The Call of the Wild

Jacob Richardson | 24/02/2019

Terrible CGI and a propensity for the saccharine means this adaptation falls flat.


Buck is the dog of a Southern town’s judge; running amok in the city, enjoying the privileges of life as one of the most important men in town’s pet. Soon, though, he is stolen and shipped off to Alaska, where he joins a dog sled team hauling mail to the Yukon. Once the team is disbanded, John Thornton (Harrison Ford) partners up with the dog to tackle an adventure off the map, in honor of his late son. 


The first thing you notice in The Call of the Wild is the 2006 Nintendogs level animation of Buck. Various other animals are animated throughout with better real-life synergy, but Buck remains remarkably unbelievable throughout. While you can work around the lifeless CGI, you can’t get past the staid, generic script and frequently disappointing familiarity of this piece. The Call of the Wild feels like a big budget version of an older film; something your parents might have tossed on the TV on a Sunday afternoon, with a wistful recollection of how they saw this when they were a kid. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the tropes and cliches on display here, coupled with the animated horror of the main canine, consistently pull you out of the story. 


The most egregious of these cliches can be found in the villainy. Hal, played by Dan Stevens (and joined for an imperceptibly brief period by the remarkably highly billed Karen Gillan) is ostensibly the villain of the piece. But clad in his red and black checkered three piece suit, and chewing the scenery like nobody’s business, he seems adrift in a film entirely unsuited to his performance. Riddled with elements of cliche antagonist, he is a largely terrible addition to the film who never quite fits tonally. 


Indeed, tone is something The Call of the Wild varies incredibly on. The old time evil of Hal is contrasted by the Quebecian charm of Omar Sy’s Perrault - a genuinely kind character, whose humor goes a long way to creating a comedic vibe for the middle third of the film as Buck learns how to live in a less than domesticated setting, amongst his canine compatriots. Even still, that comedic tone falls by the wayside when Buck gets paired up with John Thornton (Harrison Ford) - a section of the film that takes a decidedly more complex, morose and yet hopeful tone than the rest. 


Harrison Ford and the parts of this film that feature him heavily are the saving grace of The Call of the Wild. Ford gives a gruff, sometimes jocular, and frequently complexly sad performance, which brightens up the emotionality of this film. Coupled with some well rendered scenery, and at times a general sense of derring-do that feels at once both out of place for this era and also welcome, The Call of the Wild manages to give itself just enough to not be a complete waste of time. 


The Call of the Wild is massively disappointing, and lives endlessly in the uncanny valley.