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Movie Review - Ad Astra dir James Gray

June 18, 2020

AD ASTRA 2019 dir: James Gray

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick wowed audiences with his cinematic space exploration spectacle of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. The film was a thought-provoking, cerebral experience unlike anything cinema audiences had been presented with before. Technically stunning, Kubrick presented a realistic depiction of what the environment of space is like above and beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Ostensibly about the evolution of mankind, from primordial ape, to man, to star entity and while it could be considered a little dated in some respects, the film was so carefully conceived and crafted, that it still holds up well today and is rightfully considered a monumental achievement.

50yrs have passed since Kubrick’s foray into space, setting a precedent for outer space themed films, which created a malleable genre taking cues from Kubrick’s astonishing visual presentation.  Star Wars – 77’ turned space into a fantastic and mystical action orientated arena, while others attempted to take a more noble and believable approach to the future of space exploration: in Silent Running – 72’,  a botanist preserves what is left of Earth’s flora and fauna in a spacecraft greenhouse mandated to be destroyed;  Alien – 79’  is futuristic horror in space, yet also a gritty depiction of  life in a commercial space vessel; Sean Connery was a federal marshal in Outland – 81’ stationed in a corrupt mining colony on a moon of Jupiter and more recently, Interstellar – 14’.  With Ad Astra, the film is about one man’s obsession searching for alien life in the far reaches of space and his son’s attempt to bring him home.

Brad Pitt is Roy McBride, an astronaut in the “near future”, the film does not give us an exact date, but perhaps feasible within the latter part of the 21st century. His father Clifford, Tommy Lee Jones, has dedicated his life to finding alien lifeforms. It has been discovered that all is not in harmony aboard Clifford’s space vessel situated near the outer rings of Neptune with a crew that had mutinied, and contact lost. A dangerous “surge” has been emanating from where the Lima Project is stationed and is radiating out destructive pulses affecting the earth. Roy is commissioned to journey to the moon where he can then transition to Mars in an attempt at possible communication with his father. All is not as it seems though.

Ad Astra, (“to the stars”), is a rather brooding science fiction entry that relies on atmosphere of situation and moods, symbolic imagery and still silences punctuated by noise. It strives for emotional resonance and connection yet can come across as stoic and under-developed in the relationship aspect between the main players to make the impact it indicates. I also feel that the science of the film is not as authentic as it could have been. What Ad Astra does boast, is a superb rendering of outstanding visual effects, if not the best of what last year had on offer. It can make one feel what it is really like to be caught in the eerie, unfathomable, and expansive cold beauty of space, and for the patient viewer, be worth the jaunt through Neptune’s rings.     

Darren Cunningham 

Available in the Main Library Film and Television Collection ADA