CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: CHRIS SANDERS/SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL GREEN / STARRING: HARRISON FORD, OMAR SY, DAN STEVENS, KAREN GILLAN, BRADLEY WHITFORD / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 15TH
This brisk and lively latest adaptation of Jack London’s best-selling 1903 novel of wide-open-spaces animal adventure was hit by a double whammy of the coronavirus cinema closedown that scuppered its box office potential and a generally poor critical response. The over-all consensus appeared to be that its over reliance on computer generated animation - most of the expansive landscapes and heady action sequences were realised on soundstages against green screens and all the animals have a slightly creepy, not-quite-real quality to them - made it a cold and distancing experience. Perhaps now, though, months after it crashed and burned in theatres, this bright, breezy, and colourful romp will find a more appreciative response from a stay-at-home audience desperate for a dose of family friendly old-school adventure and a reminder of what it’s like to be actually outside enjoying some fresh air.
Chris Sanders’ The Call of the Wild, from a script by Michael Green, is easily the most faithful adaptation of London’s book (although a little less harsh and brutal than the text) in terms of its narrative. The film very much resembles those feel-good Disneys of days gone by - The Incredible Journey, Swiss Family Robinson, etc. - in its tale of heroism and derring-do in a wild, inhospitable environment. Set largely in the Yukon during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck, a mischievous young St Bernard/Scotch Collie, who is abducted from his life of luxury in Santa Clara and sold to the owners of a dog sled mail service hurtling across the snow and ice. Initially very much the underdog (geddit?)Buck soon gains the trust of his fellow hounds but when the delivery service is closed down, Buck is sold on to cruel gold prospector Hal (Stevens) and his sister Mercedes (Gillan) before being rescued by the kindly, grizzled Thornton (Ford - never more grizzled, in fact) and the pair set off to pan for gold in remotest Yukon. But Hal, having lost his entire expedition, bears a grudge and is out for revenge.
Call of the Wild, 2020-style, is very much a ripping yarn, real boy’s own stuff (with a few obligatory concessions to modern expectations, inevitably) full of races, chases, and thrills and spills in the great outdoors. There is a certain creepiness in the animal animation, though, that may be a little off-putting; the dogs are a bit too expressive to be utterly convincing and despite the technical brilliance of the animation itself, it still doesn’t look quite right and it does occasionally distract from the story. Harrison Ford is clearly having a good time (for a change) as Thornton and Dan Stevens is eminently hissable as the determined, ruthless Hal. All in all this is a hearty, old-fashioned film, a vibrant treat on Blu-ray, which delivers genuine ‘fun for all the family’ and that might even moisten the odd eye from time to time.