The Call of the Wild is directed by Chris Sanders. It stars Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, and Colin Woodell. The film is based on Jack London’s 1903 story.
Buck the Dog lives an ideal existence with his owner, Judge Miller, but is stolen away by greedy men who want to profit selling dogs. As the times pass, Buck finds himself in the company of a sledding team conflicted with the pack’s alpha dog, and as a companion to a disgruntled man mourning the loss of his son. The two embark upon an adventure, only to find the fates have other plans for them.
The Call of the Wild is a classic story which has received no shortage of adaptations over the years. Being that the story is over 100 years old and what audiences want in a film and entertainment in general has changed, I went into the screening of this latest take on the tale with some reservations. But I’m pleased to say, in a day and age in which things like comic book movies, cheaply made horror films, and by-the-book rom-coms have dominated the box office, The Call of the Wild is a welcomed return to simpler filmmaking and adventure stories, even if it’s not going to reignite this form of storytelling.
The Call of the Wild’s human characters aren’t the most compelling ever featured on the big screen, but they’re played well enough by the movie’s all-star cast, including the lines of Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, and of course, Harrison Ford, who also narrates. But it’s Buck, the film’s canine protagonist, who shines the brightest. Buck’s expressions and actions are priceless, and even without the gift of speech, he conveys more emotion than the characters of most “human” stories. Buck is worth the price of admission alone, and it’s him who truly makes the movie a standout.
The scenery is equally appealing, featuring vast snowy Alaskan wilderness, mining camps, frontier towns, and the like. The movie transports us back to a bygone era, and does so with surprisingly effective results. It’s so nice to get away from the world of big cities, smart phones, and social media for 100 minutes, and Sanders’ adaptation here manages to be surprisingly strong, with good pacing and memorable moments.
I wouldn’t say it’s a perfect film, though. Many characters in the movie are rather unceremoniously written off and effectively “ditched,” often as we were just getting to know them and sympathize with their plights in these harsh lifestyles and unforgiving environments. At times the pacing is too brisk in these regards; you’ll find yourself wishing we’d gotten to stay with certain characters a little longer. Also, while the film is rated PG and mostly features family-friendly content, there are a few scary and tense moments, though if your kids have seen any superhero movie made in the last 20 years, they’ll probably be fine.
The Call of the Wild isn’t a masterpiece, and it’s unlikely it’s going to spark a revival in old-fashioned adventure stories in the modern world. But for what it is, it’s a surprisingly effective and enjoyable outing. Solidly recommended.
Rating: Three stars out of four.
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