Review: Alpha – Dogs, an origin story
Alpha is a fictionalized telling of how early man first domesticated wolves (or how wolves became man’s best friend). Set 20,000 years ago the story follows the son of a tribe’s chief, named Keda, as he joins the men of the tribe for his first bison hunt. Keda soon finds himself injured and separated from the tribe. Far from home and with no help in sight, he finds an unlikely companion in the form of an injured wolf. Together the two embark on the long journey to return home and form a relationship that would forever change man and canine forever.
While hard to quantify or point to a specific reason for it, Alpha largely feels like a kid’s movie. The main characters being a dog and a kid doesn’t help to combat this image, nor does the simple plot or premise. Arguably the most interesting part of Alpha is that at no time in the movie is there ever any English spoken. The entire film is in a (presumably) made up “ancient” language with subtitles. Considering that on the surface Alpha looks like something of a B kid’s movie this was a nice touch to the film that helps to ground it in a sense of realism but it’s also somewhat in conflict with the fact it does feel like a kid’s movie. While the notion that kid’s movies should be dumb is, well dumb, Alpha’s slow pace and subtitles will make it a hard sell for most kids to sit through. If anything can get them to do so though, it is the visuals.
The cinematography is fantastic throughout most of the film and the landscape shots perfectly capture a world that humans have not yet conquered. It does not feel like they simply filmed in the middle of nowhere, it feels like the characters inhabit a world where everywhere is the middle of nowhere. The CGI for the various animals throughout the film varies from “ok” to good but is never so bad it is actively distracting. The humans we see are arguably all a little too pretty for 22,000 B.C. but at the same time also all look like they probably smell bad. Which in this case is perfect. Though it is worth pointing out that the film’s use of 3D is at best sparse and not at all worth the extra cost.
That is unfortunately where the praise for Alpha ends. The film suffers greatly from some odd pacing. It seems to take forever for this film about the origin of dogs to actually involve a dog. Much of the first half of the film involves the main character making his way to the hunt that inevitably leaves him injured and meeting the wolf. While this portion of the film is not without merit (it helps to establish the world and its’ dangers), you can’t help but notice how long the film takes to get there. Once Keda and Alpha are finally brought together, not much really happens either. We get a few scenes of Keda and Alpha starting to trust each other and then essentially a walking montage of the two attempting to make it home. There are a few exciting moments on the journey of course but this entire segment of the film feels rushed. Then there is what could be called the third act, which feels even more rushed. Regardless of real time spent in the film it feels like an hour was spent getting to the hunt, 20 minutes with Keda and Alpha then 16 minutes to wrap it all up. It would not be a surprise to find out that Alpha was originally a little over two hours long but had been significanty cut down in editing (and in doing so it feels like they had the first half already edited so they said “screw it,” and just rushed the last bit to trim it down).
The science nerd in me also has to bemoan that this film continues to perpetuate the long outdated “alpha wolf” concept. That along with the fact that it paints the domestication of dogs as a thing that took place over a couple of weeks.
Alpha offers some fun visuals, builds an interesting world for us to explore and is a fun concept but one that never really finds its’ legs. The pacing is all over and the core concept of the film itself feels sidelined. Alpha feels a lot like a made for TV movie that was supposed to be for kids but it somehow found a larger budget and someone decided adults would love it. As such, this one is best saved for Netflix or a Redbox where you can curl up with your canine friend of choice.
Final Rating: 5.5/10
GoG Break Down:
How it was viewed: Theater 3D
Running time: 1hr 36m
Recommend viewing: Wait for your streaming/rental service of choice
Why you should see it: You really, really, really love dogs.
Why you shouldn’t see it: You have a dog at home who would probably appreciate the attention instead.