Following along with the trend of bringing old American classics to film, “Call of the Wild” (2020) bounded into theaters on Feb. 21, showing audiences its version of the classic wilderness tale, and surprised many, as the movie was largely accurate to the original novel and just fluffed-up in a few places. The movie follows Buck, a spoiled, rowdy Saint Bernard/Shephard mix, as he gets taken from his wealthy, relaxed upbringing in a Judge’s house and is shipped to the wilderness of Alaska. As Buck is thrust into various situations from becoming a sled dog, becoming the alpha of his pack, becoming a companion to John Thornton, played by Harrison Ford, to becoming wild in his new pack, he learns the ways of the wild and unlocks his wolf-like instincts that had been dormant in his comfortable life.
The CGI model used for Buck at first is very uncanny, and unbelievable, but as the audience gets invested in the story, the model becomes less jarring and at times quite impressive, especially in the action scenes. The model itself is also very accurate to Buck’s breed in the book, and his size, though, at first seeming overexaggerated, is true to how the novel portrays him, as he is even larger and bulkier than the leading husky, Spitz, and the timber wolves he meets later. The CGI also makes it easier to see the emotions of the character, and though they may be more stylistic in depiction, accomplish the goal of depicting emotion, without having to rely on the cheap cop-out of having the dogs talk.
The cinematography of the film is also quite stunning, almost every shot being worthy of display. The portrayal of Buck’s inner instincts as this looming, powerful black wolf is a beautiful effect as well. The supporting cast do well in the film. The endearing performance of Omar Sy as Perrault was the star of the first half and was dearly missed after having to sell the sled team.
The bones of the movie are quite close to the original, however the tragical air of John Thronton and the random, over the top villain, Hal, played by Dan Stevens, give the movie that family audience feel, while pushing aside the fact that the antagonist of the original novel was more so how the wilderness affected others, not necessarily this black-and-white scenario. Both Harrison Ford and Dan Stevens did an excellent performance, however, and their rivalry is a much safer plot than that of the original novel.
The novel is much more gruesome than the movie. Buck not only defeats Splitz but brutally kills him and other dogs rush to finish him off, along with bullying and dominating his teammates, and even kills people by the end. Hal and his companions instead of lingering on throughout the film, drown along with his abused dogs after the ice breaks around him. John Thronton dies, but by the hands of a savagely portrayed native tribe rather than by Hal. The list could continue, but it is understandable that the movie is not a complete mirror of the original novel, as Buck may seem too wild for audience’s liking and unsympathetic, scenes could be too violent, and characters like Thronton and Hal could be uninteresting without throwing in some extra qualities.
All the changes in the movie strengthen the film and make it an entertaining watch for the whole family.
Alexandra Gerges // Staff Writer