Alpha Blu-ray Review
Keda (Smit-McPhee) wants to make his father proud. Part of a tribe of hunters, his father is not sure if Keda will be a great hunter like himself, but he feels there is a spirit there waiting to be unleashed. He takes Keda with a band of hunters for an annual buffalo hunt. In the hunt, the wild buffalo are driven to a cliff, where they fall to their death, their bodies later harvested by the tribe for food and clothing. During the hunt, Keda is attacked by one of the buffalo and himself flung over the edge. He tries to hold on but soon plummets to a ridge below. Motionless, and too far down for anyone to reach, his grief stricken father says a prayer and leaves his body behind. The end? Hardly.
A beautifully presented (both visually and spiritually) story, ALPHA could best be described as a coming-of-age tale about how a boy becomes a man. Keda survives his fall, suffering only a badly injured foot. Using the survival skills his father taught him, he convinces himself that the only way to survive is to return to his village. Using only the stars to track his journey, he is constantly slowed by his injury, as well as the bitter winter that will soon be upon him.
One day he finds himself starring at a pack of wolves, who chase him up a tree. When one gets too close, he stabs it. The others eventually run away and Keda begins to climb down. It is then that he discovers the injured wolf is still alive. Taking pity, he tends to its injury, but not before securing the wolf’s muzzle with a wrapping of cloth. He then carries the wolf until they find shelter. As the time progresses, Keda and the wolf, who he names “Alpha,” share a common bond of friendship and survival, a bond they will both need to survive the brutal conditions.
Like CASTAWAY, ALPHA succeeds thanks to the quiet (very little dialogue) and strong performance of Smit-McPhee. And I would be remiss if I didn’t compliment the work of “Chuck,” the wolf who portrays Alpha. Together their bond is something that feels real and genuine and you can’t help but feel each misstep as well as each small victory the duo achieve. Wisely, what dialogue there is, either among the villagers or between Keda and Alpha, is subtitled, an excellent choice as I think if the dialogue was English it would take the viewer out of the story somewhat. This is the first solo directorial effort of Albert Hughes who, with his brother Allen, gave us such films as MENACE II SOCIETY, THE BOOK OF ELI and FROM HELL. And where those films had a certain glossy feel, this movie is more grounded in its direction. Hughes keeps the action front and center, but isn’t afraid to frame it with some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve seen in recent years, courtesy of Director of Photography Martin Gschlacht.
Video: The film is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio and is amazing. Nighttime shots of the starry horizons are postcard worthy.
Audio: The audio is in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and is equally excellent. The lack of dialogue gives the viewer a chance to listen to the sounds of nature and here a pack of howling wolves never sounded so good.
Deleted Scenes (9:09): A total of (5) scenes, including an alternate opening and ending, that do not really add to the film. Each scene offers an optional audio commentary by director Albert Hughes.
Boy and Wolf (4:50): A nice piece on how “Chuck” the wolf was trained for the film, as well as how the bond between the animal and Kodi Smit-McPhee grew.
Building the World (7:34): A look at how the film’s world was created, from locations to the language.
A Hero’s Journey (4:55): A featurette focusing of Smit-McPhee.
Meet Chuck: The Wolf Behind “Alpha” (2:15): A behind the scenes visit with the animal on set.