BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jack London’s novel, The Call of the Wild is considered to be a Great American Novel and it truly deserves that consideration.  So, it is incumbent on filmmakers when they adapt this story to at least attempt to make it a Great American Film.  Director Chris Sanders (The Croods) tries in this, his first live-action feature.  He almost succeeds, but is waylaid by plot modifications that seem to bow to political correctness, and some CGI that ends up being a bit distracting.

If you’ve read the novel (who hasn’t? It’s almost required reading in our various school systems.) then you know the story is about Buck (Terry Notary, Avengers: Engame, War for the Planet of the Apes), a large, spoiled, rambunctious St. Bernard/Scotch Collie mix.

Terry Notary (Motion Capture) as Buck in The Call of the Wild
© 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Photo Credit Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

 He’s kidnapped from his Santa Clara, California home, and transported to Alaska, where he’s dragooned into the life of a sled dog. 

The Call of the Wild
(L to R) Terry Notary (Motion Capture) as Buck, Cara Gee as Françoise and Omar Sy as Perrault in The Call of the Wild
Photo Credit Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

He ends up on a sled team, and eventually becomes a leader.  After an adventure or two, he ends up with John Thornton (Ford, Blade Runner 2049, Cowboys & Aliens) and the two head off into the Yukon. If you need more of a plot synopsis than that, dear reader, consult the novel.

Omar Sy as Perrault in The Call of the Wild
© 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Photo Credit Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

So, this film’s source material is truly outstanding.  It’s a great yarn, even if it is a bit diluted by some plot sanitation that completely removes the First People from any villainous role, and glosses over some of the more violent scenes. Still, the most important aspects of the events that happen to Buck and serve to develop his character are there. 

Call of the Wild Buck in Action
Terry Notary (Motion Capture) as Buck in The Call of the Wild
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Make no mistake, Buck is the star of this movie.  Notary provided the motion capture that Buck’s movements were based on.  The technology is nothing short of miraculous, but the filmmakers went a bit overboard in grafting human expression onto Buck’s canine face.  Still, the scenes with Buck where those pesky humans aren’t involved are some of the best in the movie. Buck and Thornton dominate this film to the point that one wishes some of the other cinematic worthies like Bradley Whitford (Get Out, The Last Full Measure) and Karen Gillian (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Occulus) aren’t given more to do. Omar Sy (Jurassic World, Inferno) and Cara Gee (Birdland, Red Rover) are utilized a bit more and to good effect. Most of the outdoor scenes are compelling enough that viewers might not notice that, with the exception of some shot in Santa Clara, the entire film consists of set pieces. 

The Call of The Wild in Dawson City
Merie Wallace

Most of the above is quibbling. The fact of the matter is that The Call of the Wild is a family friendly film that tells a thrilling, compelling and emotionally evocative story, in spite of the fact that the 1907 story has been cleaned up so as not to offend 2020 audiences.  Perhaps the late 19th and early 20th century realities would have detracted from the family friendly nature of this film, or perhaps not.  In any event, The Call of the Wild calls up 4 and a half out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

While the Call of the Wild has a great cast with the likes of Ford, our next film has, well, Katie Holmes (Thank You For Smoking, Dear Dictator).

Brahms The Boy II
Katie Holmes stars in BRAHMS: The Boy II
Courtesy of STXfilms

Brahms, the Boy II is a sequel to 2016’s The Boy. It’s Rated PG-13 for terror, violence, disturbing images and thematic elements.

Brahms The Boy II
Owain Yeoman, Katie Holmes and Christopher Convery star in BRAHMS: The Boy II
Courtesy of STXfilms

Critical attention seems scarce.  I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t really weigh in, and it’s not on my docket for this weekend

I’m Larry Haneberg, and I’m taking you 2 the Movies

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