Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Natassia Malthe
Very little works in Alpha to immerse the viewer in the adventure they are trying to sell. Albert Hughes, half of The Hughes Brothers, so half the talent behind The Book of Eli and From Hell, goes it alone on this ice age adventure. X-Men actor Kodi Smit-McPhee is cast in the lead role here, on screen by himself for much of the film. Alpha attempts to tell the story of the first friendship between man and dog, but the screenplay is about as contrived and unrealistic as you might imagine. Alpha relies heavily on visual effects over the natural setting. Despite filming on location in Canada and Iceland, Hughes never presents the viewer with a believable reality. The same goes for clothing, dialogue, speech and the over all interest in making this a family film over a historically believable journey.
Europe 20,000 years ago, “life is not given, but earned”. Tribe leader Tau (Jóhannesson) sets out with the males in his family to secure food for the long winter. They attack a group of Bison who will not be taken gently. Eldest son Keda (McPhee) has a big heart and an affinity for animals. His dance with the Bison leaves him severely injured and unreachable on a massive cliff. Left for dead, Keda survives many odds only to be run up a tree by a pack of wolves in which one, he injures. He nurses the animal back to health, showing kindness, creating the first bond between man and animal. He names her Alpha and they work together to survive the bitter winter without shelter as Keda tries to make his way back home.
Alpha relies heavily on visual effects over the natural setting.
Certain cinematic events can elevate a genre or time period to a new standard. Lord of the Rings did this for fantasy films, Marvel for superhero films. The Revenant did that for period wilderness films. While Alpha and The Revenant take place thousands of years apart, one transports the viewer into the story while this one never stops feeling like a movie. Few actors can pull off an entire film on their own, but McPhee doesn’t have the experience, talent or a good script behind him to pull it off. Alpha is also not in English language, for contrived authenticity, subtitles are used. When I saw Alpha, it was presented in a mangled 3D version. Doubtfully this cheaper looking flick was shot with the specialized cameras, instead, converted to the format to further embrace it’s on going gimmick.
Perhaps man was much stronger and more durable back then, but much of what this story has Keda enduring isn’t realistic. Time is another element Alpha struggles to portray. Often eagle eye views that are pretended in rapid time lapse, looking like fancy Google Earth, is used to show the passage of time. Yet, the script doesn’t contain more than Keda moving from one setting to another. Here is Keda bathing, here is Keda hunting, now Keda is cold, Keda starving now. Very little cinematic creativity connects one scene to another. Alpha is more attune to other boy and dog movies than it is historical ice age adventures.
Alpha fails to captivate leaning too heavily on obvious visual effects to tell a family friendly story 20,000 years ago.