Jack London wrote his novel, “Call of the Wild,” after observing firsthand what it was like for late 19th century gold miners in the thoroughly unforgiving wilderness of the far Yukon Territory of Alaska. This was a time and in a land that favored strength and resiliency against all odds, not just for men, but for the hard-as-nails sled dogs needed to travel the harsh terrain.
It was a dog named Buck, a hefty half St. Bernard and Scotch shepherd mix, who was the heart and soul of his story. So popular was London’s book that after it was released in 1903 a film was made 20 years later. Since then, it has been adapted for film and TV movies numerous times starring actors as varied as Clark Gable, Charlton Heston and Rutger Hauer. Each time, filmmakers used real (trained) dogs and settings to evoke the violence and extreme hardship described by London.
Times have certainly changed, and while the gist of London’s story still exists in the latest adaptation directed by Chris Sanders, its rough edges have been sanded off revealing a family-friendly adventure tale about a heroic dog who becomes lured by the spirit of his wild ancestors after being captured and put into service as a sled dog.
But, in this movie, Buck is not a real canine.
A high quality digital scan was made of a dog adopted by the director and his wife, Jessica Steele-Sanders, from an Emporia, Kansas animal shelter, according to imdb.com
. He is the same breed as described in London’s book, the first time he has been correctly portrayed.
In addition, other dogs on Buck’s sled team are also digitally animated and given characters similar to the dwarves in Disney’s “Snow White,” again according to imdb.com
While some audiences will be thoroughly engaged by the use of animation for the animals, which aids in creating empathy for them by exaggerating facial expressions, it might take some time for others. During an opening sequence depicting Buck’s idyllic life as the overly rambunctious pet of a Santa Clara, California judge (Bradley Whitford), I got the impression this was more like Scooby-Doo on steroids.
Things take a serious turn after Buck is stolen and sold as a sled dog. Shipped to Alaska, Buck manages to briefly escape but is left a quivering mess after being educated in the discipline of the club. Don’t worry, none of the violence is explicit, but its implication is clear.
Buck’s adventures change after he is taken in by a couple, François and Perrault (Cara Gee and Omar Sy), who work for the government as mail carriers. But, Buck’s fate is determined by the lead dog, a vicious animal named Spitz. Again, the violence described by London is avoided as Buck manages to take the lead, mostly because he is benevolent but also he is clearly the biggest and strongest of the pack.
Although given top billing, Harrison Ford as the lonely prospector John Thornton only shows up about halfway through the movie. He also narrates the tale, describing for the audience how Buck has lived his life mostly in service to man but who is gradually seduced by the primitive, more instinctive essence of his wild nature.
This is what made London’s book so enduring. Dogs acquiescing to the needs of human beings is part of their pure hearts, but ultimately they yearn to run free, chasing rabbits in lofty green meadows, and following the sweet angels of their kind.
This animation-live action hybrid co-stars Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, Jean Louisa Kelly, Michael Horse and Abraham Benrubi.
“Call of the Wild” is rated PG for some violence, thematic elements and mild language.
Tempo grade: B-
It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For tickets, showtimes and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com
Also showing in Taos
MPA rating: Not rated, but does contain sexuality, violence, strong language and some drinking and smoking.
Taos Community Auditorium
This is the story of a 20-year-old Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) who experiences a spiritual transformation while living in a Youth Detention Center. He wants to become a priest but this is impossible because of his criminal record.
When he is sent to work at a carpenter's workshop in a small town, on arrival he dresses up as a priest and accidentally takes over the local parish. The arrival of the young, charismatic preacher is an opportunity for the local community to begin the healing process after a tragedy that happened there.
Directed by Jan Komasa, this film is in Polish with English subtitles, this film costars Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycembel, Tomas Zietek and Barbara Kurzaj.
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 23), and 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (Feb. 24-26) and Friday and Saturday (Feb. 21-22) at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org
No Small Matter
MPA rating: Not rated documentary
Taos Community Auditorium
This is a free screening followed by a discussion with early childhood professionals.
From directors Daniel Alpert, Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel of The Kindling Group (kindlinggroup.org
), this film narrated by actress Alfre Woodard is billed as a feature-length documentary film and national engagement campaign that brings public attention to the lack of quality early child care end education.
The filmmakers do this by sharing powerful stories and stunning truths about the human capacity for early intelligence and the potential for quality early care and education to benefit America’s social and economic future.
This multifaceted project reveals how our country is raising its youngest citizens, why making the most of this time in their lives is so crucial, and most importantly, what we can do to change the perception of when learning begins.
The first major theatrical documentary to tackle this topic, “No Small Matter” is designed to kick-start the public conversation about early care and education. The ultimate goal: to produce an entertaining, accessible, and inspiring film that redefines the audience’s understanding of the issue and helps drive it to the top of the political agenda. Or, as one advocate put it, “not just to make a documentary about early childhood education, but to make the documentary about early childhood education.”
This film will be screened one night only, Thursday (Feb. 27), 5 p.m., at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org