By Randal C. Hill
“I came up here because I didn’t want to be around anyone…and then I met Buck.”
-John Thornton (Harrison Ford)
After five years of writing—and receiving (by his own account) a stack of rejection letters four feet high—Jack London fled the slums of Oakland, California, to join thousands of others headed to the Klondike Gold Rush. He returned home as penniless as when he left, but this time with a wealth of new material. In 1903, his short novel The Call of the Wild became a runaway success, and London soon became the highest-paid author of his time.
Adapted now from London’s beloved classic, 20th Century Fox’s The Call of the Wild brings to the screen the story of Buck, a St. Bernard/sheep dog mix who revels in a pampered domestic life in California until his world is upended. He is stolen from his home by the family gardener, who is deep in debt from his gambling addiction, and Buck is sold and transplanted to the Yukon to become a sled dog. There he learns to adapt to his harsh new environment as he passes through the hands of a series of cruel and bumbling owners. The once-gentle pet is starved and abused but refuses to relinquish his spirit to any man.
He eventually meets gold prospector John Thornton, a dour, grizzled outdoorsman who immediately bonds with the animal. They then share a series of adventures. Buck saves Thornton from drowning, and later he helps Thornton win a $1,600 bet when Buck manages to pull a 1,000-pound sled-load of flour.
Over time, Buck feels a primal stirring that he innately senses is being passed on through his ancestors. He begins making excursions away from his beloved John Thornton until Buck is eventually finally set free to answer a clarion call emanating from the woods.
As a live-action/computer-generated imagery (CGI) hybrid, The Call of the Wild employs state-of-the-art visual effects, and we easily find the animals here to be believable characters. London purists will undoubtedly grumble during the film, as the story line sometimes deviates from the original.
Harrison Ford, at 77 still capable of the most demanding action sequences, stars as John Thornton. The more-than-able supporting cast also includes Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast), Omar Sy (X-Men), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2) and Bradley Whitford (Get Out). The screenplay is by Michael Green (Murder on the Orient Express), and the film is directed by Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon).
The Call of the Wild opens nationwide on February 21st.