A famous saying in show business advises actors to ‘never work with children or animals’. Thankfully, current movie technology nullifies that outdated nugget of wisdom, evident here as ‘Alpha’ captures what’s meant to be the first incident of humans befriending wild wolves. The harsh and unforgiving landscape of the Ice Age forms the backdrop to this fictional tale as young Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is injured and left for dead after a mishap during a hunting expedition. While trying to make his way back home, he befriends an injured wolf, and they both must fight the elements and other predators to survive the ordeal.
Smit-McPhee is tasked with most of the acting duties, and the young actor proves he’s capable of holding his own as the star of the film, along with his charming co-star. Granted, the factual accuracy is up for debate – for instance, the amount of time taken for trust to grow between Keda and his canine companion is greatly exaggerated, but these cinematic liberties are acceptable within the realm of what the film seeks to achieve. The story itself is relatively straightforward which might get predictable, but it works as an origin fable of how dogs became ‘best friends’ to humans. It’s also a coming-of-age tale of a young boy’s painful journey into adulthood while imagining how a sense of caring for a species other than our own came to be. Although that premise might sound sugary, the tonality of this movie is hardly saccharine, and it doesn’t shy away from showcasing some of the brutalities of prehistoric times.
But this Ice Age is also envisioned by director Albert Hughes as a time of great natural beauty; lovingly captured in some breathtaking vistas of Europe 20,000 years ago. Vivid colours blended with stark, barren lands create a sense of wonder that’s magnified in IMAX 3D. Even though the plot is hardly innovative, there’s enough spectacular cinematography and technical wizardry on display for discerning viewers to be significantly engaged by ‘Alpha’. But this gritty and heart-warming fictional backstory to one of the most unique relationships we share with our furry friends makes it essential viewing for every dog-lover.