Film Review: AD ASTRA (USA 2019) ***1/2

Ad Astra Poster
Trailer

Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.

Director:

James Gray

The concept of AD ASTRA began with director James Gray’s (THE YARDS, THE LOST CITY OF Z) idea which he announced in 2016 of making a  realistic depiction of a space travel movie.  The baby of both Gray who co-wrote, produced and directed and star Brad Pitt who also share producing credits, AD ASTRA is a very serious, if not always realistic depiction of a space movie.  For example, there is one scene where astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) closes the hatch of his spaceship in the deeps of outer space and the audience can still hear the latch bang shut when one clearly knows that there is no sound in the vacuum of outer space.  But some minor complaints aside, AD ASTRA lives up to Gray’s ambition.  AD ASTRA has so far been positively reviewed by film critics and is quite a serious and authentically looking space drama.  Note that this is not an action movie but a thriller that plays around with other classic space movies.

Astronaut Roy McBride travels to the outer edges of the Solar System to find his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of humans on Earth.  A surge has been received from the Neptune project near Neptune where the father had worked.  The surge might destroy earth and all in it.  Roy’s journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and its place in the cosmos.

To list a couple of important space moves in the past, Gray’s AD ASTRA draws from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and GRAVITY while sharing common traits with APOCALYPSE NOW and his LOST CITY OF Z.

Gray attempts to show the marvels of space technology as in Kubrick’s 2001.  The modern look of the spaceship including its exterior shots are stunning, thanks to the expensive production design.  The rest mishap with the unexpected surge takes place on the exterior of a space antenna is one fo the film’s most exciting scenes.  There are not that many, but when they arrive, they are a knock-out.  The zero-gravity and the re-entering into the spaceship share common thrill elements with Cuaron’s GRAVITY.  Gray’s zero gravity fight with the two battlers tumbling around is a new set-up not seen (or seldom seen) before.  The crazy and obsessive father in AD ASTRA reminds one immediately of the Marlon Brando character in Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and the traveller IN LOST CITY that lost himself reminds one of the protagonist in AD ASTRA.

The story is somewhat predictable with it set primarily on astronaut Roy McBride and his human condition.  For most part of the film, Roy is in acceptable psychological state but when he goes into ager mode, he is in trouble.  Director Gary anchors his story on Roy’s mental state.  There is little information provided on Roys personal life, with his wife played by Liv Tyler showing up for just a brief token moment.

Credit to 20th Century Fox on financing an thinking adult space movie.  It is a big gamble and hopefully it will do well at the box-office with Brad Pitt’s name to help.  Disney that bought Fox have expressed concerns on Fox’s slate of movies on making money like this one and Fox’s upcoming FORD V FERRARI. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykC_wu6ffOU

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