The Call of the Wild, Jack London’s classic tale of high adventure and courage in the face of extreme adversity arrives on the big screen in epic grandeur and it makes for a primal watch.
A domesticated St. Bernard/Scotch Collie dog named Buck is stolen from his Santa Clara, California home and sold to freight haulers in Yukon. Crossing paths with a man named John Thornton, the two embark on an adventure where Buck finds his true place in the world.
When it comes to classic stories of adventure, courage and survival, the pages of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is a story that pulls its audience into a daring world of America’s last great frontier. And now director Chris Sanders brings London’s vision to the big screen in what can only be described as a film of startling visual awe. Taking inspiration from both London’s words and historical fact, Sanders showcases the harsh wilderness of northern Alaska in both its majesty and brutality and builds a fantastic world for audiences to escape into. With grand visuals on display, a story like The Call of the Wild demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible and audiences are sure to be swept up into this fast-paced adventure of sled dogs and untamed land. Sanders brings considerable detail to the big screen in The Call of the Wild and recreates this exotic snowcapped landscape, with one of the film’s most impressive visuals being the recreation of the Chilkoot Pass, which has come to symbolize the struggles of those searching for fortune in this last frontier.
As a narrative, The Call of the Wild was one of the first stories to anthropomorphise its lead animal character in Buck through the application of human emotions onto an animal character. Here Buck undergoes a considerable transformation from a spoiled house pet to that of an enslaved dog before finding his calling and becoming both a fearless leader and explorer in this free land. Buck’s journey encapsulates that of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth or The Heroes Journey and its fantastic to see this classic narrative arc unfold on screen. Sanders and noted character performer Terry Notary bring Buck to life with incredible detail and compassion and audiences, both young and old, will enjoy seeing Buck’s inner wolf come out in this story.
Joining Buck in The Call of the Wild is Hollywood screen legend Harrison Ford, who takes on the role of intrepid prospector and wanderer John Thornton. For more than six decades now Ford has been an integral part of the Hollywood machine and through his life’s work, he has come to symbolize the concept of American masculinity and the fearlessness that it represents. His turn as John Thornton is in effect another chapter to that representation as the character of Thornton summarises the evolution of that classic American spirit who yearns for one final adventure. Ford brings his considerable gravitas to the role and his performance is authentic to both the character of Thornton and the prose of Jack London and I firmly believe London himself would be proud of the character that Ford makes his own here.
The Call of the Wild is a film that is big on thematic meaning, and its title carries its biggest theme with a return to the primal nature of the wilderness. Sanders layers his film with images and visual motives that pull at Buck’s burning spirit to embrace his animalistic side as this landscape of unbroken nature pulls at the wild lineage that burns inside of him. Sanders uses some great visual motifs in doing this, such as the use of a great black wolf spirit who acts as Buck’s guide and shows him how to survive and thrive in this harsh wilderness. This focus on the environment and its preservation is a theme that London championed throughout his life and its great to see Sanders and his team keep to the legacy of London and his work.
Alongside its environmental focus, The Call of the Wild is also a story of endearing friendship between man and dog and all animal lovers will find themselves smiling in this film. While Buck suffers greatly at the hands of his human captors at the beginning of the story, it is through Thornton’s eyes that he finds a true companion and a friend and master who gives him meaning in his life once more. The same goes for Thornton, plagued by his inner demons, whom in Buck finds a purpose in his life once more, and an animal companion who will protect him to the very end. This story of man and dog is an essential story of both literature and life, and The Call of the Wild is a testament to the power of this relationship.
The Call of the Wild is a primal watch that claws at your wild spirit and takes you on a bold and untamed journey to the very edge of America’s last great wilderness. It’s a film that burns with a quest for discovery and adventure and audiences both young and old are sure to be drawn to its vast canvas and classic story.
Image: 20th Century Studios