‘Alpha’ simple, but will melt any dog lover’s heart

Katie Walsh
Tribune News Service

It’s sweet, really, to imagine the kind of devotion “Alpha” might inspire, a film that’s very simple, kind of strange, but will melt any dog-lover’s heart. It’s the story of a young boy living in Europe’s last Ice Age, his fight for survival and the special relationship with a wolf that keeps him alive.

When it comes to sheer spectacle, “Alpha” is a stunning production. Director Albert Hughes and cinematographer Martin Gschlacht re-create the untouched vistas of pre-civilization Europe shooting on location in Canada, while enhancing with visual effects. The camera soars and swoops across the prairies, fields and glaciers, creating the sense of flying for the audience.

Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Keda, the son of a tribal chief Tau (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), embarking on his first big hunt. Tau is filled with pride to have his son learning how they provide for their tribe, teaching him lessons along the way about self-sacrifice and leadership. The dialogue here is frankly a bunch of baloney.

Fortunately, the sensitive and shy Keda is cut from a different hide, and he’s the film’s true hero. During the hunt, everything goes haywire, and Keda is thrown off a cliff by an angry bison. The tribe must leave him behind, unable to lose their chief Tau to a risky rescue mission.

This sets off Keda’s remarkable survival mission, which he does his own way. All he takes from his father is his map home, a tattoo on his hand of the Big Dipper constellation. He’s no great hunter, but he’s a sweet and gentle soul: a healer, not a killer. When a pack of wolves goes after him, he injures the alpha wolf, then nurses it back to health. Soon Alpha is by his side, through blizzards and predator attacks, as Keda makes the arduous journey home.

“Alpha” is an epic adventure tale that tells the story of how humans and dogs came to have the relationship they do, one of devoted companionship and mutual support. It’s hard to survive out there without a loving, warm-blooded creature by your side, whether it’s the Ice Age or the 21st century.


Grade: C +

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.