By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
Every superhero seems to have their own origin movie. It’s about time the greatest superhero of all got one.
So then, just how did the dog become man’s best friend?
Alpha‘s got this covered.
20,000 years ago, somewhere in what would later be named Europe, young Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) joins his tribe for the first time on their annual bison hunt. It’s a dangerous mission from which some do not come back. But Keda wants to make his father Tau (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), also the tribe’s chief, proud. Keda is a sensitive soul who “leads with his heart, not his spear,” as his worried mother Rho (Natassia Matlhe) points out as she urges Tau not to take Keda along on the risky journey.
Moms always seem to know best. We learn pretty quickly (five minutes in), just how terribly wrong the hunt goes, ending with Keda being separated from the group and appearing to be fatally injured. Tau is forced to make the decision to leave his son and bring the tribe back home before the harsh winter sets in.
I’m kidding. Of course Keda survives! But now he’s all alone, far from home with a bum leg. He sets about using the stars as his guide and finds the courage he never knew he had.
Along the way he is chased by a pack of wolves and is able to escape after wounding one. The wolf’s pack leaves the hurt animal to die. (Hey, just like Keda’s tribe did!)
Both stranded from their respective packs, the two begin to form a relationship that starts as symbiotic and evolves into genuine friendship.
I cannot say this enough. This film is absolutely gorgeous. The visuals are incredible. The landscapes, the colors, stars, snow, everything on screen is striking and beautiful. It’s clear that much thought and work went into every moment and it’s a shame that it will most likely come and go quickly in these dog days (sorry!) of summer movie releases because it really should be experienced on a large screen. (Note: Spring for Imax 3D if possible, which I’ve heard is fantastic)
The boy and his dog (or boy and his dragon, or boy dinosaur and his human) tale has been told countless times before, though this is an original take on it. This movie is bizarre in the best sense of the word and in that there hasn’t been anything like this in a long time.
Since the movie takes place in the Ice Age and the characters are Cro-Magnon, they speak their own prehistoric language (invented for the film) with English subtitles. It was an interesting choice, not to mention a pretty ballsy one, and it pays off, making everything feel more realistic and adding to the immersive experience of the film.
Much of Alpha relies entirely on Kodi Smit-McPhee. It’s a tall order as there is little dialogue and no other actors aside from his canine co-star (real name: Chuck, who’s no slouch either and a very good boy!) The young actor more than pulls it off. Hopefully this will be the first of many leading roles for him.
Finally, I went into this film fully prepared to ugly cry. As a general rule of thumb, I stay away from any movie with a dog as a main character (unless it’s some awesome, ridiculous children’s movie like Beverly Hills Chihuahua or the underappreciated gem Millionaire Dog). I swore after suffering a panic attack caused by hyperventilating and choking on my own snot after sitting through Hachi: A Dog’s Tale that I would never, ever put myself through something like that again. Without divulging spoilers, I can say that while I might have teared up a couple times (it gets pretty emotional, though never pandering), this is not one of those movies.
The film takes its time getting to the Keda-Alpha stuff. It’s at nearly the half-way point when we even see the wolf for the first time thanks to a very long prologue depicting the events leading up to the bison hunt and Keda’s separation from his tribe. I get that this helped with character development, but the pacing could have been improved if the first half were shaved down a bit.
Likewise, there are several moments where it feels like the film has reached a satisfying conclusion and I expected the credits to start rolling, but then there is another scene. And then it happens a couple more times.
I debated whether I wanted to include this beer or not since it’s not for an actual critique of the film itself, but the production of it. I ultimately decided to since it really bummed me out after enjoying Alpha as much as I did.
So there are some scenes of skinned bison, like actual real, dead animals. You know that “No animals were harmed” credit at the end of movies? Well, Alpha was denied that certification after it was revealed that the animal wrangler violated the American Humane Association’s standards.
The bison reportedly came from a jerky processing plant so it was argued that they were either already dead or going to be killed anyway (which doesn’t make it okay but that’s a whole other argument for another day).
My issue with this is, WHY? With all the money and CGI filmmakers have access to, why, even use real animals? There’s plenty of obvious CGI used in Alpha (most of it is well done), so I really don’t understand why the bison corpses couldn’t be digitally rendered. I mean, they use CG to add boobs to actresses with no nudity clauses! It shouldn’t be that difficult.
The whole bison thing is one of many production issues that plagued this film and delayed its release. Again, it’s really too bad because with better marketing and less controversy, Alpha probably would have been a sleeper hit of the summer.
Unlike anything else out there right now (or in a long time), Alpha is a gorgeous-looking and extremely well-acted film as well as a heartfelt story. Anyone who has ever loved a dog will no doubt find much to enjoy.
Alpha (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever anyone eats bugs (so much bug eating happens!)
Take a Drink: whenever Alpha howls
Take a Drink: whenever stars are shown
Take a Drink: every time Tau looks disappointed in Keda
Do a Shot: at the sort-of twist
Do a Shot: each time you think the movie has ended (about three for me)
Do a Shot: when it actually does