Sad Astra. Sad Astronaut. Brad Astra. Dad Astra. Sad Brad Dad Astronaut movie.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Ad Astra.
Roy (Pitt), all-around talented guy, gets launched into space by a near-future version of NASA following the spectacular wreck of what could very well have been this era’s biggest antenna. His mission: get in touch with his father he thought long since lost in space (Tommy Lee Jones), now possibly orbiting somewhere around Neptune.
The casting of Jones in a space movie, no less alongside fellow Space Cowboy Donald Sutherland, is a little distracting at the outset for those with the misfortune of recalling that movie. That’s too without going into just how Agent K feels about all this.
More distracting still is the treatment of Liv Tyler who gets even less to do than when she was waiting on Ben Affleck hurtling back to earth. Casting approach aside, there’s very little about the technical or storytelling skill that isn’t about as good as you’ll get from any 2019 mainstream release.
This author hopefully opined in years past for a narrative akin to Director James Gray’s most excellent The Lost City of Z set in space. Having now so accomplished this, it’s clear the Director’s penchant for large-scale, epic storytelling (importantly two different things) is not limited to the jungle.
Star Trek’s ‘final frontier’ line being one spoken nay lightly, Ad Astra captures the sense of wonder inherent to the exploration beyond our stratosphere whether it be those first plucky missions or the ones on which we are thrilled to speculate. There’s a sense of the great beyond and wide open as we here ascend, or more accurately descend into the sky via these rocket-ships and Pitt’s own mournful gaze.
Comparisons to Apocalypse Now will be apparent, what with Roy hurtling further into chaos on an unknown mission and even insisting that a crew not investigate a wandering ship given his unstated priority. Ad Astra is however more akin to Heart of Darkness itself given how our spaceman’s internal monologue so shapes our spiral and Roy’s own toward he imbued as a near mythical figure.
Complemented by some stunning cinematography and recreations of space, the opening frames as Roy plummets down the largest earth-bound building we’ve ever seen is spectacular to behold on a big screen. Indulging in some excellent world (and moon) building, the depiction of our orbiting sphere as a Disneyland-esque high-priced tourist trap is a tranche of this film we could just as well have spent a great deal more time in.
The final act, relatable and powerful for being in respects both counterintuitive and anticlimactic, thrives in the colourful depiction of a section of our Solar System ill-explored in film and best experienced on as large a stage as possible. The film too featuring an entertaining docking sequence, it is the one instance in which Ad Astra does not exceed Interstellar’s here familiar attempts at conveying the wonder of far-reaching space exploration; that film’s own docking sequence, amid not much to write home about, still emerging triumphant against it’s like.
An inscrutable figure to be sure, Pitt manages much more with a glance or glimmer than most of his contemporary A-listers, and anyone who likewise hoped for something greater with the not dissimilar approach in First Man will find Ad Astra that much more rewarding.
Compounding itself with some excellent set design (at times eerily reminiscent of Blade Runner 2049), Ad Astra boasts probably the best jump scare of the year, just for being at once novel, sensical and in our first few minutes on one particular space ship coming far from where we’d expect. This moment’s symbolic dimensions too evident, once one has recovered they’re a joy to unpack.
A few minor gripes aside, namely an unnecessary action sequence replete with, of course, guns on the moon and one character’s motivation to help Roy being hurriedly and none too convincingly expounded, Ad Astra delivers.
Ad Astra is in cinemas now and screens as part of Melbourne Openair Cinema on Sunday November 3, Sydney Openair Cinemas on Sunday November 3, Mov’ In Bed on Friday November 8 and Tuesday November 26 and Moonlight Cinema in Melbourne and Sydney on December 1