PG-13 Dir: Albert Hughes | Sony | 1h 37min
Plot: What’s it about?
I’ve enjoyed some of the films directed by the Hughes brothers, such as The Book of El and Menace II Society, but the two went their separate ways eventually. Albert Hughes directs Alpha, one of 2018’s overlooked films, but it’s one well worth seeing if for no other reason than the striking visuals alone. The film has a lot more going for it than that, but is a treat for the eyes as nearly every shot is a beauty to behold. I saw the film in theaters, but the striking visuals are carried over onto the Home Video release. It should be noted that the film uses subtitles as the characters in the film speak in their native tongue. It’s a tale of hope and survival about a young man, assumed dead and separated from his family and his befriending of a dog and their journey to try and reunite with his tribe. While I can’t tell you exactly when we had a story of this sort in recent years, it feels like a long time, and is a more than welcome change of pace.
Set in the last ice age, we meet Tribal Chief Tau (Johannes Haukur Johannesson) taking his son, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on his first hunt. Keda hesitates to kill a wild boar they’ve caught as he isn’t quite ready. Later on there’s a bison stampede and the hunters are able to push them off a cliff. Unfortunately Keda sees a bison coming near him and this results in him falling off the cliff. He’s knocked unconscious and his father looks on, wanting to help, but pulled away by the rest. Keda is left for dead, but manages to climb down to the bottom of the cliff. It’s here that he begins his journey to find his father and be reunited. Along the way, he finds an injured wolf which he feeds and cares for. The two of them become companions and he names the wolf Alpha. That’s about it for the plot, but that’s all that’s needed. It’s a boy and his journey to be reunited and it works. It’s been some time since I saw the White Fang films, but I did get reminders of those. The film has many merits, but the visuals are the biggest selling point. In short: it’s just a beautiful film to look at. I’ll touch on it more in a bit, but thankfully Sony has given fine treatment to the film, making the experience at home about as good as in theaters.
It should be noted that this disc includes the Theatrical Cut of the film as well as the Director’s Cut. I saw the film once in theaters and went with the Director’s Cut for the review. Readers can search around online for closer specifics, but I gathered that some scenes are rearranged a bit and a few extended shots. The ending is a bit different as well. I don’t think either cut will change your mind (if you dislike the film, the DC probably won’t change your thoughts), but the inclusion of both is nice. It can be fun to go back and compare the two at your leisure. The opening in the Theatrical Cut begins with the Bison stampede and flashes back to a week prior, though it comes later in the DC. I guess the studio felt the audience needed an adrenaline rush to start things off, but I feel the sequence works better in the DC.
Video: How’s it look?
I can’t speak enough about the visuals in this film. Viewed on a new 4K UHD TV I just purchased, the image is virtually flawless. I can only how imagine how much better a 4K disc can look, but this is gorgeous on all fronts. The image is AVC encoded with a 2.39:1 ratio with striking details almost from the very first shot. Pristine is a word I could use, but the details and sharp contrast that inhibit virtually every shot is a sight to behold. This transfer is nothing short of fantastic.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The DTS HD track packs quite a punch. The film has plenty of action sequences that’ll shake the room as well as clarity from the vocals that dominate many scenes as well. The rear channels stay busy and keep us involved as well as a good, strong range. Like the visuals, this track accompanies the film in a strong and positive manner.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Director’s Cut – In addition to the theatrical cut, we can view the Director’s cut. I like having the option for both on one disc.
- Meet Chuck – A 2 minute feature about the wolf featured in the film. It’s too short to offer anything too insightful, but its brevity makes it worth watching once.
- Boy & Wolf – At just under 5 minutes, this is a pretty basic look at the core story between the boy and his dog. It’s pretty basic, but reasonably entertaining.
- Building the World – This one is pretty straightforward, but probably the best on the disc. It gives us a look at bringing the world seen in this film to life. The most interesting aspects of this feature are when they discuss what kind of language to use for the film. It’s interesting stuff for sure.
- A Hero’s Journey – We’re treated to a look at the lead character and his journey in the film.
- Deleted Scenes – These include an alternate opening and ending and go for about 9 minutes. We can view these with optional commentary from Albert Hughes. He provides good notes telling us why the changes were made.
The Bottom Line
After two viewings, Alpha holds up remarkably well. It was a bit overlooked in theaters, but hopefully it will continue to gain an audience at home. Hopefully you have a strong setup as the better your entertainment system, the better experience you’ll have with the film. The story about a boy and his new canine companion is simple and precise enough that it doesn’t need a lot of filler. It moves along nicely and the visuals alone are worth a viewing. Sony has provided us with a near perfect disc, from the stunning transfer to some solid extras, this comes highly recommended. Having both cuts of the film is also a big bonus as well. Too often studios will only provide one, so the option is a big pro here.