The aspect of making a book into film has to come from perspective of authenticity to the voice but also the focus from which it came. “Call Of The Wild” is an interesting conundrum since It is told from the perspective of the dog for the most part. Many movies of this sort overplay the ideal for schmaltz or have the dogs actually speak what they are thinking. This has become a progression of sorts in futility (though “My Dog Skip” still retains its intentions). “The Call Of The Wild” does it differently and, as a result, benefits from what would be seen as a more natural performance of the dog. The dog of course is not a dog at all but motion captured but the way it is done seems undeniable. There likely isn’t even a dog there but that illusion is fairly complete especially with the actors selling it, especially Harrison Ford. Now granted like Ryan Gosling who approaches acting the same way, Ford says much without doing a lot of things on screen and yet he conveys so much. What is interesting is that Ford’s character doesn’t enter fully until more than halfway through the movie.
As a result the audience connects with Buck as he is not just defined by one master but is by extension an elevated being of consciousness. Buck makes dynamic decisions with emotional resonance. His first owner shows his teenage years, his dogsledding days are his 20s and his time with Ford become his formative years where he can explore his own existence but also settle down. The scenery is beautiful and one understands why this appealed to Ford since this is more his scene. He feels perfectly at ease. Despite his want to try to bursh off the metaphors, the idea of existentialism and the nature of being does resonate with him. One only has to look at his filmography to see this. He brings in those other characters we know without calling attention to them. A lot of the words he says in solitary about his son and wife in this movie eerily reflect at times Han Solo and his son Ben. And of course we will always see a grizzled Indiana Jones especially in his countenance but also in his reservation. But his performance especially the addendum enhances the story and doesn’t dominate it. The dog in fact saved his soul even if life for him is only fleeting. Buck as a character is fully formed and the subtleties of his emotions are perfectly rendered with both heart, humor and betrayal so it wonderfully works in context. This movie of course couldn’t have been made even 5 years ago. But this is a distinct step forward in terms of realistic portrayal with borderline natural behavior. It used the tech to exceptional use for story purposes without losing the sense of the idea. “The Call Of The Wild” is not about spectacle. It is about the journey within that just happens to take place on a much larger mileau.
By Tim Wassberg