Set 20,000 years ago, “Alpha” tells the story of a young man (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on his first hunt who’s separated from his clansmen — and finds an unlikely friend in a wolf who’s been abandoned by its pack.
It’s one possible scenario of how ancient humans domesticated wolves and it makes for an exciting and emotionally involving story as boy and wolf bond and struggle to survive in the harsh wilderness together.
Here’s what you need to know about the movie:
1. Is Alpha a real wolf?
Alpha is played by Chuck, a relatively new breed called a Czechoslovakian wolfdog. They were introduced in the 1950s, when the Czechoslovak military bred German shepherds with wolves.
Animal trainer Mark Forbes, who’s worked on films including “Marley & Me” and “Hotel For Dogs,” told the LA Times about working with Chuck: “He’s got some dog in him, but he is very wolf-like in his look and aloof in a way that dogs aren’t. The experience was unique, and the story of the movie is too. I spend a lot of time thinking about dogs and their psychology, so the idea of going back to the place the friendship started? It was moving for me, and it made me appreciate dogs even more.”
2. Are the other animals real or CGI?
The other wolves were provided by Instinct Animals for Film, who also supplied wolves for “Game of Thrones” and “The Revenant.” Many animal sequences are computer-generated, however, including the dramatic bison stampede over a cliff.
3. Why is the movie rated PG-13?
It’s rated PG-13 for scenes of “intense peril,” including hunting scenes, “violence depicting physical assault and injury,” “some grotesque images” and some scenes [that] may frighten children”
4. How intense are the hunting scenes?
The film starts off with a herd of bison being stampeded over a cliff. Although it’s clearly, CGI, the scene (which is featured in the trailer) is still upsetting.
The night before Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) leaves on his first hunt, his worried mother says, “He leads with his heart, not with his spear,” since she knows his tenderhearted nature. Later, he’s unable to kill a warthog, even though his father’s approval is riding on it. We see the same mercy when he can’t bring himself to kill the injured wolf, who ends up becoming his closest friend.
He eventually learns to hunt animals like rabbits so he and Alpha can survive their arduous trek back home. (Keda’s hunting skills improve, but the camera cuts away before we see him kill anything.)
5. Why is PETA calling for a boycott?
Not all the bison scenes are CGI: Bison carcasses were used in the film, which is leading to PETA calling for a boycott. A source told the LA Times that no bison were killed just for the film, which would be against the American Humane Association’s guidelines. The production team purchased “previously harvested” bison carcasses from a reputable meat-processing company, according to the source. (Bison burgers are growing in popularity because they don’t have the same growth hormones as beef.) According to a THR investigation, the production was cleared of animal cruelty and the whole thing chalked up to a “miscommunication.”
6. Why is it subtitled?
The entire film is subtitled because, no one is speaking contemporary English. It’s not clear what language they are speaking.
7. SPOILER: Does the wolf die?
Keda and Alpha encounter several life-threatening situations, but the film has a very happy ending. But still, bring tissues!