Sunday 15 March 2020

The Call of the Wild by Michael Green and Jack London

I tried to re-read Jack London's Call of the Wild recently and found I couldn't get much further than the kidnapping of poor Buck...

Buck is a pampered pet belonging to an affluent family who is stolen and transported across the continent and beaten into submission and forced to work as a sled dog in the far north. 

The gold rush has created a demand for such dogs, and criminals are only too willing to provide them.

The cruelty of Buck's treatment isn't ignored in the new film, but thankfully it's only briefly touched on and then Buck is sold to some rather nice people — a delightful couple who deliver the mail for the Canadian Post Office.

Perrault and Francoise are played by Omar Sy and Cara Gee, just the tip of the iceberg in a fabulous and remarkably strong cast. Buck's adventures with them are sheer pleasure, but it can't last...

The mail route gets cancelled and Buck is reluctantly let go, and sold to a trio of drunken and rather vicious dilettantes who are going gold prospecting with a gramophone and a case of champagne on their sled.

The dilettantes are played by Colin Woodell, Dan Stevens and Karen Gillan — I told you it was a fabulous cast.

And Dan Stevens remains in the story when the other dilettantes drop out, as the villain of the piece. 

He pursues Buck and Buck's final and best human companion, Harrison Ford as John Thornton, as they go on a journey of discovery, both outer and inner...

Buck himself is a CGI creation and, like the other critters in the movie, is far too expressive in a cartoony kind of way to ever seem real in any naturalistic sense.

But he did seem real to me in another, more important sense. I was engaged by his character and captivated by his story.

The film is written by Michael Green who recently wrote Murder on the Orient Express and co-wrote Blade Runner 2049

I think he's done a fine job of modernising and softening Jack London's original, making it accessible to multiplex holiday audiences, but still retaining a real sense of wonder.

I particularly liked his idea of personifying the call of the wild as a phantom black wolf who appears to Buck as a vision at key points in the movie.

The picture is directed by Chris Sanders, who has previously done animated films (How to Train Your Dragon, Lilo & Stitch) and photographed by Janusz Kaminski, who has shot almost all of Spielberg's features, including Schindler's List.

But the name I really want to draw your attention to is Kate Hawley, whose costume designs for Call of the Wild are so marvelous that she deserves an Oscar.

This is really a terrific film, and I adored it. 

I'm sure many would find it too phony or sentimental, but I laughed and I cried and I was enthralled.

Even if you don't like dogs — and I'm notoriously a cat person — I think you might enjoy it.

Give it a chance.

(Image credits: three posters from Imp Awards, Cara Gee and Omar Sy in a blue ice cavern from Vital Thrills, Dan Stevens in his red and black check cap from Tumblr, Omar Sy and Buck from ABC News, and some great photos from Karen Gillan's Twitter feed.)

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