Thanks to Sony Pictures Releasing, we got to see the prehistoric adventure film Alpha before its Australian release. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!
Directed by Albert Hughes, Alpha takes us back 20,000 years to Ice Age Europe, where a small tribe is about to set off on their journey to hunt buffalo. Tribe leader Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) readies his son Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to join the seasoned warriors as they travel by day and by starlight to the hunting grounds, hoping that the young man can not only stay alive, but prove himself strong and courageous enough to one day succeed Tau as leader. Keda’s mother Rho (Natassia Malthe) is unhappy about him leaving, trying to convince Tau that their son will “lead with his heart, not his spear”. As it turns out, he will need to use both to survive, as a dangerous mistake leaves Keda in a precarious position and fighting for his life alone. He doesn’t remain alone for long though, giving in to his compulsion to look after an injured wolf. Hostility turns into friendship – Hughes showing us what could be dubbed an origin story of how canines became man’s best friend.
Despite dialogue being relatively sparse, the film features a language which has been created for the purposes of the story, but is based upon proto-Dené-Caucasian; an ancient language which scholars believe might have been a forerunner to not only European but some Asiatic and First Nations dialects. Luckily for audiences, there are subtitles for when the characters do speak, and it both sounds and reads as entirely believable. On another historical note, the original title for the film was ‘The Solutrean’, a term which refers to a debated theory about methods of flint weapon and tool making, early craftsmanship featuring at several points throughout the story.
Alpha is a highly visual film; its huge landscapes prove to be one of the most striking elements of the movie. Featuring footage filmed on set in Vancouver as well as on location in the UNESCO listed Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada, Hughes has created a vision that brings the Ice Age to visceral life. There is a strong sense of the smallness of early humans in the vast raw and elemental world. CGI has been utilised to turn Canada’s ‘badlands’ into the valleys, plains and glaciers of Europe. The picture that has been painted for us is a volatile world full of erupting volcanoes, fierce lightning storms, soaring cliffs and torrential rain and blizzards – not to mention the beasts which inhabit it. There are herds of buffalo, mammoths, woolly rhinos, sabre-toothed Cats, hyenas and of course, wolves. In particular, Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee (who some may recognise as Nightcrawler from X-Men Apocalypse or from the 2006 film The Road) does a sterling job convincing us of the pain and willpower Keda needs to battle the weather and the mega-fauna listed above. Apart from Jóhannesson’s scenes of leadership and grief, Smit-McPhee finds himself front and centre for a very large proportion of the film.
All the dangers of prehistoric life should give audiences pause to think about how early humans could have survived all this. The film also offers a partial answer to that question in the relationship between the wolf and the young man. At the same time as showing the mutual benefits of the dog-human partnership, there is tongue-in-cheek humour (as well as cuteness) to be found in scenes where the story speculates on how dog behaviours, such as drinking from water bowls, learning to fetch and waiting obediently for food might have begun.
Alpha is a movie for dog-lovers, and in essence an adventure and coming of age story. It should be noted that although it features a PG rating, it also rightly lists ‘themes of peril’, a small warning to parents who bring young children along. The storyline is somewhat reminiscent of The Revenant, but has enough historical, visual and character-based intrigue to remain entertaining.
IN CINEMAS SEPTEMBER 27