Movie review: ‘Ad Astra’

Category:  The Arts
Friday, September 27th, 2019 at 11:50 AM
Movie review: ‘Ad Astra’ by Jason Hurst
Photo: Francois Duhamel / Twentieth Century Fox

“Ad Astra” is a Latin phrase that means “to the stars,” an apt title for a film set almost entirely in space. Starring Brad Pitt as Major Roy McBride, a steadfast astronaut who never loses his cool, the film is also an interesting space adventure unlike any in recent memory.

After a strange power surge devastates the globe, the U.S. Space Command enlists Roy for a top-secret mission: to find and eliminate the source of the energy. Unfortunately for Roy, it’s coming from the Lima Project, led by his missing father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who is supposed to be searching for intelligent life. Roy sets out to the edge of the solar system and back again, in order to save the world, and possibly, his father.

“Ad Astra” is unique in the sense that so much is conveyed, not by the plot, but by the main character himself. Throughout the film, we get an in-depth look at Roy’s literal psyche as his internal monologue is the only company he routinely has on his journey. The reasons behind his ability to remain extremely calm in moments of personal and professional adversity are thoroughly laid out and explored throughout the film.

Right from the get-go, about five minutes in, the action begins. Almost no time is wasted on world-building, rather we learn more as we go, unburdened by the desire to understand a world and society we never see. Things just are. “Ad Astra” may be a science-fiction film, but it stays as far away from fiction as possible. Only a few things make up the fiction aspect of the movie, and they only serve to further develop Roy’s character growth.

In addition, the visual effects in the film are incredible. The environments and planets are marvelous. We see multiple planets from up close and far away. Even small details, like dust on the moon, are incorporated. Simply put, the effects add to the realism and awe. The outer planets of the solar system are beautifully crafted, down to the smallest rock.

Unfortunately, the plot can be horrendously slow at times. Multiple sequences seem there only to pad the running time. As Roy prepares to go into space, we are shown a montage of preparation, but while interesting, it does almost nothing for the plot. There are numerous sequences with almost nothing happening (save for Roy’s narration of his mental state, the only positive side of these scenes).

The biggest flaw in “Ad Astra,” by far, is the amount of screen time the other characters receive. Brad Pitt’s character routinely meets other characters in the film, many of whom exist solely to push the plot and character development along. They appear for a few minutes, introduce a revelation of some kind, and then are never seen again. Many characters and plot devices seem to have been cut from the film, many of which appeared to be important to the story.

Conversely, the strongest part of the film is that the scientific concepts are not explained, allowing any individual to sit and enjoy the film for what it is: a space adventure.

The audience doesn’t need to understand large words and complicated concepts. The characters go to space for their mission and that’s it: a general understanding of space is all that’s needed. Things happen instead of the plot slowing down for five minutes while someone explains the concepts of anti-matter and cosmic rays. We don’t need to know how they work, just that they do.

“Ad Astra” is not entirely entertaining for the everyday movie goer, but rather it’s for viewers interested more in space than spectacle. The slow plot, but constant character development, creates a niche story not many would enjoy. Directed and written by James Gray, “Ad Astra” is currently playing in theaters, including Erie’s Tinseltown.

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