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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Great Movie for All Ages
by James Colt Harrison

Most boys have read Jack London’s book “The Call of the Wild” when they were young and love the adventure plus the proximity to animals in the wild. Author Jack London had a real experience of dealing with dogs during the Gold Rush in Alaska. London was an alcoholic and had lived a wild and chaotic life. Down to living on pennies, he decided to join the other foot-loose men who traveled to the Yukon to stake a claim and discover gold during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. London observed that horses were replaced by dogs to do the transportation of heavy gear required to ferret out the gold reserves.

While spending a year in the Yukon, London met two friends who had a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mixed breed dog. It was that dog who served as the model for Buck, the dog that was to appear in London’s stories. When London returned from the Yukon, he could not find a job. So, he sat down and wrote a series of short stories. Later, he thought up the story for “The Call of the Wild.” Buck is stolen from a ranch in California and transported to Alaska as a service sled dog. Buck, a born leader, eventually gets chosen to lead a pack of dogs and fight for survival in the harsh environment of ice and snow.

The book became an instant sensation when it was published in 1903. It has been translated into almost 50 languages and has sold millions of copies. It has never been out of print for almost 100 years.

Hollywood, of course, saw the book as an obvious choice for a film. It was first adapted in 1923 for a silent version. The 1935 version was the most sensational, not because of the story, but what happened behind the filming. The film starred beautiful Loretta Young and dashing Clark Gable. With nothing else to do in the snow besides sledding, they thought up something that was more fun. They had a torrid affair and Voila! Little baby Judy was born on November 6, 1935. In those Puritan days of the 1930s, it was a no-no for a film star to have a child out of wedlock. With Young’s publicists aghast, they thought up a scheme to explain why the beautiful actress disappeared for months. She “developed” some sort of illness that took her away from the limelight before Judy made her appearance. Young then put Judy into an orphanage and later miraculously “adopted” the little girl.

Other film versions were made over the years, including one with Charlton Heston in 1972. For today’s audiences we have director Chris Sanders’ version starring Harrison Ford, otherwise known to fans as Hans Solo.

The big change with the new version is that Buck the dog is now computer enhanced. He’s not a real dog. Frankly, it doesn’t make much difference as the computer wizards today can make miracles with their laptops. They made Joe Pesci and Al Pacino look nearly 12 years old in The Irishman, so why not make a computer-generated dog? Buck looked real to me. The plus side is that electronic Buck can do more things than what a real dog could do in the acting field.

Harrison Ford appears old and scruffy looking enough now to take on the character of drunken prospector Jack Thornton to whom Buck attaches himself. They make a great team and rely on each other to romp about the beautiful scenery of Canada and beyond. An old-time villain is thrown in for kicks in the form of Dan Stevens, the actor who foolishly left TV’s “Downton Abbey. He has slimmed down and now looks terrific.

The movie is a great family film as everyone from the little kids to grandma can enjoy the scenery, the antics of Buck, and the beloved Harrison Ford. Go have a good time at the movies!

(Released by 20th Century Studios/ Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG” for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language.)

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