The Call of the Wild (2020)

SPOILERS FOR A MOVIE STILL IN THEATERS

THE NOVEL WAS WRITTEN IN 1903 SO A SPOILER WARNING IS A LITTLE SILLY, BUT STILL

I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m not a dog person. I had a couple dogs growing up and they were… not ideal. I’ve never felt super comfortable around dogs, let alone a big dog. And let me tell you, Buck in this movie is a VERY BIG dog. Or, more accurately, a very big computer generated creature in the shape of a dog.

For a movie about animals it’s weird that there aren’t any in this. I mean, objectively, there ARE, but every single one of them was digitally added after filming. I definitely got the impression that there wasn’t a real animal anywhere on set. For some people that’s not a problem, but I saw the uncanny valley in all the animals plastered on the big screen. Every time Buck acts more like a human than a dog it pulled me out of the moment. There were several times where someone hugged the big dog and most of the time I felt like their eyelines never matched; that they were looking at a person in a motion capture suit instead of the place where Duke’s eyes would be.

That being said… it’s still a pretty good movie. It started a little rough for me because Duke living with his original family is a very bad dog, but his interactions with just about every other human is heartfelt. They’re good actors, and they give good performances. Sure, they’re not the focus, but I never got the overwhelming sense that they were phoning it in. Mr. Dan Stevens especially was interesting to watch, in part because I only really know him as David Haller in Legion, so him as the villain was enjoyable.

And because The Call of the Wild is considered classic literature, what review of it would be complete without unnecessary, pretentious literary analysis? Let’s see… An argument could be made that the movie is about capitalism and class conflict. When Buck joins the other sled dogs, a camaraderie–a union, if you will–begins to develop. But that is in opposition to the goals of Spitz, the lead dog who represents either the ruling class itself or a bootlicking class traitor. Once Spitz is removed (if you read the book you’ll notice a lot of death has been cut out to keep a family friendly PG-rating) the pack prospers. That is, until they’re rendered obsolete through the advancement of technology; you don’t need sled dogs when the telegraph can send messages faster. We shouldn’t fear automation, but because we live in a society where if we don’t work we could become homeless or die, it is often portrayed as the enemy of the working class. And ultimately, it’s the rich elites who think they know best who bring ruin to the pack.

Damn, where were these skills when I was bullshitting high school essays? Anyway, it’s a good movie, gave me feelings at several points, and should be an extra treat for those who love the biggest of doggos.


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