Directed by Albert Hughes
Starring – Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor, Varela
The Plot – An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, the film tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend. While on his first hunt with his tribe’s most elite group, a young man is injured and must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds in order to find their way home before winter arrives.
Rated PG-13 for some intense peril
– Exceptional cinematography continuously on display by Martin Gschlacht. While known mostly to foreign audiences, Martin’s paintbrush-like canvas here is gorgeous in immensity, and beautiful in his rubbing of colors in the sky that illuminate around the colorless drab of character wardrobes. This is a film that was made for the big screen, as much of the framing work takes advantage of the wide angle lens that articulately illustrates the immensity of a land to be alone in.
– Much of the material focuses on the comparison between man and animal, and does so without ever feeling corny or forceful. Instead, Hughes allows the audience to pick up on matters of family, growth, and survival that highlight the similarities in the next evolutional shift. These two grow together because they embrace the same challenges in their respective journey’s, and that chemistry and bond between them grows into an almost telepathic link that unites them.
– Considering he is front-and-center for 90% of this movie, Smit-Mcphee transformation is well balanced and patient with the many adversities that he faces along the way. In the beginning, his movements are very timid, causing great difficulty in his tactics to survive, but as the film goes on, you start to see his character’s intestinal hunger to survive reach limits that can only be tested under the guidance of isolation. This etches out a coming-of-age story unlike those that we’re used to, in that Keda only has his own instinct to survive.
– Hughes greatest measure as a director here is definitely the established environments that constantly shift with the seasons, while filming on location in East Coulee, Alberta. The animals, while plenty in numbers, feel very scattered out and meticulous, making the hunt for food feel very urgent. Without question though, it’s the winter scenes that really stuck out to me, channeling the worst in cold and snow that one can imagine, and immersing us with snow-cluttered camera angles that feel like we can almost reach out and touch it.
– Educational AND entertaining. This definitely felt like a throwback to the days of being in school and watching a history film about tribes and their strategy for survival, but what’s more accredited is that despite its knowledgeable depictions, it never loses focus in its appeal to capture the intrigue of the audience. The film juggles a balance of intensity and tension during scenes of peril that make for some serious moments of uncertainty for the well-being of our protagonist, testing him in ways that break everything except the human spirit.
– Thunderous musical score. What composers Joseph DeBeasi and Michael Stearns do for this film shouldn’t be understated. Through a use of 808 drums that repeat with increasing intensity, the musical score is anything but the Imagine Dragons putrid that we were promised in one of the most eye-rolling trailers of the season, giving us echoing vibes of isolation that haunt Keda throughout, and add life to scenes that would otherwise depreciate without energetic emphasis of the danger that is impending.
– Stays committed to its gimmick. A lesser production would have these human characters speaking in perfect English, but thankfully ‘Alpha’ keeps its characters mostly muted, occasionally reaching for the tribal language that we read in translation for one hundred percent of the movie. This element kept me firmly in the grasp of this A.D setting, and instead relied on body language to progress the relationship between human and dog. Beyond this, four bison were slaughtered for use on a skinning/hide-removal scene, and while I don’t overly support the slaughter of animals, bison are in fact overpopulated in the Alberta territory.
– Redundant to a fault. The hardest sell to audiences will definitely be the element of one man and his dog for most of 93 minutes, mainly because there’s only so much variety you can instill on routines that feel this repetitive. In my opinion, the biggest mistake is to get rid of Keda’s father and tribe subplot for easily an hour during the film, relying too much on Keda’s journey without capturing the vulnerability for the tribal leader and the kind of impact this has on his now decaying life. If you include the other side of the story, the former won’t feel as repetitive as it inevitably does.
– Again, we have another movie that doesn’t know when to end on its most impactful visual. This film has three different ending scenes when it fades to black, and each time chooses to prolong the lasting impression, which ultimately forces it to lose a noticeable amount of steam before the credits finally hit. This is becoming a growing trend in Hollywood, and makes me wish they would combine everything they want out of three scenes into one, so as to not feel as tacked-on as this cliche makes good movies feel.
– Teeth for show? The film fails to capture the sheer difficulties and spontaneity of dangerous wild animals thanks to its domestication of wolves that feels slightly laughable even by movie standards. I get that this is the first story of ‘Man’s best friend’, but there is such little struggle in the film with earning the trust of the wolf, that it might as well be a snorting pug with their lovable cross-eyes.
Props to Sony for not figuring out a way to market their products in a movie that takes place in the Ice Age. I half expected a big SONY to be carved out in the ice, but I commend them for showing great restraint. We might be able to take you seriously sure enough, Sony.