Review: Alpha

8 10

PLOT: Twenty-thousand years ago, in the land we now call Europe, a young hunter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is separated from his tribe, and must make his way across the frozen tundra home. Along the way, he befriends a wounded wolf.

REVIEW: Albert Hughes’s ALPHA opened with barely a peep this weekend, not helped by the fact that the studio bounced it around the release calendar and never really got a handle on how to sell it. The trailers made this look like it should have been called “First Dog”, although the film director Albert Hughes (one half of The Hughes Brothers) made certainly isn’t so warm and cuddly, and would have fared better under its original, classier title, “The Solutrean”.

This IMAX 3D epic is among the more daring big-budget studio outings to be made in a while, with it basically being a $50-80 million, subtitled epic with no stars. It’s the antithesis of Roland Emmerich’s schlocky 10,000 B.C., being a solid, occasionally harsh epic that’s a lot more like the great QUEST FOR FIRE than any caveman movie since.

Kodi Smit-McPhee, while maybe not quite as rugged a star as needed, is a likable lead, with his vulnerability and queasiness around the killing of animals making him the perfect vessel for a story about how dogs were domesticated. You believe that he has the patience for this hungry, wounded wolf, which often looks like he’d be more interested in snacking on his new master than being his pal. While some of the episodes are a bit cheesy, such as the accidental invention of fetch, most of the movie is pretty tough and visceral – making it much more of an older kid movie than the cuddly epic it was sold as.

Hughes has certainly made a gorgeous movie, with sumptuous lensing by DP Martin Gschlacht, shooting in native IMAX 3D, although with other movies out there taking up screens, it’s unlikely many people will get to see it that way. What a shame. Hughes really has a strong take on the material, and it’s a strong solo showing for the director, who’s still better known for his movies with his brother, including MENACE II SOCIETY, the great DEAD PRESIDENTS, and THE BOOK OF ELI, which is the movie in his filmography this is arguably closest to.

It should also be said that the Czechoslovakian Vlcak dog that plays Alpha, named Chuck, is cute as hell and a good dog actor. You really buy the bond between McPhee’s Keda and Alpha, especially during a traumatic scene where Keda is trapped under ice and his beloved dog tries to save him. My one piece of advice for animal lovers – the doggy gets hurt a lot so if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing – maybe wait for Netflix.

It’s a real shame ALPHA didn’t make more of an impact at the box office, as it’s an edgy, original action-adventure, something there seems to be increasingly little room for at the box office. See it before it leaves theaters, especially in IMAX 3D if you can, as it merits the broad canvas.

Source: JoBlo.com



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