CS Interview: Chris Sanders on The Call of the Wild
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with director Chris Sanders about bringing the iconic American adventure novel The Call of the Wild by Jack London to life in his solo directorial debut led by Harrison Ford (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker).
Adapted from the beloved literary classic written by Jack London in 1903, The Call of the Wild vividly brings to the screen the story of Buck, a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life is turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Canadian Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail delivery dog sled team–and later its leader–Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime, ultimately finding his true place in the world and becoming his own master.
As a live-action/animation hybrid, The Call of the Wild employs cutting edge visual effects and animation technology in order to render the animals in the film as fully photorealistic–and emotionally authentic–characters. It stars Harrison Ford (Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars), Omar Sy (The Intouchables), Dan Stevens (Apostle, Legion), Karen Gillan (MCU, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Colin Woodell and Cara Gee (The Expanse).
The big-budget live-action film is being directed by Oscar nominee Chris Sanders (The Croods, How to Train Your Dragon) from a screenplay by Oscar nominee Michael Green (Logan, American Gods).
Erwin Stoff (The Matrix, 13 Hours) will produce alongside co-producer Ryan Stafford (War for the Planet of the Apes). Diana Pokorny (Downsizing, Daddy’s Home) will serve as executive producer with Steve Asbell overseeing the feature for 20th Century Studios (formerly known as 20th Century Fox). The outlet notes that the project will rely heavily on the special effects studio Technoprops, purchased by Fox last year.
The 1903 novel has seen numerous adaptations over the years, from a silent film in 1923 to iterations starring Clark Gable (It Happened One Night), Charlton Heston (Planet of the Apes) and Rutger Hauer (The Hitcher), but Sanders didn’t let this hold him back, as he “thought it was something that I could bring something to.”
“One of the things that was exciting was that this is the first time anybody has ever done the entire novel,” Sanders said. “Previously, no film has tackled more than the last 30 pages, and everybody has really focused on the Thornton dog relationship, which is a great relationship. The ambition of this film was to begin at the beginning and tell the entire arc of Buck’s story and that’s just one of the greatest things about this particular version of it because we get to see Buck as a sled dog for the very first time. We get to see him as a happy-go-lucky kind of goofy guy with him in this land of plenty at the beginning of the film and then we get to see him take this entire journey. The thing that made me so comfortable about working on this was the huge animated element that was going to make this film work, that from where I come from, and I felt like I could bring something to the party.”
Sanders graduated from the California Institute of Arts in 1984, sometime after Tim Burton (Dumbo) and Brad Bird (The Incredibles), both of whom would make the transition from animation to live-action later down the road, but unlike them, he never really found himself “striving for it.”
“It was always an interest and a curiosity and the thing that I was very excited about, especially in the case of Burton is he seemed to be able to produce quite a number of films in a shorter expanse of time than he would do in animation,” Sanders said. “Animation’s like four years, one film, four years another film, if you’re working quickly. So the idea he could do something a little more quickly in live-action is very exciting. You give up some of the ability to perfect things, of course with animation, you make choices all the way up to the very last minute, which is a strength of animation. It can be a pitfall because you can change things too much.”
Ford is one of the most notable stars in Hollywood, both for his numerous roles in the action-adventure genre and for his honesty about why he takes certain roles and how he feels about them, and when talking to him early on in development, Sanders believes that the 77-year-old actor “was a little hesitant” at the beginning.
“The biggest question he had when we first me was, how do we deal with the lead, which is Buck, and who’s not going to be there,” Sanders said. “That was one of the first biggest questions and at that point, I myself was dealing with the very same question. It’s one of the first things I asked, it’s like ‘How do we do this?’ People around me had done this kind of thing before, had a lot of confidence and made me confident because it was just, ‘Oh yeah, no problem.’ To them it was not a big deal how we would get it done, as we worked, I got it. We had Terry Notary, who was our live-action stand-in for Buck on the scene all of the time. Sometimes, we would not see anybody in there at all other than what we would call stuffy, which would be several versions of Buck where there was no acting required.
Sanders does understand why “people would have an immediate problem” with choosing to use CGI animals, but feels that some of these people are just doing to take issue with anything. One of the first things he felt was important with his decision was that the situations they put Buck in are ones that “you just could not safely put a real dog into,” while also seeing the animation route as a way to allow them to “change his appearance.”
“In a situation where you’re using real dogs, you would have a number of dogs playing Buck,” Sanders described. “So you might have two, three, four or more dogs that are specialized in different behaviors standing in for Buck, which means you’d have a huge inconsistency with these characters. But the most important thing is that we wanted this character to act and to be a character, this is a fable about a dog. The human beings are characters that come and go in Buck’s life, but he is the constant and he is the one that book is about. So the idea of animating him does not sound very strange to me because this is the first time we’ve really been able to bring the character, the full character, of Buck to screen. I think that Jack London would be very excited by the idea of that, and certainly, this dog looms larger in his imagination.”
Sanders finds that his favorite adventure films come in both The Incredible Journey and Homeward Bound, both Disney adaptations of the 1961 novel of the same name, while also referencing the Tom Hanks-led Cast Away, which he loves as “there’s something about the idea of being on your own like that that it just absolutely captivates me.”
“The relationship that Tom Hanks develops with an inanimate object, which I think is actually very sweet and very odd and offbeat and very charming,” Sanders said. “That’s one of the things I can just watch again and again, I mean it’s fantastic. I recently went back to see a screening of Jurassic Park, which still holds up, it’s still fantastic. It still makes me gasp in awe at, man, those CG dinosaurs hold up. If they hold up this well now, I can’t imagine, I must’ve been losing my mind when I first saw it.”
The Call of the Wild hits theaters on Friday!
(Photo Credit: Backgrid Images)