Tame and Tuneless
In Call of the Wild, Chris Sander’s neutered adaptation of Jack London’s tale, the matter seems rather slight and predictable. If you think about where the story might be heading, you’re probably right. Surprisingly, Harrison Ford was absent during the first third. When he does amble into view, it has the type of “accidentally on purpose” which was meant to blow fairy dust in our eyes. Ford remains a top actor precisely due to playing infinite variations of himself. He’s the kind of purehearted thespian one can imagine resting comfortably in The Call of the Wild. Due to puzzling factors not worked out in Michael Green’s script, he seems devoid of purpose except for ushering Buck, the computer generated goofball hound, in the right direction. The veteran actor feels like a place holder, while his narration hums along with self important grandeur. It barely nudges the golden tones he evoked in the theatrical version of Blade Runner.
About Buck, there was a curious revelation which came to me around the midway point. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the live action incarnation of Scooby Doo, made in 2002. Yes, the hair on Buck looks better yet he’s only a photoshop layer or two away from the ne’er do well detective dog. Also, he does things no animal would ever do like giving his fish meal to a sled puller.
Good company prevented me from barking at the screen every time John Powell’s sappy score pounced on the eardrums. Although he means well, it’s like pouring barbecue sauce over a mound of gardenias. Perhaps the film would play better only utilizing the harmonica, which John Thornton (Ford) carries at all times. A simple folk melody would bind his actions to the surroundings, offering a little joy. No such tune I’m afraid.
It took so long for Ford to make his grand appearance in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, I figured the director had forgotten about him entirely. Actually, The Call of the Wild functions in the same oxygen deprived environment. Thornton meanders in and out as the story dictates, and it’s not exactly encouraging given what he must work with. There’s a throwaway nod to the gold digging of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre though the precious stuff matters less to him than a bag of salt. The film also invites comparisons with The Force Awakens, which served only to remind us that Ford’s glory days as Han Solo ended in 1983.
If The Call of the Wild had remained true to its concept, the entire production would unfold in animation. The filmmakers were halfway there, but it resembles an awkward Who Framed Roger Rabbit. While the latter was conscious of the illusion, Sanders expects us to take his movie seriously. I was oppressively underwhelmed.
(Released by 20th Century Studios/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG” for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language.)