Monday, 24 February 2020

The Call Of The Wild (2020) - Movie Review

Every so often, I find myself sitting in front of this word processor and realising that what I have to say, or at the very least the bulk of what I have to say, could just as easily be said by anyone. It’s the kind of plain-faced, right-in-your-face facet of the production at hand that is so blindly obvious, I almost feel like a rube for even bringing it up. I’m not so conceited that I see what I have to contribute in these reviews as anything tremendously vital, but I at least try to bring the one thing that no-one else can lay claim to to the table: My own perspective. Unfortunately, I doubt that means much in this case, since what I have to report back about this film is something just about anyone could point out. So let’s get that out of the way first: Wow, this is some bad CGI.

Actually, it’s not even that it’s all that bad, or even unnecessary as I can easily see why the filmmakers on high decided to digitally render Buck, the canine main character of this story. It goes a fair way to humanise the character, and considering they also made the wise choice to not make this yet another bloody talking animal movie, I at least get the stylistic choice. What I don’t get is how wonky the final result turns out.

It’s… conspicuous. Like, Raja Gosnell-level conspicuous. Right from the first frame Buck shows up in, the immediate sense of ‘this is clearly not real’ swoops in and never leaves. Add to that how pretty much every animal is portrayed in the same computerised fashion, and there’s more than a few obvious green-screen shots alongside, it really does have an unfortunate Scooby-Doo sheen that, for as decent as the rendering itself is, never allows it to gel properly with the live-action footage. It would have worked a hell of a lot better if they mo-capped the human characters, so it’d look a little more consistent, but as it is, it makes for a pretty glaring barrier-to-entry for someone like me who can’t help but notice such things.

And yet, this must be a real testament to the source material because, even with all of that in mind, the film itself is still pretty good. Apart from the begrudging relief that this isn’t another cloying effort like most of the animal-centric films I end up covering on here, the storytelling is that on-point that while ignoring the visuals is pretty much impossible, they can be dealt with for the sake of the narrative.

Between the contrastingly good job done with the facial expressions and blocking for the animals, Buck in particular, Harrison Ford’s leathery voice-over narration, and Michael Green’s effective (if muddled) adaptation of the original book, the film’s main thematic touches still land on solid ground. A frontier-era story about nature, both that of man and man’s best friend, and whether ‘civilisation’ is really worth dealing with, the true-blue dramatic and emotional moments resonate quite loudly, showing Buck’s journey from the plantation to the great outdoors in effective fashion. When Buck confronts the leader of his pack of sled dogs, I felt that shit, bad CGI or no bad CGI.

And in a way, that’s kind of impressive. Not every film is able to overcome its own flaws, especially one as glaring as this film’s main visual aesthetic, and for a director’s first time outing into live-action as is the case for Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How To Train Your Dragon), it’s evidence of some major growing pains. But all the same, while it may not make anyone’s pick for the definitive version of this story, it still manages to hit all the right points of that story. Buck, you may be a bit of an ugly thing, and I’m not even sure if I could actually touch you, but you did good. Good boy, Buck.

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