You know, once I was actually pretty excited for this movie (or at least, interested), but now I’m getting a little antsy about it, and I think I know why. See, this movie had something of a troubled release. At least, I’m assuming that’s the case (don’t quote me). The movie was originally set for a September 2017 release, but was pushed to a March 2018 release. But then it got pushed again to a September 2018 release. Well, as we can obviously see based on the date stamped on my review, as well as many audiences seeing the film right now, the movie was eventually bumped up to an August 2018 release. I can probably see why, considering that I’ve already seen this film, but I’ll get to that in the review, which is why I’ll be skipping my initial impressions again. The point is, really watch the first trailer to this movie (which is pasted below), and then watch the more recent second trailer. The first trailer is moody, atmospheric, somewhat stylized, and had a pretty grim and dark tone to it. The second trailer makes it look like that movie MAX (2015) if it were set 20,000 years ago and made it look more like a kids movie. Seriously, right down to using Imagine Dragons’ “I Bet My Life.” What the hell, marketing team?
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE , PARANORMAN , and the upcoming X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX ), Natassia Malthe (THIS MEANS WAR  and BLOODRAYNE: DELIVERENCE ), Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson (ATOMIC BLONDE , and upcoming films THE SISTERS BROTHER  and WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE ), and Priya Rajaratnam (STAR TREK: BEYOND  and TOMORROWLAND ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Albert Hughes, known for FROM HELL (2001). Penning the screenplay, we have Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Co-composing the score are Joseph S. Debeasi and Michael Stearms, both known for stuff that I’ve either never seen or heard of. The cinematographer is Martin Gschlacht, known for stuff that I’ve either never seen or heard of. Finally, the editor is Sandra Granovsky, known for stuff that I’ve either never seen or heard of.
This is my honest opinion of: ALPHA
Set in Europe, circa 20,000 years ago. Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the son of his warrior tribe’s chief, Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson). The time has come for the tribe’s hunting party to venture out and hunt the Great Beasts (bisons), along with the tribe’s younger hunters, including Keda. Though the travel takes a life, along the way, the casualties are minimal and they reach their prey. However, one bison catches Keda by his clothing and is flung off of a ledge. Believing the boy to be dead, Keda is left behind, but is later revealed to still be still alive, albeit injured. During his long trek back home, all alone, he’s quickly attacked by a pack of wolves, managing to injure one. Taking pity on the wolf, Keda treats its wounds and soon, he and the wolf develop a bond and begin their perilous journey back to his tribe.
You know what? Despite that really crappy second trailer, this movie wasn’t half bad. I mean, it’s derivative as all hell, but for a derivative movie, it had enough charm and respectability to pull itself through.
For all intents and purposes, neither trailer for this movie was accurate to the movie being told. The first trailer got the tone down, but no one speaks English. The second trailer… well, I’m done talking about that one. But that’s one of the things I really liked about this movie. It commits to having a non-modern language. Granted, for all I know, the language that everyone’s speaking is very much a real language and is still spoken today, but based on fifteen seconds of Google research and one sentence from a single article (because I’m the most bad-ass researcher on the planet; you’re welcome), it would appear that the language is, indeed, fake. English was not a language 20,000 years ago, so bravo to the commitment from the actors. I wonder if it was simply gibberish with a few choice words for continuity sake. I have so many questions!
But more than that, the acting is pretty damn good and sells the fake language. In fact, more often than not, the acting is done through the expressions from Smit-McPhee alone, bringing to life a damn solid character in Keda. At a glance, he’s something of the cliché. He’s the son of the chief and isn’t sure if he’ll be a good enough leader when his time comes, it’s been done before. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, anyone? Maybe the second half of THE LION KING? But this is only the first twenty some-odd minutes or so, and it does a little more than simply say that he’s skinny and not as strong as his father. It’s demonstrated by showing that he isn’t able to kill any animals, which is the whole point of the expedition. And this is repeated a couple more times in the movie when Keda isn’t able to kill an injured Alpha, nor is he able to kill the first boar that he and Alpha hunt together after becoming friends. But as the story progresses and survival is less and less certain, he eventually rises to every occasion and learns to hunt, make a campfire, and even learns to get pretty good about it.
And that brings us to the very heart of the movie, the relationship between Keda and Alpha. Hell yeah, is it good. In movies like this, not just about humans and animals, but any kind of relationship, it always bugged me how the relationships are paced. I’ve seen movies where the pair or group of people hate each other right away, but then almost immediately become friends or lovers after one act of decency between them. If the closeness is saved for the end of the movie, that’s fine, but all sorts of relationships take time and effort to understand one another and I think this movie is about as perfect a build-up as I could have asked for. Keda and Alpha really don’t like each other at first. Keda has to tie Alpha’s mouth closed in order to carry him without worry of the wolf biting him. Alpha growls at him when he gets too close or tries to pet him, tries to steal food, only to get smacked in the face, the relationship takes time. And even when the relationship comes to an understanding and a mutual respect, it’s still not entirely perfect, which takes even longer to fully realize, though not the length of the runtime. Sure, it could be seen as another “boy and his dog” tale, but I think there’s more done with the concept here than in those. They work together to hunt, and play specific roles in their hunting, and really learn to care about and protect each other. I don’t know if I can say that this is the best “boy and his dog” story, but it feels like a solid contender.
Other positives include pretty good cinematography. The special effects… which I’ll talk about later, are still pretty damn beautiful to look at. The nighttime scenes especially. The countless stars in the sky, and even an aurora borealis bit, which never gets old. Also, props for seeing Natassia Malthe in the movie as Keda’s mother Rho. I know she’s not a household name, and understandably so. She’s only been in bad movies in the past, like Uwe Boll’s second and third Bloodrayne movies, which were straight-to-DVD, and some other bad films. Even the ones that she’s in that were at least “passable” you would never know she was in them. However, as someone who has watched a few of these glorious dumpster fires before, I always support actors in those movies and hope that they find their way to better work. Malthe certainly seems to have picked a good role and even showed off some good acting, as brief as her role is.
There’s one element to the movie that I can see other people getting bothered by that don’t really bother me. For one, the pacing of the overall story. It takes awhile to get to Keda’s survival. So much of the beginning of the movie is set-up. What his personal problems are, his place among his tribe, learning to read the stars, to hunt, the whole enchilada, which I can see someone getting bored by. The opening sequence is basically the hunt going wrong and a bison throwing Keda off a cliff’s ledge. Even once the movie catches up to this moment via flashbacks, a lot of time is dedicated to Keda being unconscious on a rather convenient smaller ledge on the side of the cliff. I would say in this one hour and thirty-six minute movie, the actual story doesn’t kick off until somewhere between the thirty to forty-five minute mark, nearly half its runtime. However, while I disagree with the opening sequence, the rest of this length of time for set-up doesn’t bother me because it’s portrayed in an interesting way. The audience needs time in understanding Keda, and maybe even not believe that he could survive alone in the wilds. But we need just enough information for Keda to reflect back on in order to understand how his survival was possible, and the personal obstacles that he needs to overcome. So I think it’s necessary and done well.
There are, however, problems with the movie that should be addressed. Mostly small problems, but there’s plenty of them.
The first major problem I noticed was how bad the CGI got. The flyby shots of the landscape, some of the wildlife, especially the fish, the CGI is almost embarrassing to watch. If I hear another person say how bad the effects were in WONDER WOMAN, I’m pointing their asses to this movie. I’d swear to God, I thought someone put a Playstation 2 game in the projector. It got that bad. Also, I mentioned how pretty some of the visuals got. Well… not all of the visuals felt necessary. Remember how I said that this movie is pretty derivative? Well, the aesthetic of this movie is going to remind a lot of people of 300 (2006). The obvious green screen backgrounds, all the brown, a small band of warriors armed with spears, charging against a superior force, getting thrown off the edge of a cliff in slow-mo, it’s pretty obvious. I’m taking a wild guess and saying that ALPHA isn’t based on a comic book, but this was definitely a way to cut corners. And some just seemed random. There’s a bit where Keda is trapped under a frozen lake, trying to get out, and there’s a random shot of the screen split in half, the bottom is Keda under the ice, and the top half is Alpha trying to get to him, all in a single slow-mo shot. Cool shot, to be sure, but… unnecessary, if you ask me.
Also, some of the story feels like it’s missing sections, or has pointless sections. There’s a scene in the beginning where Keda, his father, and the rest of the hunting party are hunkered down in a cave. Keda and his father spot a pack of wolves and his dad lectures about the alpha’s place in the pack, commenting that he’s always in danger of another wolf wanting to take his place. Then we pan over to another tribesman who looks at the two of them, and one would assume that this character is being foreshadowed as someone who is jealous of Keda’s standing in the tribe and will conspire against him. But… nope. That never happens. In fact, this character seems rather sympathetic toward the loss of Keda. So… what was the point of that bit of dialog about threats against leaders? Also, there’s a scene where Keda and Alpha are camped around a fire and are visited by Alpha’s pack, and Keda convinces Alpha to return to them. I know what you’re thinking. “Dude! Spoilers!” Nope, trust me, this happens in the middle of the movie, and lasts probably five minutes at most before Alpha returns to Keda’s side for the duration of the movie. It’s another pointless moment that goes nowhere.
Overall, I like this movie. It’s obviously not perfect, but when it does something right, it does it right. Bad effects and pointless plotlines aside, this is a great character movie, with committed and convincing performances, some beautiful scenery, and is an ultimately heartwarming tale of survival, trust, and friendship. Objectively speaking, the movie isn’t great, and is pretty subpar as far as how well it’s made as a whole, but it’s still getting a solid recommendation out of me. If you like stories about boys and their dogs, then this is one of the better ones you’ll see.
My honest rating for ALPHA: 4/5
This week’s reviews:
Next week’s reviews
- THE LITTLE MERMAID
- THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST
- THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
- THE BOOKSHOP
- SUPPORT THE GIRLS
- 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY