To the stars

From the start, Ad Astra had some post production issues, which resulted in seriously delaying the release of the film. It was delayed many times because James Gray (The Lost City of Z) wanted to perfect the VFX for the movie. Additionally, Disney acquired Fox and the previous release date coincided with Disney’s Aladdin, so they had to move it one more time. Here it is, after premiering at Venice Film Festival last month, the general public can finally take a look at what seems to be the biggest space epic since Interstellar. But nothing is what it seems in space..

The film opens with astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) working on a space station, still attached to the earth’s surface. When some sort of space flare shuts down electrical equipment, he gets blasted down back to the ground in a very spectacular opening scene, which literally takes your breath away. Soon after, we find out, this event – now named “The Surge” – has caused massive power outages on the entire planet, causing the deaths of thousands. When McBride gets called into a super confidential meeting, his superiors confront him with classified material that belonged to his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who was once sent on a mission into outer space to look for signs of extraterrestrial life. Surprised he’s still alive, and most likely knows more about the cause of The Surge, McBride takes on the mission to go look for his missing father on the other side of our solar system.

Visually, Ad Astra is truly spectacular (thanks to Hoyte Van Hoytema‘s cinematography and the VFX-team). The vibrant colour palette of several celestial bodies and some genuinely inventive tracking shots, made me stare at the screen like I was in some sort of trance. Most of the space scenes are silent – since “no one can hear you scream in space” – accompanied by Max Richter‘s mellifluous score. The world building is also one of the more interesting aspects, which made me interested in seeing more of the “near future” as presented in Gray’s mind. Applebee’s on the moon? The story takes us to different places and has the ability to suck us in, but never quite manages to do so.

That’s where the story comes into place. Narratively, the synopsis sounds like a wild adventure beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, but don’t be fooled by all of that, this is a drama. McBride clearly got over the supposed death of his father, by becoming one of the best astronauts, hereby disregarding his wife (Liv Tyler fans – like myself – will be disappointed). Discovering his father wasn’t dead after all, daddy issues arise and this is basically what the entire film is all about. We hear Pitt narrating his character’s thoughts, sounding philosophical in a sometimes too comically serious way.

The rest of the cast just comes and goes. Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games) and Ruth Negga (Loving) have barely any screen time, and that’s a total shame, because their characters are genuinely interesting. Besides them, we get some extras who’s sole purpose is to pump up the bodycount. Pitt leading this entire film, does a decent job, but having seen him bring his A-game just recently in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his McBride is clearly going to pass by this awards season, without a whimper.

Ad Astra could’ve been another modern space classic, such as Gravity or Interstellar, but clearly has an identity crisis. Visually striking and sonically mesmerising, yet narratively tone deaf. Next time, reach for the stars, but don’t crash into the first asteroid passing by, James Gray.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review – Ad Astra

Reviewed at Event Cinemas Sydney (media screening), Sept. 18, 2019. Running time: 122 min.

PRODUCTION: A 20th Century Fox release through Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures of a New Regency Pictures, Bona Film Group, Keep Your Head, MadRiver Pictures, Plan B Entertainment, RT Features and Regency Enterprises production. Producers p.g.a.: Dede Gardner, James Gray, Jeremy Kleiner, Anthony Katagas, Rodrigo Teixeira. Producers: Brad Pitt, Arnon Milchan, Yariv Milchan.

CREW: Director: James Gray. Screenplay: James Gray, Ethan Gross. Camera (color, widescreen): Hoyte Van Hoytema. Editor: John Axelrad, Lee Haugen. Music: Max Richter.

WITH: Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland.

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