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Alpha – Movie Review

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Alpha – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

Most prehistoric films, despite the setting and potential, opt to have the cavemen or even the animals speak with modern sounding dialogue. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but one almost does start to admire how a film like Quest for Fire depicted the earliest humans. Alpha fulfills that promise by telling most of its story visually, even as it follows your standard “boy and his animal” tale. Director Albert Hughes fashions an immersive world that’s based more on character and lets their expressions and emotions move the plot forward. That a major studio was willing to bankroll a movie where all of the human characters speak in a made-up language, with subtitles included, adds to the appreciation of Alpha.

Alpha quickly establishes the world and the central human tribe pretty well. While the use of subtitles is needed at portions, they’re not always necessary for following the story. The titular dog doesn’t appear until about a half hour in, but Hughes does a solid job of showing how this tribe functions as they survive in a world where most food comes from hunting. There’s a solid connection between Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Keda and his father and the film properly shows the pressures being handed to him. We know just enough about Keda to get us started on his eventual journey back home.

When Keda is with the dog, there is less dialogue as Hughes chooses to communicate their interactions visually. Their growing relationship is effective and there is even a smile inducing lightness with how the conventions of modern human-dog relations are established with Keda and Alpha’s partnership. The perils of the environment are also explored with the various animal and nature complications that enter the fray. One can definitely make an easy comparison to The Revenant, although Keda doesn’t suffer nearly as much torture as that film’s protagonist did. Hughes puts together some solid set-pieces, nonetheless, including a thrilling scene underneath the ice.

Kodi Smit-McPhee deserves to be commended for how he is able to carry the film, alongside his furry co-star. It’s a completely physical performance, too, and he creates the proper sympathy for Keda. Alpha himself goes through his own character development with the necessary bond being formed over the course of the story. Chuck the Wolf-Dog does have a wide variety of expressions and even the occasional whimpers, making it easy to endear to this pooch. The other animals are primarily computer-generated creations and the special effects team believably brings those 20,000 year old mammoths and boars to life. Finally, Martin Gschlacht’s photography splendidly takes us back to that time long ago.

It’s wonderful to see a movie like Alpha attempting to attract a wide audience and for a major studio like Columbia Pictures to greenlight it shows Hollywood is more willing to take risks than the town is given credit for. Story-wise, it doesn’t go off the beaten path when showing the connection between a boy and his dog. However, its willingness to stick with its concept and not hold the audience’s hand is worth appreciating. This is the sort of movie that could actually be a worthy one to have in frequent rotation at science centres and museums, with how it successfully transports us back in time.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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