Alpha (2018) didn’t try to hide the obvious pathos in its trailers: a story of a boy and a dog touted to be the very first. The only way you won’t be connected to the characters would be if you did not like dogs at all – but if you’re like me, you’ll be longing for your K-9 companion to be by your side during the entire runtime of the film. The benefit of Albert Hughes’s new film is that it has more to offer than just the origin story of man’s best friend.
Alpha is a solid film that allows its lead to carry the film
Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is taken on a hunt for the first time. Things go wrong, and he is taken off a cliff with a buffalo, landing on a ledge too far down and too far up to be reached. His father and tribe leader, Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), mourns for a while before being dragged back on the long, arduous journey to return home to their village. Not long after this, Keda awakens and must attempt to make his way back home.
It’s a good halfway through the movie before Keda is attacked by a pack of wolves. He injures one before scurrying himself up a tree. The rest of the pack eventually tires and leaves the injured member of its pack behind. A recurring theme emerges here, as Keda looks to put the wolf out of its misery, remove a threat, and potentially give himself a much-needed meal…but is unable bring himself to kill the wolf. Instead, he opts to find shelter for himself and the wolf, so they can both heal enough to return to their respective families.
The story is entertaining, and is paced in a way that prevents boredom from setting in – but it’s the visuals that really stand out here. There are several beautiful (though possibly computer generated) landscapes with skies of varying colors, depending on the weather. The camera moves through these attractive vistas at varying speeds, sometimes soaring like an eagle or meandering like the slow-moving mammoths shown a few times throughout the film. Hughes and cinematographer Martin Gschlacht find interesting ways to move the camera through the world that Keda is navigating, much of it for the first time like us.
Alpha is definitely worth the price of a ticket, and with the beautiful settings, should be seen on the best screen available. The movie does have its character speak in a fictional language and then uses subtitles to convey the dialogue to the audience…an interesting choice that challenges both the actors and the audience but adds to the authenticity of the place. Alpha earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.