Sadly, too many men of power today are like greedy, exploitative Jabba the Hutts, lots of them Hollywood directors. James Gray could be one of them, because his cinematic products follow a subjective path to no success for anyone. Ad Astra is one of those movies where if it went a half-hour longer, 80% of the audience would be flat-out asleep once the credits rolled. Each Fall it seems, an astronaut/sci-fi epic aiming to imitate art usually fails at doing so. First was Gravity, then Interstellar, then The Martian, then Arrival, then Blade Runner 2049, then First Man, now it seems that we’ll see the trend’s demise, and for the better.
Gray’s narrative core supposedly connects the main protagonist with his father who abandoned life on Earth to go search of intelligent life, which is not only a horrible way to generate sympathy about the conflict, but is terribly executed as well, for none of the actors barely ever crack a grin. The dull exposition scenes explain plot points plainly, and gets boring with its mere presence, even the non-humanoid BB-8 imprints the memory more! Plus, an unnecessary voiceover narration almost tries to suck breath out of the already breathless words that the actors verbalize while seldom exchanging eye contact. Heck, Rey and Kylo Ren’s conversations throughout The Last Jedi have greater eye contact, despite being lightspeed-distance apart for most of their time together!
The main dirty mission ends up pointless, like how other art house sci-fi films set to answer existential questions that their directors can’t even answer. The astronauts are admittedly believable, but that’s because the slow pacing is greatly abused here, almost as badly as Denis Villeneuve did with Blade Runner 2049. Seriously, a solar panel would fully heat up before James Gray gets any point across!
On the mission, some creatures are found alright, but they’re way freakier than mynocks. One includes a monkey… yes… an actual Earth-born monkey in the cosmos; no details explain how it survived completely alone, nor does anybody ever mention the mad primate again afterward, it’s forgotten as suddenly as it’s brought up. The screenwriters probably decided to implement this truly bizarre moment after smoking a big pack of Camels.
Instead, the reliance of sustaining attention falls solely on the addictive nature of the visuals. First, the interstellar journey cleverly imitates an airplane service trip. Later, the sinful crew stirs up some anger as their tension stresses out to the extent of massive lens flares seen occasionally on the screen. There’s straight-beauty as well, such as two stunningly photoreal glowing balls falling across the sky, and a gorgeous fuchsia overcast over Mars that resembles most Summer parks. Although the CGI looks kind of goofy sometimes, to the level of the DCEU’s CGI, so nothing here is a landmark achievement for visual effects.
But the surreal efforts of production designer Kevin Thompson (Birdman, Michael Clayton) deserve an applause. Those efforts begin with a super tall NASA antenna, then gets stronger when accompanied by a recording studio covered with soundproof pads, introduced by a wide view of the floor. Next to that alien-esque layout, a room projects birds on its walls to calm the nerves. These impactful set pieces utilize the IMAX scope well despite the cramped interiors.
Our main man Brad Pitt though lacks Oscar-winning alien makeup to set him apart from any previous role he played—his character is not personally motivated for a dangerous mission, so he’s therefore instantly forgettable. Attempts to make the mission more intense include a vehicle chase when everyone wears unidentifiable spacesuits, as if they weren’t identifiable enough already. As time passes, the production crew still expects their audience to mourn certain deaths of characters who have zip nada known about them; the editors perhaps eventually got fed up with Fox’s constant release delays, thus left too many important details unchecked. Hence, the intentionally sad climax turns out anything opposite of sad.
While we’re at it, where is Google in this future? Where is Google in this present? It doesn’t look like these people even fact-checked from the internet while pooping out the script, the Moon has Earth’s gravitational pull for Pete’s sake!
Ironic, something trying hard to answer humanity’s purpose contains zero humanity: it’s all ridiculously attractive celebrities spilling out repetitive philosophical rambles to sound smart. Other art house space movies at least managed to stand out; The Martian had a better thought-out creation of the red planet, Gravity had more immersive screen choreography, Arrival completed its concepts on human existentialism, Ad Astra though, just copies.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Ad Astra. 20th Century Fox. Web. <https://www.foxmovies.com/movies/ad-astra>.
Lewis, Rebecca. “Brad Pitt leads Ad Astra (Picture; New Regency).” Digital image. Metro. Wordpress, 11 Sept 2019. Web. <https://metro.co.uk/2019/09/11/ad-astra-review-brad-pitt-saves-daddy-issues-drama-leaves-cold-10722980/>.