First Impressions of Alpha

A young hunter must survive on the Mammoth steppe with the help of a wolf during the Upper Paleolithic period in Alpha (2018), written by Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt and directed by Albert Hughes. I’m a fan of prehistoric films and was looking forward to this movie, which purported to tell the story of how human-canine companionship began.

Despite stunning visuals and cinematography, and some interesting attempts to reconstruct Paleolithic culture, Alpha mainly pulls on moviegoers’ heartstrings with a completely implausible story that was so ridiculous at times I almost walked out of the theater. Here are some of my first impressions, with a full review to follow on Monday:

  • While Albert Hughes has some directing experience (most notably From Hell and The Book of Eli), this was Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt’s first produced screenplay. Wiedenhaupt did a bang up job adapting Hughes’ original story for the screen, although the dialogue seemed a bit too sophisticated at times.
  • Alpha was filmed primarily in Canada and Iceland. The cinematography is amazing, with sweeping landscapes that really give you a sense of the Mammoth steppe, which used to span from Siberia to Western Europe. It’s too bad they couldn’t film in the last remaining portion of this steppe in western Siberia.
  • Despite interesting attempts to reconstruct Paleolithic culture, the main character’s village is strangely lifeless. His mother is apparently the only female in the village, and there are no babies or children. This film basically has four or five characters—the rest simply exist as part of the scenery.
  • For no discernible reason, Alpha borrows stylistically from Zack Snyder’s 300. Instead of falling from a real cliff or rock ledge, Keda (the main character) is thrown from a cartoonishly-tall, sheer cliff, miraculously lands on the only ledge on said cliff, and then again is miraculously saved when a flash flood allows him to survive the remaining fall. These are all unnecessary stylistic choices that strain your suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.
  • Another bizarre stylistic choice was for the hunting party to travel literally hundreds of miles to find a bison herd. In reality, prehistoric people followed the herds, or settled in villages near where herds migrated. There is no reason for Keda to have to walked for what seemed like months to get home.

Alpha is a crowd-pleaser. Audiences will love the main character’s interaction with a wolf that acts like a modern domesticated dog (even playing fetch and tugging on a scarf), but don’t mistake this fantastical story for history. Look for a full review next Monday.

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