Tue, 08 Oct 2019
Ad Astra (12A)
Running time 2hr 3min
FROM trailers and pre-release buzz, writer/director James Gray’s Ad Astra looked poised to join other modern space films such as Gravity, Interstellar and Moon in the pantheon of science fiction greatness. Ad Astra certainly hits this target, but in a less bombastic and more reserved manner than most intergalactic epics.
The story revolves around Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), an astronaut who is sent on a mission to contact his father (Tommy Lee Jones), one of US Space Command’s (SpaceCom’s) most celebrated heroes, who is believed to be causing electrical surges that threaten all life in the solar system.
McBride’s father Clifford disappeared after all contact had been lost with the Lima Project, a mission to discover extra- terrestrial life that he had led, 16 years prior.
McBride’s mission takes him to the Moon, to Mars and finally on to Neptune, at the far end of the solar system.
What is apparent throughout all this space travel is how realistic James Gray wants it to feel to the audience.
Set in an unspecified future time period, the Moon stations and underground Mars bases that Ad Astra presents feel like a distinct possibility for our own future.
The commercial flight to the Moon that McBride sets off on feels like a mix of flying long haul, travelling on the London Underground and Stanley Kubrick’s own imagining of space travel in the science fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.
What is truly special about Ad Astra however, is its uniqueness and difference from Kubrick’s boundless influence.
As virtually all western sci-fi films have since its release, Ad Astra takes influence from 2001. However, it doesn’t feel like Gray is trying to film his own version of the film like Nolan did with Interstellar.
Rather than being focused on what mysteries outer space contains, Ad Astra at its heart is about the strained relationship between father and son, set against the beautiful, sparse and dangerous setting of the vast unending universe.
Gray’s imagination of space is truly thrilling. Throughout the film he highlights both its cruelty and its grace in an equally magical and realistic manner.
Scenes such as the buggy chase will have you wondering if the film was actually shot on the face of the Moon.
Some of the imagery is just breathtaking. The cratered and empty landscape of the Moon plays the part of both a battleground and a tranquil paradise, the red and rocky landscape of Mars is suitably alien and unfamiliar and the deep blues of Neptune’s surface signal just how isolated McBride is in the solar system.
McBride himself is a capable, withdrawn and motivated protagonist who is a perfect fit for the solitary mission of the plot. Brad Pitt absolutely shines in the role. The character of McBride required a subtlety as well as a dramatic power, all of which Pitt provides in spades.
Scenes such as the recording booth on Mars when McBride attempts to contact his father are emotionally powerful and moving and not the sort of thing I was expecting from Pitt or Ad Astra.
Sometimes Pitt’s voiceover narration heard throughout the film can be a bit clunky, but it doesn’t take much away from the film.
Other actors such as Tommy Lee Jones and Ruth Negga also put in gutsy performances, but it really is Pitt and Gray’s imagining of space travel and the cosmos that steal the show.
Credit must be given to the production designers, artists and visual effects team for one of most beautiful and realistic depictions of outer space ever seen in film.
Ad Astra doesn’t feel as epic or as cosmically exotic as other science fiction films, but that is exactly where it thrives.
It is far more personal and pondering, beautiful and grounded. It really is one of the best science fiction films of recent years and can stand tall alongside the likes of 2001, Alien and Star Wars as some of the best in the genre.