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The Call of the Wild
(2020)
Album Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Co-Produced by:

Orchestrated by:
John Ashton Thomas
Mark Graham
Andrew Kinney
Randy Kerber
Rick Giovinazzo
Pete Anthony
John Kull
Jeff Atmajian

Additional Music/Arrangements and Co-Produced by:
Batu Sener

Additional Music and Arrangements by:
Paul Mounsey
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LABEL & RELEASE DATE
Hollywood Records
(February 21st, 2020)
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ALBUM AVAILABILITY
Commercial digital release only.
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AWARDS
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you have confidence in John Powell's ability to transcend the stereotypes of Western film music, merging that genre with modern fantasy and adventure sensibilities to form one of the most uniquely satisfying soundtrack experiences of its era.

Avoid it... if you are allergic to harmonicas, banjos, accordions, and fiddles to such an extent that even their affable and tasteful application to this score might make you want to kick your dog.
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EDITORIAL REVIEW
FILMTRACKS TRAFFIC RANK: #1,948
WRITTEN 1/1/21
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Powell
Powell
The Call of the Wild: (John Powell) Caught in the middle of Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox was the 2020 adaptation of Jack London's 1903 novel, "The Call of the Wild," the most recent of many such tellings of the famous tale. Set in the Yukon during the 1890's Klondike gold rush, The Call of the Wild once again follows the perilous but redeeming journey of Buck the large St. Bernard/Scotch Collie dog as he is stolen away to Alaska for a destiny as a sled dog. There, he eventually finds peace with frontiersman and prospector John Thornton (Harrison Ford) before succumbing to the wilds and joining the wolves of the region. The movie should have been classified in the animation genre, for the production never actually shot on location in any meaningful way. It was a film so heavily laden with rather poor CGI effects, from the dogs all the way up to the surrounding scenery, that the fakery of the visuals became the storyline about The Call of the Wild. The newly formed 20th Century studios lost upwards of $100 million on the project, mostly because you can't expect success when you don't shoot a Western film on location and in part because of the studio's sanitation of the concept. Musically, the London story had been well represented by Lee Holdridge's Emmy-nominated score for a 1993 television adaptation, but John Powell eclipses that work with ease for the 2020 picture. Powell, having soared to magnificence with the How to Train Your Dragon and Star Wars franchises in the 2010's, doesn't seem to balk at the opportunity to significantly overachieve for films of dubious quality, and his output for The Call of the Wild far exceeds what the film deserved. During much of the 2010's, the composer settled into writing one score per year, and whereas the location of The Call of the Wild didn't inspire the production to truly honor the Yukon in its visuals, Powell didn't waste the opportunity to provide music of extraordinary character befitting the tale and its setting. While regular Powell collaborators Batu Sener and Paul Mounsey helped flesh out music in the middle portions of the score, the work is mostly Powell's alone, the composer writing an abundance of themes and assembling an impressive collection of specialty instrumentation to compensate for the film's lack of authenticity.

For many listeners, the lasting impression from the score for The Call of the Wild will come from the character of that specialty instrumentation. Without reservation, Powell affectionately enlists every stereotype of music from the era and location, led by harmonica, banjo, accordion, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and pump organ. Specialty woodwinds are particularly effective, both Native American flutes and penny whistles rounding out the expansive colors of the score. The native exoticism is balanced by some Scottish infusion at times into American folk, which may yield a few odd but satisfying instrumental connections to the similarly laden How to Train Your Dragon scores. While the 90-piece orchestra supplies the bulk of the score's volume, the 60-voice choir is less expected; both the mysticism of the wolf culture and the wonder of the location in The Call of the Wild are supplied with a religioso ambiance by Powell at times, a surprising level of dramatic depth for an otherwise Western environment. (Some of this was dialed out in the film.) Then again, Disney did turn this story into a children's fantasy flick of sorts, so no foul. The smaller session portion of the recordings, featuring the guitars, fiddles, banjo, and the likes, may turn off some listeners who have never cared for these tones, but whereas some of Powell's ethnically-dominated scores, and especially the Latin ones, can become oversaturated by such colors, the mix in The Call of the Wild is more forgiving. (Don't let the wildly comedic opening of "Wake the Girls" make you believe otherwise.) The mix of orchestra and specialty instruments in The Call of the Wild is really well handled, the native-sounding flutes sometimes a little dry in the forefront during the solos and the mandolin a tad abrasive during the scary portions, but the finished product does a great job of balancing particularly the banjos, guitars, fiddles, and accordion with the larger group. There are moments of intimacy for these players, as well as a few lovely interludes for piano, that create a modern equivalent of Jerry Goldsmith's small Western efforts of the 1960's, most notably in relation to the Thornton character. The softer passages for character interactions ("We Carry Love" and "They're All Gone," among others) really channel Goldsmith's knack for touching the hearts of troubled characters, and they function well to balance out a score otherwise memorable for its rousing action and choral fantasy.

As memorable as the instrumental palette in The Call of the Wild may be, the true success of the score lies in its narrative development. Once more, Powell provides a wealth of thematic ideas where such depth was likely not necessary, a treat for film score enthusiasts keen to these things but probably yielding diminishing returns in the picture given the quantity here. Upwards of a dozen themes and lesser motifs exist in the score, some occupying only a portion of the work because they serve a specific set of scenes as Buck shifts between masters. When spotting the film, Powell seemed to follow the same playbook he applied to Solo: A Star Wars Story, identifying an abundance of characters, situations, and situational character variants as worthy of thematic attribution. Buck himself receives two themes, one to represent the expansiveness of both his destiny and the film as a whole while the other malleably handles the comedy and personal element. The former offers the Western atmosphere to Buck's adventure, opening the picture at the start of "Wake the Girls" and at 0:36 into that cue. An ominous rendition follows at 1:00 into "Train North," but the theme then disappears from the score until its second half. It returns in deconstructed form at 1:43 into "Couldn't Find the Words" and soothingly on strings over a soft bed of guitar rhythms in the otherwise harrowing "Overpacked Sled." Hinted early in "Finding Bears and Love in the Woods," the idea finally flows uninhibited at 1:48 in a preview of its eventually glory. A native flute carries the tune at 2:18 into "Rewilding," and pieces of the idea contribute to the outset of "Animal Nature." The final three major cues are where this theme really flourishes, from the sorrowful clarinet and flute performances at 0:27 and 1:43, respectively, in "Come Say Goodbye" to a fuller string performance at 1:27 into "What an Adventure" and throughout the prominent finale, "The Call of the Wild." Even in this cue, it's difficult not to gravitate towards the secondary theme Powell concocted for Buck, the one of comedy and personal relationships. Its structure begins in a way that makes it natural as a follow-up phrase or interlude for several of the other themes, and Powell uses it that way liberally. It scores a "10" on the catchiness meter and, since it recurs more often than any other motif in the score, don't be surprised if this idea for Buck, in all of its extreme variances in performance, becomes the main identity of the score in your memory. Rarely can one theme be so funny and heartbreaking within one work.

The secondary theme for Buck is what dominates the hilarious scene opening of The Call of the Wild, introduced at 0:33 into "Wake the Girls" and whirling through repeated performances of its descending phrases as Buck causes total havoc on screen. On album, this cue may be tempting to skip due to its extreme zest with the specialty instruments, but it's a blast for the action of the scene. The idea dominates "Skagway, Alaska" and tends to underscore cheery, wintery, and optimistic settings at 0:55 into "Snowy Climb" and 1:19 into "Couldn't Find the Words," aided by sleigh bells. The theme's duty as interlude extraordinaire comes in handy at 1:44 into "Joining the Team," 1:50 into "Ice Rescue" (softly on banjo and harmonica), and in full-blown heroic mode at 2:01 into "Buck Takes the Lead." The theme extends the romantic mode at 0:38 into "We Carry Love" before assuming a sad, choral personality at 2:20 in that cue. It shines brightly in "Buck & Thornton's Big Adventure," with opening fragments building to a clarinet statement at 1:13 and several full-fledged performances of exuberance as Buck and Thornton canoe their way through river rapids. The theme's underlying chords are heard at 1:33 to the end of "They're All Gone," and somber strings carry the melody at 3:23 into "Rewilding." A lovely flute and choral passage at 2:10 into "What an Adventure" leads to reverent (0:19) and victorious (1:31) interludes to the main theme in "The Call of the Wild." For the dog sledding portions of the film, Powell utilizes a set of three themes and one rhythmic motif that ties them all together. A theme for Buck's dog team exists alongside two separate themes for their endeavors, an excess of motific riches for such a brief portion of the film. The dog team theme opens "Snowy Climb" on harmonica and flute before a fuller ensemble performance at 0:33. The best rendition of the idea comes at 1:18 into "Joining the Team." It starts several cues, including on harmonica in "Buck Takes the Lead," after which it receives both full (1:42) and fragmented (3:01) treatment. It takes on an intriguingly romantic tilt at the outset of "We Carry Love" before stints at the opening, 0:34, and 0:56 into "Newfangled Telegram" and appropriate dissolving and exiting the score as Buck leaves the team behind. The other two themes representing the team highlight their work ethic, mingling mostly in "First Sledding Attempt" and "Joining the Team." The first work ethic theme sneaks in at the start of "First Sledding Attempt" before a full performance at 1:39. It has both bright (0:09) and massive (2:04) usage in "Joining the Team."


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VIEWER RATINGS
138 TOTAL VOTES
Average: 3.83 Stars
***** 53 5 Stars
**** 37 4 Stars
*** 25 3 Stars
** 18 2 Stars
* 5 1 Stars
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COMMENTS
3 TOTAL COMMENTS
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The banjos ruin this film score   Expand >>
Richard Anthony - January 10, 2021, at 8:32 p.m.
3 comments  (347 views)
Newest: January 23, 2021, at 3:34 p.m. by
Momo
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Track Listings Icon
TRACK LISTINGS
Total Time: 67:11
• 1. Wake the Girls (2:37)
• 2. Train North (4:01)
• 3. Skagway, Alaska (2:30)
• 4. Snowy Climb (1:24)
• 5. First Sledding Attempt (2:27)
• 6. The Ghost Wolf of Dreams (1:05)
• 7. Joining the Team (2:58)
• 8. Ice Rescue (2:26)
• 9. Sometimes Nature's Cruel and Gods Fight (4:57)
• 10. Buck Takes the Lead (4:54)
• 11. We Carry Love (3:01)
• 12. Couldn't Find the Words (2:21)
• 13. Overpacked Sled (2:31)
• 14. Newfangled Telegram (2:23)
• 15. In My Bed? (2:53)
• 16. Buck & Thornton's Big Adventure (4:35)
• 17. Finding Bears and Love in the Woods (2:56)
• 18. They're All Gone (2:51)
• 19. Rewilding (3:47)
• 20. Animal Nature (2:34)
• 21. Come Say Goodbye (2:08)
• 22. What an Adventure (3:01)
• 23. The Call of the Wild (2:51)

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NOTES AND QUOTES
The insert includes a list of performers but no extra information about the score or film.
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or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from The Call of the Wild are Copyright © 2020, Hollywood Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 1/1/21 (and not updated significantly since).
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