Updated: May 29, 2020
Harrison Ford fights the need for CGI computer effects with Call of the Wild when he takes off his shirt and shows off muscles popping in all the right places. However, Ford’s co-star Terry Notary falls right into the CGI game, transforming into a large, furry St. Bernard mix named Buck. Those who read Jack London or saw a 1935 version of Call of the Wild with Clark Gable and a real dog appreciate the story’s lure of outdoor adventure, though many other original plot elements now insult political correctness.
Director Chris Sanders and Screenwriter Michael Green smoothly jettison the offensive aspects to create a more appealing work. The filmmakers add diversity by casting Omar Sy and Cara Gee as a mail delivery duo whose appreciation for their dog sled team and Buck in particular, makes them an agreeable pair. Bad guys get switched around, too, once again avoiding parts of the book that would prevent it from getting published today.
But subtraction requires addition when it comes to filling screen time, so the moviemakers load their project with hyped up action suited to the kind of superheroes who wear capes and colorful costumes. Donned in gorgeous fur, Buck performs Aquaman style underwater heroics, while above ground he moves with Quicksilver speed to outrace an avalanche. All of this—including Buck—come from the graphics of computers. This makes for better treatment of real-life dogs but proves disconcerting with slightly off kilter moves.
Motion capture, or the process of recording a human actor and replacing his appearance with computer images, works great for characters like Gollum in Lord of the Ringsbecause no one knows what his movements look like. Non-fantasy creatures like dogs gives us different and more realistic expectations, which Call of the Wild’s CGI Buck misses. Youthful viewers weaned on computer effects may never notice or care about the disconnect, instead focusing on Call of the Wild’sheart-stopping action which retains some of Jack London’s original themes about adaptation and survival of the fittest. The message rings true as entertainment, but overall, the project’s special effects make its realities feel like part of a fantasy film.