DVD Review HTF Review - Alpha Dog

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Kevin EK, May 1, 2007.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer

    May 9, 2003
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    Alpha Dog


    Studio: Universal
    Film Year: 2007
    Film Length: 118 minutes
    Genre: Drama

    Aspect Ratio:
    • Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1

    Colour/B&W: Colour

    • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
    Film Rating: R

    Release Date: May 1, 2007.

    Rating: 2/5

    With: Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Emile Hirsch, Christopher Marquette, Justin Timberlake, Anton Yelchin and Harry Dean Stanton, Sharon Stone and Bruce Willis.

    Written and directed by: Nick Cassavetes

    ALPHA DOG is a fictional retelling of the true story of Jesse James Hollywood, who made it to the FBI’s Most Wanted List at age 20 after kidnapping the younger brother of a man who owed him money. As one might imagine, the already-bad situation got much worse before it was finished – an example of how easy it is to step over the line from apathy to truly evil acts. The actual story is still unfinished – Hollywood was busted in Brazil in 2005 and is still awaiting trial – but what we already know about it would certainly make for an interesting and disturbing film. Unfortunately, ALPHA DOG is not that film.

    At almost 2 hours, the movie takes 40 minutes to actually get to the series of events that drive the film. Up to that point, it plays like a low-rent version of “Entourage”, only with upper middle class drug dealers and would-be gangsters. After that point, the situation spirals into nastier territory until we get to the inevitable conclusion. The cast is certainly trying hard here, particularly Justin Timberlake in one of the more sympathetic roles, but this is territory that we’ve seen before in better circumstances. (Tim Hunter’s RIVER’S EDGE comes to mind right away.) Bruce Willis and Sharon stone pop up in supporting roles. The film is strangely moving by the time it reaches the end, but there’s a real sense of a missed opportunity here.


    ALPHA DOG is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 picture that contains a few problems. The opening credits are displayed over a collage of child home videos of the actual cast. When I first watched the film, I thought the anamorphic encoding had come undone as the home videos looked odd. When I reset my own video settings to non-anamorphic, the images looked more natural. Given that the film continues in normal anamorphic mode after the credits, I have concluded that this is due to a combination of stretching and zoomboxing. I believe this was likely done to avoid degrading the quality of the video imagery any further than what we see here. Nevertheless, I find the technique disorienting, to say the least. At a late point in the film (roughly 1:51), the picture is squeezed from an anamorphic image of Lukas Haas driving a truck to a non-anamorphic dual image with captions running under the imagery. This only lasts maybe 30 seconds, but it still pulled me out of the movie. When I first watched the DVD, I initially thought there must be something wrong with the disc, but I have concluded that these were deliberate choices by the filmmakers as part of the look they wished for the movie. The problem isn’t with the DVD or its authoring – it’s with the movie itself. There is an additional problem that occurs later in the film – when a series of night driving and night exterior scenes are lit in such a way that it becomes pretty clear we’re looking at greenscreen stage work. Again, that’s not a problem of the DVD – but a reflection of the visual choices made during the production of the film.


    ALPHA DOG is presented in English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. The mix is fine overall, with the surround channels primarily being used either for the occasional atmospheric effects, or the more constant use of rap music throughout the film.


    ALPHA DOG includes a chapter menu with 20 stops. Subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish.

    The only special features included here are a featurette and an odd timeline idea.

    • A Cautionary Tale: The Making of Alpha Dog – (11:28) This is a brief anamorphic collection of interview snippets, behind the scenes video and clips from the film. There’s not a lot of substance here – just the usual mutual compliments between the cast and the director. Sharon Stone discusses her role, and several other cast members sound off about their opinions about their characters and the overall message of the film. Bruce Willis is notably absent, as is any discussion of the controversial backstory of the film. As with the movie itself, there’s a really interesting story that can be told – the filmmakers were given access to actual materials and testimony from the real case – but that story is not told here.

    • Witness Timeline – This feature allows the viewer to access statements by several of the almost 40 witnesses who see different parts of the featured crime in the film. The viewer can either punch up a brief written quote from the witness or view the scene where the witness appears. (Throughout the film, at each point where the witnesses appear, they are indicated with text and highlit for emphasis) The problem here is that the witnesses (likely based on real people from the real case) are all fictional, and none of them really adds any greater depth with their quotes than what we see in the film itself. In the end, this comes across more as a quick rundown of favorite moments from the film than an examination of the witnesses or what they saw. I found the handling of the menus for the various witnesses to be a bit sticky, but this will likely vary depending on your DVD player.

    When you first put the disc in the player, several trailers for other Universal movies and DVD’s will automatically play unless you hit the right button. The usual HD-DVD trailer is also included. The only issue here is that none of the trailers, including the HD-DVD trailer, are anamorphically encoded. (This is the first time I have ever seen a non-anamorphic HD trailer) This isn’t a major issue, given that most viewers will likely just skip the whole idea, but it is still odd.

    IN THE END...

    ALPHA DOG is a problematic account of a truly disturbing series of events. The actual story here is a good one, and it’s worth being told – the problem is that the film simply doesn’t succeed in telling it. Given the picture problems (which are part of the film itself and are not a DVD issue), and given the lack of supplements, there’s not a lot to recommend the film other than the earnestness of the cast. If you’re a fan of the cast, particularly of Justin Timberlake, it’s certainly worth a rental.

    Kevin Koster
    May 1, 2007.
  2. Jacob McCraw

    Jacob McCraw Stunt Coordinator

    Dec 24, 2003
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    I watched this last night and agree that there was a lot of potential here that never materialized.

    I liked all of the performances, Anton Yelchin is great in "Huff" and it was cool to see him in something else. Justin Timberlake was very good as well, and it's always good to see Harry Dean Stanton.

    The movie just seems to get bogged down in the least interesting aspects of the case. I would have liked a little more about Johnny's rise to power, I know his father had a lot to do with it but I would still like to see more, since he is obviously a coward and needed a lot of help to get where he was.
  3. DouglasRobert

    DouglasRobert Second Unit

    Sep 12, 2003
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    This is the only DVD where I had to turn up the brightness all the way up just to be able to see the night scenes. Even after that it was still dark.

    I would have liked to have seen what the parents were doing while their son was kidnapped, stuff like talking to cops, handing out fliers or making pleas to the media.
    What about include scenes of the trial and the suspects getting sentenced?
    What about scenes of Johnny living in the foreign country and of course all of the things that were happening to find him?

    It just seemed that the movie really had no ending and it was left open at the end.

    Perhaps, they should have waited until the real life case was done with and then do the film based on that.
  4. Todd Stout

    Todd Stout Screenwriter

    Jul 13, 1999
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    I watched Alpha Dog last night and was wondering if it was me or if the night scenes were actually as dark as they were. It was very hard to see what was going on during most of the night scenes and I was watching in somewhat dark room with no glare at all on my screen.

    The movie, while not perfect, certainly was quite disturbing to me especially near the end. I think that most of the actors did a pretty good job with the material and I think Justin Timberlake deserves kudos for his performance.
  5. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer

    May 9, 2003
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    I did not have a problem seeing the night scenes in the final part of the film. My problem with them was that they were lit in a flat, generic blue-gray "night" style that immediately told me they had been filmed on a stage with a green screen. (This applies to the drive out to the remote place and to what happens when they get there) I can see how this could look dim, but for me, I was already thrown by the unreality of the look.

    I agree that the cast did the best they could with what they had to work with. I've never seen anything with Justin Timberlake before, and I thought he did fine with his part. I thought Ben Foster had some good moments as well.

    I agree with Douglas that it may have been a better idea to have waited until the final trial is finished before making a movie about it. As it is, the movie tries to have it both ways - it tries to tell the story, but altering it just enough that it's a fictional version. (And yet, we get all these references to witnesses 1 through 38...) And the movie itself has had an effect on Hollywood's prosecution - the defense has been trying to have the prosecutor recused from the case because of his involvement with the production.

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