A slick ice age survival tale that is in desperate need of some star power. Rather, it relies on stylized wilderness and special effects. The Hughes brothers’ film does offer some mild thrills and is engaging enough, but the use of 3-D Imax does nothing to enhance the film’s story.
Alpha is a movie that still has me on the fence, months later, and perpetually so. For every moment that offers some thrills, you are saddled with an over-stylized view of the last phase of the stone-age set 20,000 years before, which takes away from the overall story. Having the filmmakers behind it be accused of inhumane treatment to animals doesn’t help matters. Before watching the film, everyone should know that organizations like PETA and American Humane called for a boycott of the film when five bison were reportedly killed on the set. In today’s day and age where television series have been cancelled and films have been shut down over these types of overall issues to do with the inhumane treatment of animals, it is hard to believe Alpha somehow made it through the cracks without punishment or anyone even realizing it was happening.
The film starts with a small tribe of hunters who are on an expedition to hunt and gather food for the winter. The tribes lead, Tau (Johannes Haukur Johanneson, doing his best manic Hugo Weaving impression), brings his youngest son, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee of The Road fame) and his friend along for the hunt, over his wife’s objections. Soon, Keda’s friend is snatched away by a pre-historic Sabretooth tiger named the Machairodus. Later is one of the film’s better scenes, when the hunters stumble upon a herd of Steppe Bison that the tribe attempts to guide off a cliff.
At the same time, Tau loses awareness of where his son is; a bison, separate from a pack, knocks Keda off the cliff. The tribe later finds the youngest member on a ledge down the face of the cliff, knocked unconscious and surely having several broken bones. The tribe convinces Tau to leave him for dead, as there is no way to reach him. As it turns out, he does survive and befriends an injured wolf named Alpha, who he helps nurse back to health. Keda must then travel back over treacherous wilderness with Alpha to get back home.
While many of the film’s scenes create a visceral reaction, particularly any time Keda is confronted by some type of wild predator, they tend to be soaked in over-stylized camera work and special effects. The film takes on a plastic, almost sterile feel, and the rugged landscape is less of a character, where it needs to be the centre of the movie, especially since Alpha is in serious need of some star power. The use of 3-D special effects is not one of the worst uses of the technology (that goes to Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby), but it feels unneeded, and a way to distract you from the lack of eye-catching video-game visual palates, toned down special effects, and very little dialogue.
If it sounds like I hated the film, I didn’t; I just feel it was a missed opportunity. The Hughes brothers’ film offers enough organic thrills to satisfy the viewer. The relationship between Keda and Alpha is heartwarming enough to engage. Alpha, though, is not worth the time and money to spend in a 2-D theatre, let alone for 3-D Imax prices. The use of the technology really does, if anything, take you out of the white-knuckle adventure that it sets out to create. The best films take you to another time and place; they shouldn’t continuously take you out of it.
Alpha is a slick Ice Age adventure that offers some mild thrills and is engaging enough. The Hughes brothers’ film, though, relies too much on stylized wilderness and unneeded special effects that do nothing to enhance the overall story.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.