‘Call of the Wild 3D' opens today
By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian
For those of us blessed to live in western Montana, seeing our soaring mountains in three dimensions is as easy as looking out the window. Starting on Friday, it's also as easy as sitting down in a darkened movie theatre.
This weekend marks the official U.S. opening of “Call of the Wild 3D,” a fictional film shot primarily in and around Lincoln and Philipsburg. The independently produced feature, which boasts the distinction of being the first totally live-action film made with digital three-dimensional technology, opens Friday on 15 screens in five states: Montana, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah. It is already showing in selected theaters across Europe, from Spain to Romania.
According to director Richard Gabai, who visited Missoula on Thursday to promote the film's opening at the Carmike 10, the film's distinction as a landmark in 3-D filmmaking wasn't even part of his original inspiration.
“I consider myself an unintentional pioneer,” he said. “It's an accident that I'm cutting-edge in 3-D work; I just set out to make a classic American family film.”
Gabai had long dreamed of making a live-action film version of “The Call of the Wild,” but the challenges were daunting: Jack London's book, after all, is told from the perspective of a dog.
So a few years ago, he decided to approach the story from a different angle - part sequel, part homage. In his script, co-written with Leland Douglas, a young city girl visits her grandfather at his cabin in Montana, where she finds a sickly wolf-dog. She nurses the dog back to health with the aim of taking it home with her. But her grandfather, knowing the hybrid dog's wild spirit won't abide cramped city life, seeks to explain animal instinct by reading her London's novel.
The result is a film that bears much of the same message as London's novel - as well as plot elements that include a dogsled race and a dispute over the dog's ownership - told from a more human perspective, said Gabai.
“I want to make American movies for good old Americans, where the whole family can enjoy the movie together,” said Gabai. “In that respect, one of the most satisfying things that has happened was at the premiere (in Helena on Wednesday), a dad came up to me afterward and said, ‘I haven't seen a movie like this since I was a kid.' That's the standard that I really set for myself.”
When it came time to shoot the film in early 2008, Gabai chose Montana's Race to the Sky as a backdrop, in large part because he lacked the budget to create his own dogsled race. Much of the film was shot around the Lincoln area, with Philipsburg serving as the setting for town scenes.
Shooting in 3-D - a technique whereby parallel scenes are shot stereoscopically with special dual-lens cameras, then blended together digitally for viewing with special, polarized glasses - was a late inspiration.
“If I had done this film a year earlier, there's no way I would have even thought to shoot in 3-D,” he said. “I saw 3-D as a way to give the film more of a heart, make it more real. You know, when the grandpa and the little girl are having a conversation in the cabin, you're not just watching them; you feel like you're in the conversation.”
The added layer of technology created its share of headaches, delaying the post-production editing and preparation of the film by several months. “Call of the Wild 3D” was finally completed last November, in time for a screening at the 3DX Film Festival in Singapore. Since then, Gabai and his backers negotiated with several distributors before finally arriving at a deal with Vivendi Entertainment, a Hollywood subsidiary of Universal Music Group.
Seeing his film finally hit the big screen in front of nonindustry audiences is gratifying to Gabai, who believes the project demonstrates the true potential of 3-D technology.
“I don't think the future of 3-D is yo-yos shooting out into your face,” he said. “That stuff is fun, but I think the true potential is in dramatic scenes, dramatic filmmaking, because it's so captivating and immersive. At the premiere in Helena, when the movie opened up with this shot that rises up out of these majestic trees, you could hear the audience catch its breath. That's what we were going for.”
Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358 or at jnickell