Director: Albert Hughes.
One of the first things that struck me when checking this out was that it’s made by Albert Hughes, one half of the impressive directing duo.
As twin brothers, I’ve enjoyed most of their relatively small filmography with their debut, Menace II Society being a personal favourite and my go to Hughes Bros. film when talking about them, but let’s not forget From Hell and Book of Eli too. (wasn’t a great fan of Dead Presidents but probably deserves a rewatch) and a longer list of TV episodes, music videos and documentaries.
But little is known of the reason for why they’re taking separate directions. Albert responding in a 2013 New York Times interview “we love each other, and in the end we’re still the best of friends... but kind of a weird dance right now.” And
according to Allen in a different interview with Deadline, he reports saying as a duo, “Allen works with the actors and Albert works the camera.” And that it wasn’t about them growing apart but more of expressing their own passion projects that the other might not be fully invested in, it had always been on the cards and the article further explains that they were in the moment when they made Menace II Society, being of that age the film was about.
This is a story written by Albert Hughes and I’m keen to understand what were Hughes’ motives behind such a story? I’m a assuming he loves dogs, why would you write/direct such a film if you didn’t? And reaching out, I could be guessing he has a Czechoslovakian wolfdog which is the breed used in the film and knowing Hughes currently lives in Prague.
What attracted me to this film was the fictional story of how man befriended dog/wolf and formed an ancient bond between the two species that over several millennia earned the canines the sobriquet “Man’s best friend”. It’s a disputed history of how man and dog came to be but dog graves being buried next to humans have been found going back nearly 15,000 years. Now, I’m a dog lover, I’m so much of a dog lover I have denied myself having one as a companion because of respect and admiration for them. (Plus I struggle to look after myself let alone a pup.) So this story really appealed to me, struggling to think if a similar story has been done before.
So this story, though entirely fabricated, including the spoken language of the film; it’s not so far fetched from a possibly truth. Setting the film 20,000 years ago somewhere in Europe, during the last ice age and humans are at their hunter-gathering stage in history. We’re introduced to Keda (Smit-McPhee) a young and not so confident member of a tribe and also happens to be the son of the tribe’s chief. Newly recruited into the hunting party, they venture off into the wilderness to gather food and return to home before the harsh winter comes.
Obviously, the young Keda is separated from the tribe and is forced to fight for survival on his own, until he encounters a wolf, and the two of them form a heartfelt alliance for them both to survive. There’s a strong personification of not just the wolf, but of all the animals in the film, especially within the opening sequence when battling with the bisons.
It is visually stunning and some of it reminded me of Snyder’s 300 with some key scenes In particular; and especially with the colour tint that helped capture the seasons and weather conditions. You could easily be mistaken for thinking this was from a Frank Miller graphic novel, but sadly there’s nothing incredibly groundbreaking here and the visual artistry isn’t prevalent throughout the film. It’s like they had all these amazing shots and the had the trouble of filling it with connecting scenes. This in turn, stems the flow of the film, which makes me assume there was some major re-edits and might explain the delay in release, being put back not once but twice making it a total year behind the original scheduled date.
Smit-McPhee’s performance is acceptable and believable with him really the only one to on go, though I felt there needed to be more bonding with Alpha, his wolf friend. The effects were on point as were the production and costumes but there wasn’t much a score. Well, there is obviously a score but no theme or anything at all recognisable. It’s this that might have improved the film considerably.
Unfortunately, there was also quite a bit of controversy that caused quite a stir and even evoked a boycott from PETA after the American Humane Association disallowed the “no animals were harmed during the making of this film” to be awarded. PETA raising suspicions that five bisons were killed for prop use during the production but a studio source claims the bison were already humanly killed for meat by a local facility; and after further investigation there are reports of a wrangler going rogue, misleading the studio.
That aside, the film reminded me of 10,000 BC only better, but not as real as Apocalypto and not as much heart as Eight Below, I thought this might howl out to dog lovers, but it sadly does little no matter how hard it tries and seems to suffer from an identity crisis. It’s a simple story that’s beautiful to look at, but lacked any real substance.
Running Time: 7
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 4
The Extra Bonus Point: 0