director/writer: Chris Sanders; screenwriters: Michael Green/from the Jack London novel; cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski; editors: David Heinz, William Hoy; music: John Powell; cast:  Bradley Whitford (Judge Miller), Harrison Ford (John Thornton),  Karen Gillan (Mercedes), Dan Stevens (Hal), Wes Brown (Mountie), Omar Sy (Perrault), Cara Gee (Francoise), Scott MacDonald (Dawson Dog Seller), Jean Louisa Kelly (Katie Miller), Terry Notary (rail worker), Colin Woodell (Charles), Lon Gowan (postman); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Erwin Stoff; 20th Century Fox; 2020)

“If you are merely looking for a safe family-adventure film, you will probably enjoy this film more than I did.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jack London’s 1903 classic has been a survivor of many film versions through the years and will also survive this mediocre film adaption. Animation director Chris Sanders in his live-action debut, which is a semi-live-action film (the dog Buck is animated, a poor choice that makes it look cartoonish like a Disney film and ruined the experience for me), films a tame version of the story. Michael Green’s screenplay follows faithfully London’s novel. A gruff Harrison Ford acts as narrator.

The huge
St. Bernard collie, Buck, is kidnapped from the Santa Clara, California home of a judge (Bradley Whitford) and shipped off to Skagway, Alaska, “the gateway to the Yukon,” where the 1890s Klondike gold rush has created a need for sled dogs.

Buck’s first job is as part of a sled team for the Royal Canadian Mail. He’s handled by the gentle French-Canadian postal workers (Omar Sy, Cara Gee). In one incident, delivering mail, the now alpha-dog bravely avoids an avalanche. Next he’s adopted by the cranky, hard-drinking John Thornton (Harrison Ford), who takes him into Alaska’s wilderness, and it’s where the domesticated Buck discovers this is where he was meant to be.

The villain is the rich asshole Hal (Dan Stevens), a sadistic gold-rusher with a bristling mustache, who gets a hold of the dog and uses him for his own nefarious purposes.

The story unfolds with a lesson on morality, on how some people are kind and others cruel, and the dog reacts to how he’s treated. The lesson extends to how mankind can’t tame nature by treating it badly, and the only way we can live in an harmonious world is to learn how to respect and treat others fairly.

The great wilderness photography was by Janusz Kaminski, who collaborated with Steven Spielberg on “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”.

If you are merely looking for a safe family-adventure film, you will probably enjoy this film more than I did.


REVIEWED ON 6/20/2020  GRADE: C+