By Laura Bennett
Dogs, men and the mountains are a winning combination for adventure stories about rekindling our wild spirit, and the silent power of friendship.
In Call of the Wild though, they’re used in a milder manner than you might expect.
Based on the classic American novel by Jack London, Call of the Wild is set in the Yukon, Canada during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800’s. Strong sled dogs are in high demand, transporting would-be prospectors across the snow-laden country in search of the prized nuggets, and bringing food and supplies to remote communities.
The story’s hero is Buck: a heavy footed, kind-spirited buffoon of a dog, whose domestic privileges have endowed him with a penchant for stealing food he’s not supposed to, and snuggling in beds that aren’t his.
Sent to sleep outside for his sins, Buck’s spotted by a dog-trader who sells him to some sledders for employment on a postal run. The uncomfortable transition sends Buck on a journey of self-discovery, where he begins to understand his own wild side and the power of instinct. It’s a lot for a dog.
Much of London’s original text has been culturally sanitised for its young modern audience, but Buck’s journey still speaks of man’s internal struggle to balance cravings for the untamed with social expectations to be civilised.
Buck has become used to the voice of a master, but on the mountainside it’s his instinct and own sense of danger that will keep him on track. And for a dog who’s animated and unvoiced, we certainly feel his emotions as he adapts to independence.
It takes a little while for Harrison Ford (John Thornton) to appear on screen, but he and Buck’s meeting is a fortuitous one. Having lost his son and now estranged from his wife, John wants to get away from the broken world. He wants to fulfil the long-held dreams he shared with his son to explore, and enjoy a life of simplicity.
Buck becomes John’s unlikely ally, with his canine perception showing John to be man in need of affection, and the two help each other on their own paths to fulfilment.
With raggedy hair and a wiry beard, only Nick Nolte could’ve ‘out-curmudgeoned’ Harrison Ford. It’s rare to see the Star Wars / Han Solo icon so ‘undone’ on screen, and you get the impression it’s exactly why he said yes to the role. In an otherwise simple story, he offers a level of depth to the connection between John and Buck, and elicits the kind of compassion only a heartbroken elderly man can.
In keeping Call of the Wild PG, the classic story does lose some of its grit, but offers younger audiences a chance to embrace a tale about friendship and isolation they mightn’t otherwise connect to.
Call of the Wild is in cinemas now.