THE CALL OF THE WILD – Review by Susan Granger

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Dog stories have been on the movie menu since the early days of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. But, back then, directors depended on multiple trained dogs. Now, there’s computer-generated motion-capture that further anthropomorphizes the animal.

Which means that Harrison Ford was playing each scene opposite movement coach-choreographer Terry Notary (formerly of Cirque du Soleil), directed by animation veteran Chis Sanders to react like an expressive cinematic canine – with digitation by MPC Montreal, renowned for special effects in “1917” and “The Jungle Book.”

Michael Green’s somewhat sanitized screenplay basically follows Jack London’s classic novel about big, lumbering Buck, described as a “Scotch shepherd,” who was dog-napped from his Santa Clara, California home and shipped off to Skagway, Alaska, “the gateway to the Yukon,” where the 1890s Klondike gold rush has created a serious demand for sled dogs.

Rambunctious Buck’s first arduous job is part of a team delivering mail, guided by French-Canadians (Omar Sy, Cara Gee), where he distinguishes himself by outrunning an avalanche.

Then he’s adopted by cranky, hard-drinking outdoorsman John Thornton (Ford), who takes him on an exciting trek into Alaska’s uncharted wilderness where Buck discovers his inner ‘spirit’ wolf. (Ford also serves as the growly narrator of Buck’s story.)

Inevitably, there’s a melodramatic villain, Hal (Dan Stevens), a ruthless gold-seeker with a bristling mustache and a streak of sadistic cruelty.

And it’s magnificently photographed by Janusz Kaminski, best known for his collaboration with Steven Spielberg on “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Munich.”

FYI: Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild,” first published in 1903, has been adapted on film five times, not counting the “Peanuts” and anime. That includes the 1935 version with Clark Gable and Loretta Young, followed by Charlton Heston’s in 1972 and Rutger Hauer’s in 1997.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Call of the Wild” is a crowd-pleasing, resilient 7, a PG-rated, family-friendly adventure suited to children age eight and older.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.