sun 17/02/2019

DVD/Blu-ray: Alpha | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Alpha

DVD/Blu-ray: Alpha

Thrills, spills and sentiment in prehistoric boy-meets-wolf epic

Call of the wild: Czechoslovakian wolfdog Chuck as Alpha

Keda’s already in trouble for not living up to his father’s expectations. And then there’s an unfortunate clash with an angry bison which sends him careering down a steep cliff face and left for dead. Welcome to Upper Paleolithic Europe. Albert Hughes’s Alpha doesn’t contain many narrative surprises; its plot involving a lost boy struggling against the odds to get back home is straightforward in the extreme.

Keda’s essential decency is signalled early on via chiselled cheekbones and glossy hair. Kodi Smit-McPhee succeeds brilliantly in bringing him to life, which can’t be easy when he speaks his lines in a mixture of grunts and vowel sounds devised for the film. Were the Cro-Magnons really this articulate, this nuanced in their speech? I’m not sure, though you can’t accuse Hughes of shoddy research, and a glimpse through the disc’s bonus features lets us meet the experts who put flesh on Alpha’s bones. Ever wondered how to start a fire using a stick and dried moss, or what a perfectly carved flint arrowhead looks like? Start here. Things do get a bit Ray Mears at times, though the details ring true: scenes where grumpy tribal elders dismiss their children’s attempts at carving, or meet and greet a rival clan are nicely done.AlphaKeda’s improbable escape from the cliff face would impress Tom Cruise, but he’s soon in more trouble when attacked by wolves. Escaping up a tree, he forms a bond with an injured pack member. Naming it Alpha, he gains its trust and the two form a symbiotic relationship, hunting and hanging out like buddies in a road movie. Changing weather conditions provide the biggest threat. The pair separate briefly before being reunited, and the ending holds few surprises, the suggestion being that Keda’s tribe were the first humans to domesticate wolves. Dog owners, pay attention: this is where it all began.

Shot largely on location in Canada, the film is most convincing when Hughes eschews the epic and concentrates on the odd couple relationship (pictured above). And while it’s enjoyable, you wonder exactly who it’s aimed at, the stately pace and gore ruling it out for younger viewers. Game of Thrones’ Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson throws in a winning turn as Keda’s father, and Czechoslovakian wolfdog Chuck steals the film as Alpha, growling and tail-wagging in all the right places. The bonus featurettes, aside from a wealth of detail about the film’s production, contains a director’s commentary. There’s no mention that PETA urged viewers to boycott Alpha after five bison were allegedly killed during production, and you won’t see a “No Animals Were Harmed” notice during the end credits.

Keda’s improbable escape from the cliff face would impress Tom Cruise

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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