For the adventure drama ALPHA The trailers advertise with large images and a cute story about the domestication of the wolf into a domestic dog. But the result is disappointing from many perspectives. We reveal more about this in our review.
The Plot Summary
The first hunt with the elite of his tribe ends badly for the young Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee): he falls down a ravine and is left behind by his men, believed to be dead. Wounded and alone, he regains consciousness and must immediately face the merciless wilderness in order to survive. On his way he meets a lone wolf, which he tries to tame with great resistance. The unlikely couple slowly grows closer and trusts each other until they finally face the numerous dangers and challenges of nature together in order to find their way home before the onset of winter approaches.
Movie explanation of the ending
How did humans get dogs? The fact that the USA’s favorite pet comes from a wolf is part of general knowledge, but that’s usually where biological expertise ends. For director Albert Huges, whose best-known works include the Johnny Depp horror film “From Hell” and the mediocre action drama “The Book of Eli”, this evolutionary biological question about the domestication of dogs provided the incentive for an exciting film experiment. His Stone Age adventure “Alpha” comes in large pictures and with little (and incomprehensible to us) language. In addition, he was chosen to embody the main character by young actor Kodi Smit-McPhee (“X-Men: Apocalypse”) and as narrator (in an admittedly tiny role) none other than Morgan Freeman (“That’s just the beginning”) win. All of these are not bad signs and in some cases even point to a film experience that goes beyond the usual blockbuster monotony. But there must be some reason why “Alpha” was pushed back a whole year after its completion in its country of production, the USA (which is often generally not a good sign). And Albert Huges actually makes it difficult to really enjoy “Alpha” apart from some of the marvelous natural panoramas. It’s not exciting, the characters remain completely uninteresting for over 90 minutes, and anyone who has watched any documentary in recent years has seen much more visually spectacular things.
Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and the wolf slowly become friends…
In terms of staging, “Alpha” is fictional through and through. The acting characters are played by actresses, there is a script (a debut work by Dan Wiedenhaupt) and ultimately the film somehow tells a story: It’s about Keda, who has been cut off from his clan and who is on his odyssey back to his Family befriends an injured wolf. At the same time, you can’t shake the impression that “Alpha” would work much better as a documentary. The series of images, which in any case focuses primarily on its sometimes quite impressive panoramas, is so uncoordinated in rhythm and tempo that the impression of watching a story that is at least partially subject to a dramaturgy does not even arise. Sometimes outrageous connection errors and the excessive use of fades to black reinforce the impression that the individual scenes in “Alpha” are generally meant to stand on their own. A coherent whole does not emerge and with a little more concentration on the way of life of the people in focus here as well as an explanatory voice-over throughout, “Alpha” might not necessarily have become a strong, but a solid documentary, with only the narrative thread running through it is marginally interesting – even if the really strong documentaries still manage to do that (and far better than “Alpha”); Let’s just remember the sequel to “Our Earth,” which follows the day-night rhythm.
Now Albert Hughes presents us his work as a feature film; and at this point “Alpha” vacillates indecisively between fairy-tale exaggeration and crude real-life depiction. If the script explains in just a few scenes how the wolf became a pet – for example, when the main character, Keda, throws a stick at the wolf as a defensive attempt, which it then carries back to him full of enthusiasm – then that is, especially in combination with other comparable scenes , thought so simply that “Alpha” seems to be aimed primarily at a younger audience. However, some brutal scenes such as repeated attacks by wild animals, or the generally minimalist narrative and staging speak against it. And so “Alpha” is neither fish nor meat at this point. Another story from the filming is also irritating: that the film is not the usual one “No Animals Were Harmed”The reason for the reference is that four bison were slaughtered for the production of “Alpha” and their carcasses were then used in the film. This gives “Alpha” as a whole an unpleasant aftertaste, even if it doesn’t have a particularly direct impact on the production itself. Overall, the production design is quite convincing. But of all things, given the supposedly spectacular images that were widely heralded by the film, there isn’t much to see in “Alpha”; Although most of the footage was shot on location in Canada, the sets seem strangely sterile and even look more like a studio backdrop. For some visual feasts for the eyes – once a bison Keda pushes down a slope in super slow motion, another outstanding scene takes place on a frozen lake – it’s still enough, but cameraman Martin Gschlacht (“Hidden reserves”) mainly delivers natural monotony that does not do justice to the large-scale project.
Will they both make it home in time for winter?
In the end, the largely wordless interaction between Kodi Smit-McPhee and the wolf itself has to decide. And at least on this level, “Alpha” is largely convincing. The fact that a real animal was used here can disguise the fact that some of the trick effects are not quite as good. For example, when the wolf fights with a wildcat that clearly comes from the computer, Albert Hughes and his cameraman avoid the problems of optical deficits that arise from the low budget by, on the one hand, having the fight take place in the dark and, on the other hand, keeping the visual focus entirely on judge the wolf. This, which is only portrayed by a single four-legged friend throughout the film (usually when filming with film animals, one likes to use several of them to embody one and the same character), over time turns out to be the film’s only major highlight. It’s not just the ever-growing bond between humans and wolves that is credibly embodied by the highly telegenic animal and the committed actor. In addition, Hughes always emphasizes the wildness that slumbers within him despite being domesticated as a “pet”. The fact that “Alpha” ends on a very sugary note is in stark contrast to the almost anarchic production that preceded it. So in “Alpha” nothing really fits together until the very last second.
Conclusion: “Alpha” was largely shot in the real wilderness, but it looks surprisingly very much like a film studio. The story meanders without profile between childish and trivial. Only the authentic interaction between man and wolf can at least remove a lot – with the exception of the bitter aftertaste, as animals were killed in the production.
“Alpha” starts in USA cinemas on September 6th.