One of the most enjoyable things about Harrison Ford these days is to watch him act his age. Literally.
Beyond the latest “Star Wars” movies, such films as “Morning Glory” and “The Age of Adaline” have demanded that he depict his own stage of life and career. He does that again with a project that’s a rather ideal match on that count: “The Call of the Wild,” the classic Jack London story that services Ford better than his canine co-star … who isn’t actually a real dog.
The animal named Buck actually is computer-generated in this case, which is a bit of an odd choice, given how many trainers there are in the entertainment industry who handle exactly this kind of thing. Admittedly, this would take a pretty obedient and trainable dog, since much of the action falls on Buck as he goes through encounters with various humans.
Though other familiar faces turn up in the cast (Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford), by far, the most memorable association is Buck’s adventure with Ford as a prospector haunted by family troubles. The pain conveyed by the screen veteran is quite human, neatly balancing an acting partner who’s not only not human, but not real.
Anyone who knows “The Call of the Wild” — and that includes lots of youngsters who read it as a class assignment — knows its basic themes of individualism, isolation and survival. The saga has serviced a number of film versions over the better part of the past century, but this is the first one to rely on CGI to create its animal hero.
Certainly, such imagery is nothing rare these days; in fact it’s almost more rare to find a movie without it. Still, that technical expertise often is applied to fantasies, not something with the overall realism of “The Call of the Wild,” so it’s mildly off-putting to realize that Buck is not an actual living being in this case.
Ford certainly has acted opposite such creations before (need we mention again that franchise that had him steering the Millenium Falcon?), and the fact that he remains so down-to-earth here is a huge tribute to his technique and his relatable nature.
“The Call of the Wild” also is a tale built for atmosphere, and the picture is very lucky to have the brilliant Oscar winner Janusz Kaminski — who works frequently with Steven Spielberg — as its cinematographer. Thanks largely to him, the result has an expectedly handsome look that a classic saga like this deserves. That, and a smart and skilled star, are the main reasons to pay a call to this movie.