The umpteenth dramatization of Jack London's primordial sled-dog novel has some intriguing casting choices, but doesn't do much to lead the pack.
During the Gold Rush of the late 1800s miners clamor for big, resilient dogs to tackle the Arctic snows. So it is that Buck, a pet on an idyllic Sacramento estate, is literally dognapped, clubbed into snarling obediance, taken up North and sold to Yukon mail-carrier Perrault (Luc Morissette).
While in the care of this firm but fair master, Buck adapts to the brutality of the frontier, finally killing another dog for leadership of the sled team. Perrault sells Buck to Charles (Burke Lawrence) and Mercedes (Bronwen Booth), a gold-hungry pair of tenderfeet from Milwaukee who foolishly
drive their dogs past the point of exhaustion as they work toward the fabled ore fields. Charles almost shoots Buck, but the animal is saved and sheltered by John Thornton (Rutger Hauer), a veteran prospector wintering in the area. Thornton gains the dog's trust, love, and devotion, even though
Buck feels an urge to run feral and free in the wilderness. When Buck wins a sled-pulling contest, Thornton has the money to look for a legendary lost mine deep in Indian territory. Thornton indeed strikes it rich, but he's fatally wounded by hostile natives. Buck kills the marauders, and, after
brooding over his slain master, heeds "the call" and joins the resident wolves. For years afterwards, Indians tell of a mighty "ghost dog" and his progeny prowling the valley.
The genius of Jack London's novel is how persuasively it takes readers into the canine mind; almost the whole story takes place from Buck's simple, unsentimentalized point of view. Screen adaptations must contend with human characters who barely register as three-dimensional personalities. Rather
than filling out the narrative with contrived anthropocentric scenes and subplots, the filmmakers here simply have actor Richard Dreyfuss reciting lengthy passages of London's prose--an effective device, but one upon which director Svatek relies overmuch. The gold-crazed Homo Sapiens in the cast
are generally flat, Hauer most disappointingly so (fans might recall that Ridley Scott metaphorically compared the Dutch actor to a wolf in 1982's BLADE RUNNER). Buck himself is played by three different dogs, all rather shaggy and unhandsome St. Bernard-shepherd mixes, which itself is far more
faithful to the original novel than the Rin Tin Tin lookalikes commonly cast in Yukon features. One wonders what Jack London would say about the prominent, politically- correct opening disclaimer assuring viewers that all animal performers were monitored and pampered, all the savagery was
simulated, and absolutely none of the performing cast of critters was harmed. (Violence, profanity.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: PG
- Review: The umpteenth dramatization of Jack London's primordial sled-dog novel has some intriguing casting choices, but doesn't do much to lead the pack. During the Gold Rush of the late 1800s miners clamor for big, resilient dogs to tackle the Arctic snows. So i… (more)