the dogs…
Call of the Wild
Directed by: Chris Sanders
Screenplay by: Michael Green
Based on: “The Call of the Wild” (by Jack London)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Colin Woodell
Length: 100 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language