Only Harrison Ford is real; not Man’s best friend.
Probably the most dangerous and realistic moment I’ve ever seen in a kids’ adventure film was in “The Bear” in 1988. It involves a cub bear being pursued by a cougar on the hills and finally in the river, until the mother bear scares the cat away. The fact that real animals and some animatronics were used makes that scene thrilling and provocative. If it were made today, it probably wouldn’t look as fresh.
I’m referring this, because I’m reviewing the latest film version of the Jack London book “The Call of the Wild,” and the most distracting thing about it is how the dog looks. All CGI effects, he looks like a cartoon. I was expecting for him to either pour himself a dry martini or punch Wile E. Coyote in the face.
In fact, this whole movie was not filmed on location in the Yukon, but on LA sets and CGI is used. So, the rivers and plants look real, but it’s all unconvincing. I’m barely given any illusions, and felt they just dragged down the story.
The only real elements are the human characters. You get Harrison Ford as a wise old adventurer named John Thornton trying to finish what his late son started: explore the great unknown; Omar Sy as a mail carrier; Dan Stevens as a sadistic prospector; Karen Gillan as his less evil sister; and Bradley Whitford as a California judge and the dog’s original owner.
Out of all of them, Ford is the only believable character with his beard, age, and courage, while the other actors feel like they’re overstaying their welcome. I’ve only seen them as generic movie characters. Oh, we need a wise guy, we need a villain, and we need a “Guardians of the Galaxy” actress. They never seem to want to delve into the Jack London characters.
Fine. His name is Buck. Let’s leave it at that. At least, he’s smarter than he looks, because of how he saves the adventurer from alcoholism, refuses to let anyone tell him otherwise about sitting or moving, guides the other sled dogs on the right path, and eventually sends the bad guy to his demise. Back to his visuals (wither Terry Notary standing in), I’ve seen a much more disturbing looking dog in “Hotel Transylvania 3” than this, but it still was distracting.
All right, so my biggest complain are the special effects of the animals, but what about the screenplay by Michael Green (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Logan”)? Well, as I’ve said, the visuals just hold the story back, and think $125-150 million is needed to entertain people. It didn’t entertain me. In fact, I was barely paying attention to this movie.
This is the first live-action feature from director Chris Sanders, who’s best known for his delightful animated entries: “Lilo & Stitch,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” and “The Croods.” And he also helped with the writing process for “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Mulan.” Those movies are given heart and characters that have resonated with animation fanatics. Given the circumstances, “The Call of the Wild” is a step-back.