Ad Astra feels like a weird movie to be watching in 2019, as it’s rather like a road movie, but set in space, and feels a lot more like an indie movie than something mainstream that you’d expect to see on an IMAX screen, and with such wide distribution.
Following electrical storms which are affecting Earth, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) must head off on a mission, to find his father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) – a fellow astronaut who went missing many years ago. We’re told he set off in that vicinity – looking for signs of intelligent life, on a mission known as the Lima Project – when Roy was 16 – and he went missing when Roy was 29. The powers that be say that the storms originate from Neptune as part of everything that went wrong, and they think he’s still alive, but is he?
Roy has the ability to keep his BPM right down, so he’s perfect for a stressful mission like this one, although I could argue that, at the age of 55, Brad Pitt is clearly too old for the role of astronaut. If he can be found, then Tommy Lee Jones certainly is, too, but then we know he set off many moons ago (turn of phrase), and it isn’t stated exactly what Roy’s age is, and Pitt certainly does not look 55.
For his ‘road trip’, he must go to the moon, first – which is now colonised, and then to Mars (which is the only one of their sites that’s unaffected by the electrical issues), and from there, he has the best chance of sending a message through to his father, in the hope of it being received.
Some random observations: on the moon, there’s pirates off the starboard bow – which made me wonder quite how likely that would be; en route to Mars they go to check out a craft with a Mayday signal, and space flight is now commercialised thanks to Virgin Atlantic, since a pillow on the spacecraft costs $125!
The film has shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as Pitt goes from one pitstop to another, but it’s more like the original Solaris, where the lead character in that also went across space in search of his father, and found a great, long ponderous mess. Even for a space-based movie, this just feels so flat, even in an early scene that shows the effects of the storm.
Like I said earlier, Ad Astra feels more like an indie film, but then the first movie in which I saw Brad Pitt in a leading role was 1991’s offbeat Johnny Suede, a definite indie film, and a decent one to boot! Of course, he also had a great role doing the do with Geena Davis in Thelma And Louise.
One ‘space oddity’ (ahem), I was not expecting at Vue Cinemas is that this time I was able to enjoy (if you can call it enjoying, after a rubbish film) the end credits with the lights completely off, so I was in pitch black, like space! I could tell this was annoyed some people, as they had to use their phone’s torch to leave (hehe). The stupid thing is that they walked all the way down to the bottom of the stairs, even though they started from near the top, and there’s an exit right there in front of them!
Why didn’t the lights come on? I don’t know, although I do know that some movie companies specifically request for the lights to be dimmed at certain points in the credits due to mid- and post-credits scenes, for example. These instructions will come with the hard drive on which the movie is supplied. Sometimes, the cinema interprets the instructions as the entire credits to be played with the lights out. I’ve only come across that happening with Jason Bourne and Justice League, though, but I was certainly welcome that it happened. I guess with Jason Bourne, they had some fancy animation that wasn’t essential, but looked better with the lights out, and for Justice League, there was a post-credits scene only.
Still, for a space movie, that was mostly in darkness (obvs!), it was nice to NOT be thrust back into bright light as soon as the last scene ended.
A much better bet is Ad Astra, the ZX Spectrum game (below).
And some queries I’ll put behind a spoiler header…
Running time: 123 minutes
Release date: September 18th 2019
Viewed at: Vue Printworks
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Format: 2.39:1 (Anamorphic Panavision)
Director: James Gray
Producers: Dede Gardner, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Yariv Milchan, Brad Pitt, Rodrigo Teixeira
Screenplay: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Music: Max Richter
Roy McBride: Brad Pitt
H. Clifford McBride: Tommy Lee Jones
Helen Lantos: Ruth Negga
Thomas Pruitt: Donald Sutherland
Eve: Liv Tyler
Lorraine Deavers: Kimberly Elise
Donald Stanford: Loren Dean
Captain Lawrence Tanner: Donnie Keshawarz
Willie Levant: Sean Blakemore
Franklin Yoshida: Bobby Nish
Adjutant General Vogel: LisaGay Hamilton
Brigadier General Stroud: John Finn
Lieutenant General Rivas: John Ortiz
Captain Lu: Freda Foh Shen
Female Flight Attendant: Kayla Adams
Arjun Dhariwal: Ravi Kapoor
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.