Alpha is basically an origin story about dogs. What were dogs before they were dogs? Wolves, of course. It’s set in the last ice age. And you have to wonder who signed off it, and then there’s the cover copy that claims it’s “based on a true story.” Hilarious—who would know, as it’s from a time when there were no records!
A young man from a small tribe of hunter-gatherers is injured when they attack some buffalo. He’s knocked onto rocks out of reach and left for dead. But when it rains he’s able to jump into moving water and follow it down to safety. He wants to try to find his way home, and along the way he finds a wolf that has been abandoned by his pack, and they become friends. So it’s sort of A Boy and His Dog without the cannibalism or sexual frustration.
The entire film is in a fake language made up for the movie. And it’s a $50 million film by a major film studio that has no major stars in it… the main role is played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, best known for playing Nightcrawler in one of the recent X-Men films, with Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson (Game of Thrones) as his father. They are both perfectly good, but the wolf/dog is very much the star. I would never finance that movie. Some US audiences hate subtitles, for one thing, although it’s a very visual film. It also has one of the worst first half-hours I have ever seen—it’s not until the tragic accident that it really takes off.
The film ended up doing OK in cinemas, and you could say that in some ways it’s a good thing that a studio took a chance on such a risky project. There is actually some great cinematography—as well as some CGI, which varies in quality from abysmal to breathtaking. Much of it is very much focused on just the boy and the dog in a brutal prehistoric landscape filmed in Canada and Iceland, with the bulk of its 95 minutes devoted to their trip home.
Alpha was directed by Albert Hughes, one of the Hughes Brothers (Menace 2 Society and Dead Presidents, both really smart movies). It’s his first solo project, and certainly an odd turn from the films he made his name with.
By the way, vegans may want to skip this one, because there are reports that five Canadian bison were killed during the film, and there has been an investigation going on. I think it’s a bit of an overblown issue, to be honest.
I’m not quite sure who Alpha is for. Kids might like it, but the boring start, subtitles and some moments of violence might be too much for some.
The disc includes featurettes and deleted scenes.