I will confess, when I first heard about Alpha, the prehistoric tale of a boy and his dog, I had zero interest in seeing it. I actually tried to conceal its existence from my girlfriend, as she is a dog-lover and would surely make me see it, which is indeed what happened after my ruse was discovered.
In its defense, the movie is not as bad as I expected. Yes, the story is fairly stupid and boring, as you might expect when it comes to a boy taming a wolf and thus changing the course of human history forever. There is a reason that no movie has ever taken up the story of the first domesticated field animal before. The reason is because it is dumb.
But Alpha has one thing going for it, which is that it is directed by Albert Hughes, in his first solo picture. Hughes usually directs with his twin brother, and together they made the criminally under-rated Book of Eli which is a wonder of visual story-telling, striking images and gorgeous filmmaking. And Hughes brings that same visual dynamite to Alpha. So while this prehistoric version of Cesar Millan Animal Rescue does nothing to make the story very interesting, it is at least absolutely beautiful to look at.
It’s set 20,000 years ago “somewhere in Europe” because, ya, even dogs are racists. And the movie does a great job at world-building. The establish shots in this film are worth the ticket alone, depicting a wild, sweeping, otherworldly land where humans have still barely made an impact. It does a great job of transporting us back in time and making us feel like we are in a land and a time that has been swallowed by history. Then there are just clever visual compositions for some of the action, like an overhead shot of the boy and his dog-wolf hunting a wild animal.
So the prognosis on this movie is pretty straightforward: it tells a fairly flat story, but it looks good doing it.