THE ICE AGE — I have to be honest: I didn't have much interest in seeing "Alpha" earlier this week. The trailers didn't get me very excited and it just didn't intrigue me.
However, I tried to go into the theater with an open mind, and I'm so glad I did because "Alpha" ended up being one of the best surprises of the late summer.
The film is quite basic at its core. A young man living in the last ice age goes on his first hunt with his tribe. He's left behind after an accident and is forced to travel the long road back home.
A series of coincidences lead to a wild dog joining the young man as the two of them make the journey together and create the origins of man's best friend.
The movie is an interesting take on how dogs became domesticated and there are a few reasons this was such a great surprise.
Director Albert Hughes is known for cultural dramas like "Dead Presidents" or "Menace II Society" and dark action thrillers like "From Hell" and "The Book of Eli." "Alpha" is a bit of a different direction for the filmmaker, but he brought a veteran eye to the camera and created some breathtaking visuals and memorable shots in the film.
Hughes and director of photography Martin Gschlacht give us shot after shot of beautiful imagery that most people would love to hang on their wall. I was truly taken aback by the beauty they captured on film and think some of these visuals will be admired and referenced for years to come.
Hughes also made some highly aesthetic shots and used slow motion in some really interesting and hauntingly beautiful ways.
I don't want to spoil anything, but one shot, in particular, catches a moment where half of the action is above water and the other below with a sheet of ice in the middle. It was so mesmerizing that I still can't stop thinking about it.
The movie isn't void of dialogue — there is actually a fair amount — but the majority of the emotion comes between the man and the dog and that's always a one-way conversation.
On top of that, none of the movie is in English. Instead, everything spoken is in an ancient dialect to fit the time. None of this made the movie boring or slow but rather wrapped you up in the story even more as it was told through expression, body language and those stunning visuals.
"Alpha" isn't really breaking any new ground from a story perspective, but the writers (Hughes and Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt) managed to create an engaging narrative with characters you care about and relationships you believe.
It's really just a survival film and a coming-of-age story, but it's tight with believable character arcs and it elicits genuine emotion.
I truly believe "Alpha" will surprise a lot of audiences with its constant pace, its message of family and perseverance, its action and even occasional humor. There are some moments when you may roll your eyes when the young man and the dog seem to get into yet another harrowing situation and I'm not sure they would have survived a few of those situations, but overall those are minor complaints as I look for something to complain about.
The movie only runs about 90 minutes and it makes for an engaging film that doesn't overstay its welcome or start to feel stale.
"Alpha" is rated PG-13 for some intense peril and it earns its rating. There is no language in the film or sexuality. There is some blood and violence, but nothing grotesque or graphic. Where the rating comes in is the constant danger from the elements as our heroes face death at seemingly every turn.
I think "Alpha" is worth a trip to the theater and it could be a great night out with the family if you have some older kids. Something else to keep in mind is this all comes from a person who doesn't own a dog and doesn't plan on getting one. My guess would be the dog-lovers out there will like it even more.