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Ad Astra Review

The title is Latin for “To the stars” which will give the essence of the film away. Looking back at space exploration in film, we’ve come a long way in terms of making space travel convincing. Director James Gray made this film in the hopes of depicting the most realistic depiction of space exploration audiences had ever seen. Remember when Gravity was released with part of its marketing being ground-breaking technology to make incredible space sequences, well Ad Astra has knocked it out of the park as the directors aims have been met, but Ad Astra is a film that caters to a specific taste in film which is sadly not as shared or appreciated by audiences today.

Before I talk about the features of the film, we should first talk about obvious star power of Brad Pitt. When I think about the tone this film sets, this is quite ideal for Brad Pitt. His character Roy McBride is a composed astronaut, there is a running quirk that his heart rate never goes above so many beats per minutes, the scene in which he falls from the Earth’s stratosphere establishes this, which will be your first taste in Ad Astra’s thrills. There’s also an abundance of psychiatric evaluation tests he goes through. He someone who doesn’t let his emotions take control being put in a situation where he has no choice but to be controlled emotionally which makes for a good transformation by the conclusion.

Films in space must be beautiful looking, no if’s no buts. The most wonderous part of our universe that has only been seen by the eyes of a select few. Make no mistake, Ad Astra is a gorgeous looking film. I like to imagine at some point in life, everyone has obsessed with the solar system and the planets in it, Ad Astra brought back those feelings with its incredible scope.

The near-future setting is also beautiful looking, but with a different effect. It has that right combination of things that are familiar combined with things that feel way advanced. In this world, the colonization of the Moon and Mars feel balanced, you can see a stable society with product placements like Virgin Galactic and Subway of all things, which looks exactly how you are thinking it in your head. But putting that aside, this constant drip-feeding of information about this world is very effective and where sci-fi’s show out of this world technological advances and opportunities, Ad Astra is probably the least lavish but works to great effect.

There is no secret that Ad Astra is beautifully shot and presented, it’s crystal clear as to which film Ad Astra took inspiration from. Mix in a bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey with a pinch of Solaris and you’ve got yourself Ad Astra. The film even shares a similar colour pallet to Kubrick’s masterpiece as well as Tarkovsky’s sound design. I have no problem with indirect references, once audiences make the link, they can piece together what kind of experience they’re in for. But I will say that there is room for an argument if Ad Astra relies too much on the similarities because, in instances, they can appear too comparable.

This brings me on to the main reason why Ad Astra will be a turn off for some people. I brought up films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris not to just make a point about the film’s look, but also how the pacing of Ad Astra is similar. The film is very, very slow in getting to where it wants to go. It’s a very hypnotic film which some people would turn their heads at, that’s not to say the hypnotic scenes are bad, but for a preference of experience, some audiences will get bored very quickly. I guess it’s a matter of taste whether you can take the film in or not.

What the film can be interpreted as is that it is a story of loneliness, Brad Pitt’s performance gets this across with good effort through his characters regular monologues. In other ways, it’s about Roy’s tenderness in reconnecting with his father (Tommy Lee Jones) and usually, when a film has many interpretations it transcends into that special category of films that will be debated for years to come. However, I can’t see Ad Astra being in that category. While yes, it is a film that instigates discussion, it’s discussions that we’ve already been talking for god knows how many years. Its large depiction of space travel is the only and biggest thing it can bring to the table.

This is a film most definitely for the open-minded and more tolerant of deeper layers in their films. That being said there is a lot to praise about Ad Astra, Brad Pitt certainly brings his cards to the table and at the end of the day, Director James Gray achieved what he set out to do in the first place, which is a win in anyone’s eyes. I just wish that a barrier was set up in making its influences less obvious, we all love treading familiar ground, but when it gets too familiar, that’s where interest is lost.

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Sean McConville
My name is Sean McConville, I am passionate individual with 5 years of film studies and film making experience behind me and a lifelong interest in the art of film.