Alpha. Set 20,000 years ago in the tundra of Europe is a familiar story. A coming of age story of a boy becoming a man and an animal helping him along the way.
That boy is Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who becomes lost after his tribe of hunters run up against the wrong buffalo. He’s catapulted over a cliff and is left for dead. Later, he meets the animal that will save his life: Alpha, a wolf. When Alpha’s pack attacks Keda, Keda gravely wounds him but nurses him back to health. They spend the rest of director Albert Hughes‘s film caring and protecting each other as they return home. And if you think those are spoilers, then clearly you didn’t watch the trailer.
There’s a huge issue with consistency of the language in Alpha. Since the film is set over 20,000 years ago, obviously a language needs to be invented when no recorded one exists. Constructing a language is difficult. Heck, it’s taken a few hundred years for English to take root. Formalized grammar didn’t even exist until the 19th century, so expecting a film to do so is expecting a bit. However, too often Alpha straddles between cave man symplicity and modern language. For instance, buffaloes are called “the great beasts,” while “hyenas” are….hyenas? It’s odd that this culture wouldn’t have a name for the animal that sustains them with food and clothing, yet there’s a word for hyena. Then again, the boy does name a wolf Alpha, which is part of the Greek alphabet, so maybe I’m expecting a bit much.
Speaking of that wolf, wolves are natural predators. They hunt in packs. Wolves are not dogs. By this point, domesticated dogs were not even a concept. Wolves were surviving and thriving on evolutionary instincts honed through generations. The very concept of a bowl of water and scraps of meat taming an animal whose sole motivation is to survive, hunt, and kill is laughable. With any film like Alpha, there’s always the question of how long one plays around with its concept. To a point you accept certain rules, which leads to that all important suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, some films have bad concepts from the jump and Alpha is one of them. Maybe the film would have been improved with this Alpha instead?
Not to mention, that Alpha‘s CGI is a little too good? If that makes sense. The CGI’ed landscapes, which the film clutches to in hopes of a profitable IMAX release is often overdone. Sometimes it has an Avatar feel, where the technology takes hold over the style and substance, often leaving one nauseated. Sometimes, I personally don’t need a wonderfully rendered CGI’ed field. Just film in a field. But hey, if you got the tools then I suppose you use them…over…and….over……and over…..again.
And while the journey is important, we’re as lost as this young boy. There are few markers to track his progress within the film. And yes, it could be said that the maunder repetition of this boy slowly tracking himself through the snow back home should be as tiring for us as it is for him, still we find no reason to root for him. What are we rooting for? Obviously that he gets back home, but it’d be great if there were sign posts along the way telling us when to cheer, instead of a tattooed map on his hand that only he can read.
Alpha is only partly interesting if you’re into snow, white hunting Europeans who should be a darker complexion if set 20,000 years ago, and puppies.