“Brad Pitt gives a powerful performance in the “absolutely enthralling” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) sci-fi thriller set in space. When a mysterious life-threatening event strikes Earth, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) goes on a dangerous mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.”
[Promotional text from the Dvd sleeve]
>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<
In a “near future”, astronaut Roy McBride is told that his father — Clifford McBride, lost in a failed intelligent life-seeking mission around Neptune and presumed death — could still be alive. Powerful particules’ flares are hitting Earth and causing dangerous power surges and the authorities think that his father could be creating the flares with the “Lima Project” ship propulsion system which is using dark matter (!). He is sent to Mars, via the Moon, to record a secret message for his father but discovers that the authorities intentions are far more nefarious than he was told. Despite the lack of trust on both side, he manages to board the Cepheus on its way to Neptune in order to find his father and resolve the situation…
The movie is very slow and has little action (mostly when he falls from the “tower” (space elevator?), when he is attacked by pirates on the Moon, when he boards the distressed Norwegian biomedical research space station and when he tries to escape the “Lima Project” ship). It is also filmed in a very theatrical way, with little dialogues as most of the movie is narrated in voice-over by the main character. Therefore it feels a lot like 2001: A Space Odyssey with some influences from Philip K. Dick (the use of mood altering drugs and the constant psych eval — like seen in Blade Runner 2049).
The director, James Gray, said that he wanted a movie with a “realistic depiction of space travel” but I think he was not very successful. The movements of the characters seemed sometime a little odd and often the laws of physics were broken: a twenty-day trip to Mars? Eighty days to Neptune? You can sure have ships with bigger acceleration but I doubt that human would be able to survive them (and they didn’t look like accelerating a lot in the movie). Also, no matter what kind of radio communication you are using (even with a laser beam) you are limited to the speed of light and transmitting a message to Neptune would take some time (certainly over three hours in each direction), therefore you cannot get an immediate response !
It is said that the movie is set in the “near future” and that also is doubtful. Space elevator, significant bases on the Moon, a base on Mars, all this cannot happen in a few decades. Maybe in a couple of centuries, considering how slow humanity has been doing space exploration lately. Also, the world in which the movie is set seems quite interesting — even if it is barely glimpsed at. Everything looks computer controlled, people are kept on a tight leash with constant psych eval and mood altering drugs to keep them “happy” and well behaved. It is maybe a 1984-style dictature? Everyone seems to have strong religious belief, so maybe a very conservative and fundamentalist world? The movie doesn’t offer enough clues to say so with certainty. Or maybe the Millenials / strawberry generation needed this level of protection and control to survived and feel safe in a “difficult” future?
However, despite its slow pace, technical flaws and lack of action, Ad Astra remains a beautiful movie, with great photography, excellent special effects, good actors and acting (Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland) and a very interesting subject (solitude, family bonds and commitment). The movie made a slim profit at the box office and was well-received by the critics (with a rating of 6.6 on IMDb and 84% on Rotten Tomatoes) but was not as well appreciated by the public (audience score of 40% on Rotten Tomatoes). People probably found it not as exciting as they were expecting because it feels more like a psychological drama than a sci-fi action movie. It is stimulating to the mind, but only mildly entertaining…
All in all, I found Ad Astra disappointing but still worth watching. Anyway, catch it on TV or on DVD (maybe from the library) and be the judge yourself.
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