Call of the CGI Wild

Before seeing Sonic, the only trailer playing was for Call of the Wild, one of the first times I’d even heard that such a film existed.

Honestly, despite the presence of Harrison Ford, I think this looks pretty bad.

The biggest problem is not just that this looks like it only bears the slightest resemblance to the book (which doesn’t lend itself to a live action adaptation in the first place), but more that the dogs appear to be entirely CGI. And not very good CG either. On top of that, but they don’t even act like dogs; they act like cartoon dogs in an otherwise LA environment (and in what is after all supposed to be a rather grim story). That is, they have semi-human expressions and reactions.

Now, there are a couple things to be said. I gave Midway a qualified pass for its equally obvious CGI, but that was for two reasons; one, the film was strong enough apart from it to survive the distracting effects, and two because, ultimately, the cg was just set-dressing. It would have been preferable to use models, but some intensive effects were necessary to create the world.

But here, the CG is being used to create dogs. Real dogs are slightly easier to come by than the Imperial Japanese navy. People are very, very familiar with what dogs look like and how they act. So, when faced with such an obviously fake article, I don’t see how you can react other than to be taken out of the story.

Apparently, the reason for this is partly because they wanted to avoid charges of animal cruelty or endangerment. Okay, but is using obviously fake dogs the only way of doing that? Was it really so impossible to make a movie with dogs without being cruel to the dogs? I mean, most of the book, as I recall, is about dogs pulling sleds, which dogs love to do (from what I hear, when their owners  come to pick dogs for their team, the dogs go absolutely nutsit’s like the mother of all walks to them). There are also some fights, which, okay; cg those if you can’t train the dogs to play-fight. Otherwise, I really don’t see this as a valid reason.

Except that the film has Buck fighting a bear and escaping an avalanche, and other bits of over-the-top action, which obviously they didn’t want to do with real animals (and, again, this apparently made it necessary to have the dogs be CG the whole time, because blending animation and well-trained animals wasn’t an option I guess). So, they first throw a lot of extraneous action scenes, then use that as a reason for making a massively bad choice at the very heart of the film.

The other reason seems to be that people didn’t like the blank, expressionless characters in The Lion King. Except that, again, people are rather more familiar with dogs and their mannerisms than they are with lions or hyenas, not to mention that dogs are generally more appealing and expressive in real life than the aforementioned wild animals. In short, people like dogs, and they like them for being dogs; not for being people in dog suits (I mean, how many films have there been centered around dogs that people watch and enjoy? Just consider Homeward Bound, which was nothing but dogs – and a cat- for most of its runtime). A cartoon is one thing, but a live-action film with semi-cartoon dogs is another.

On top of that, the film seems so different from the book in tone and content (again, the book isn’t really a lighthearted or exciting adventure story but a somewhat grim tale of a pet dog reverting to wild ways under increasing hardships) that I have to wonder what the point was. They probably would have been better off just telling an original story of Harrison Ford and his dog having an adventure. Absent the distracting animation, that sounds like it would be a really enjoyable story. Instead, we have this bizarre and misguided amalgamation of Jack London, Michael Bay, and Industrial Light and Magic’s B-team. How tiresome!

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