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!

Presenting my ‘Must See’ List for 2019

A whole lot of trailers dropped this week, but for my part, I only really cared about two.

First, obviously, is Avengers: Endgame

Yeah, this looks pretty fantastic. They’re not showing much yet; this trailer is mostly about letting the audience know that yes, the Avengers are going to keep fighting. Love the logo reassembling at the end. I’d also like to point out that the opening scene of the trailer to this movie, with Tony Stark recording a message for Pepper, is more honestly human than most films these days are in their entirety. Also, the fact that the big moment in the trailer involves Ant-Man just warms my heart. I really hope he gets to play a crucial role in this film.

As I was saying at a friend’s blog, the thing I most want from this movie is for Thanos to receive a ‘Nightmare-on-Elm-Street’-style comeuppance, where he gets to see his mad vision being undone and know that all his sacrifices and all his crimes were for nothing. If they get that right, I’ll allow almost anything else.

The other is the second Godzilla: King of the Monsters trailer.

Wow!

Lots more kaiju action, and it’s clear they’re still holding back most of it. We get clear views of all four monsters this time around, and a lot of King Ghidorah. I said last time that he was the one I was most hoping they’d get right, and from this it looks like they’re absolutely nailing it. I want a Ghidorah who can pound Godzilla into the dirt, and whom the three greatest monsters on Earth – Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan – will be hard pressed to bring down, and that’s pretty much what we seem to be getting. The two scenes of Godzilla and Ghidorah facing off are practically a dream come true (though I might wish they had been done in daylight).

Meanwhile, we get a full-view of Mothra this time. She’s definitely been given quite the makeover and resembles her ‘Mothra Leo’ form. I probably would have gone for more traditional designs, but that’s just me; they’re clearly keeping the important points. I like that they’re definitely playing her up as a heroic figure, which is proper.

Similarly, Rodan seems to be exactly in character as well; not strictly evil, but terrifyingly destructive and even more indifferent to mankind than Godzilla. We’re supposed to have a fight between Rodan and Godzilla at one point, but I’m also kind of hoping for one between Mothra and Rodan, since that’s something we’ve never seen before (Rodan and Mothra’s imago form have only shared one film – Final Wars – and they never interacted). Plus, if you have two flying kaiju, it only seems to make sense to make them fight.

I do have to wonder what’s with the scene of something bursting out of the ground. I presume it’s Godzilla, but why is he underground? I suppose we’ll find out (unless they just wanted to go above and beyond the call of duty by giving Anguirus or Baragon a cameo).

So, yeah, I think this looks fantastic. Again, there’s real respect being shown for these characters and this franchise, and in today’s world that’s something to be thankful for.

By the way, look closely at the clouds in the early scene of the devastated Washington.

(And I just found out; apparently, this film will feature Akira Ifukube’s immortal ‘Godzilla March’. Nothing else needs to be said.)

So, basically these two films are at the undisputed summit of my list of things to see next year.