Alpha (aka The Solutrean) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Alpha is a prehistoric adventure picture that takes place 20,000 years ago in Europe, featuring how a hunter-gatherer tribe functioned. They’re speaking an ancient language that I wondered if there were subtitles I forgot to turn on with the DVD. As the film went on, however, I didn’t bother seeking them out, considering a wealth of adventure films can pretty much fill in the blanks of what is being spoken. Seeing as this is mostly a standard survival picture, it could very well be dialogue free if only to appreciate the visual splendor a little more.
Among the tribe of warriors is the young Keda, seeking to prove his worth to his clan. They hunt wild bison and rely on sharp weapons to attack and frighten them, claiming meet for their people. He’s still very much rough around the edges, in need of more training to survive the harsh wilderness. And he’s going to have to learn fast as the creatures of the land can attack and kill them at anytime. But then the worst fate befalls him as a bison sends him tumbling off a cliff. The tribe believes he is dead and performs a funeral.
Of course, he’s not dead yet and must find his way back to the tribe on his own; the ultimate test of proving his worth as a warrior. Along the way, he’ll encounter an unlikely ally in the form of a wolf; Czechoslovakian Wolfdog to be precise. They’re initially enemies but as the harsh environment of dangerous wildlife and brutal winters threaten them both, they soon learn to work together on their quest for food and survival.
And there’s little more to the story than that. Director Albert Hughes thankfully keeps most of the melodrama of the tribe to a minimum so we can better appreciate the silence sensation of a world thousands of years ago. There are a few action scenes of computer generated bison that stampede, presented with some obvious research put into the look and behavior, but still coming with a certain artificiality seen in previous prehistoric adventures such as 10,000 B.C. There isn’t much to the characters either that would warrant much dramatic intrigue. Keda’s motives are basic and his desires of the era, not much different than the drive of his mentor Ked to lead his tribe to carry on another winter. They hunt, kill, eat, and bury their dead with tearful grief amid stacking of stones.
But even at a fairly brisk 90 minutes, it still feels like a bit of a slog for the familiar. Of course, I’ve got to mention that great acting of the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog whose name is Chuck. He’s called upon for some extraordinary scenes that work rather well. The highlight is easily a scene where Keda is trapped beneath the ice and the Wolfdog struggles above the surface to find a means of rescue. It’s staged beautifully with some unforgettable shots.
That being said, Alpha’s presence is mostly forgettable. It falls in line with a lot of other period adventure pictures that, while well built for the amount of research that went into them, lacks a certain notability. At least with 10,000 B.C. it was memorable more for being a laughable blockbuster with ridiculous scenes. Alpha will be best noted for some stellar dog acting amid a mostly subtle survival picture that falls into the familiar motions. But, hey, if all you’re seeking out is a good movie with the dog as the hero that isn’t just more of the same kid-friendly affair, it’s slim picking when hunting for such a film. Take the meager meat of this picture for all its worth.