BEIRUT: There have been many films that visualized the dawn of man, and yet somehow the story of how man domesticated wolf seemed to have slipped past filmmakers – until today.
An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, ALPHA tells a visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend.
What could have been a memorable hear-warming tale, however, becomes a film that solely relies on its visual elements – namely its mise-en-scene and cinematography – instead of first ensuring that it has a powerful narrative.
The story follows young Keda, played beautifully by Kodi-Smit McPhee, as he tries to find his way back home after an accident occurs during a hunt that causes his tribe to mistakenly believe that he’s dead.
At his most vulnerable, Keda is attacked by a pack of wolves. In his defense, he seriously wounds the Alpha wolf, which the distraught pack abandons, however, instead of killing it, Keda carries the wolf to a cave where they take shelter.
He cautiously heals the wolf’s wound, and in his isolation comes to depend on the creature’s risky, unpredictable companionship.
The narrative’s biggest weakness, strangely enough, lies with the heavy dialogue, which is spoken in a Cro-Magnon type language.
Most films utilize dialogue between characters to push the story forward, in ALPHA’s case, however, the writers should have taken the dialogue out altogether and relied on their body language and behaviors in order to build on the narrative.
Young Austrian cinematographer, Martin Gschlacht, is able to make nature a third character in the movie and broadened his cinematographic palette farther.
The film definitely has some of the most breathtaking shots for a film of its kind and both the director and cinematographer take full advantage of the landscape before them.
Although most of the film is practically filmed, there are many VFX (visual effects) shots used from weather to color grading and even some CGI animals.
The animals are very noticeable, which is only due to the fact that the frail narrative allows the audience to focus on those minimal details.
Looking past the CGI, ALPHA does have some great practical details like the tribal costumes, tents, and all things relating to the era the narrative is set in is beyond grounded in reality.
The natural elements within the film, from the skies to the changing seasons, all symbolic in their own right, do more than just tell the story; they also layer the film with themes of the unity between man and nature.
ALPHA at its core is an escapist film, like the old campfire stories.
The great storytellers told stories around a campfire, and it was a communal experience. That’s why people go to the movies: to laugh together, and cry together, and experience the same thing with strangers in the same room.
The film stays real to what could have happened, and at the end there’s this incredible bond between the two characters, man and wolf, which leads to the creation of this relationship we now value more than life itself.
If anything, ALPHA is a great tribute to that story and how it may have happened.
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