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WHITE FANG. Directed by Randal Kleiser; written by Jeanne Rosenberg, Nick Thiel and David Fallon; produced by Marykay Powell for Walt Disney. Starring Ethan Hawke and Klaus Maria Brandauer. Rated PG.


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White Fang is a liberal adaptation of the famous Jack Lonuon novel, but largely a successful one.

The changes that the movie makes shift the emphasis of the tale to humans rather than wolves. It's a lot easier to tell a story in a movie, as opposed to a book, if your characters can talk.

Jack (Hawke) is fresh from the lower 48 and ready to strike it rich in the Klondike gold rush. Alex (Brandauer) is the seasoned miner/dog-musher who takes Jack under his wing, at first reluctantly.

If these characters sound familiar, even though they didn't appear, at least as named persons, in the novel, they should. White Fang isn't very original as far as characterization or plot is concerned. But the added characters are well-acted and appealing.

The scenes with the animals are nicely filmed and interesting, but parents of young or particularly sensitive children need to be cautioned about some of the subject matter.

White Fang (novel and movie) has a lot to say about people's brutality to animals. A disclaimer at the beginning tells us that scenes involving apparent harm to animals are simulated, but you might forget about that while watching a vicious dog fight.

Filmed entirely in Alaska, White Fang's scenery is breathtaking and makes up in large measure for the shortcomings of character development and the plot's predictability. The immensity of the forbidding terrain is established early on. There's an incredible re-creation showing hundreds of gold seekers scaling the steep gateway to the gold fields, Chilcoot Pass.

Working in such a remote locale and under extreme weather conditions made the movie a logistical achievement of no small magnitude. In the filming of one sequence, though, the problem wasn't too much snow but too little. An early spring thaw required trucking in fresh snow from Canada to make the scene look sufficiently wintery!

February 13, 1991

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