‘Ad Astra’ reaches for the stars, but falls short


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Brad Pitt’s character Roy McBride looking at the horizon, about to hitch a ride on a spaceship.

Ethan Torban, Staff Writer

WARNING: This review has spoilers for the 2019 film “Ad Astra.”

In Latin, Ad Astra means “to the stars,” and although director James Gray tries to aim for exactly that, he falls back and burns up in the atmosphere.

In most Sci-Fi/Space movies, the main aspect that never lacks are visuals. “Ad Astra” is no different. Almost every shot present in the film is not only captivating, but as realistic as actual NASA photos. However, a film is not just defined by its cinematography, but also by its plot and script. Like most Sci-fi/Space films, this is where “Ad Astra” suffers.

Amazing performances by Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and Donald Sutherland are overshadowed by bad choices in the plot, pointless characters, and a boring script.

One example is during a battle, where a character shoots his laser in the pressurized cabin of the space ship on the way to Neptune. If you don’t understand the issue, let me explain. When shooting a gun in space, a stray bullet (or laser in this case) will hit something and most likely explode. Here, the laser hits a can of oxygen. In real life, this would have immediately exploded, killing everyone remotely close to it. What ended up happening is it released oxygen, killing everybody  except for Pitt’s character, Roy McBride.

I realize that movies like this are generally not realistic, but please, people, if you’re gonna make a space movie, recognize the No.1 rule of space exploration: no fire in space.

Another element that made “Ad Astra” not as good as it could have been were random characters with little meaning. For example, one character that made no sense was Helen Lantos, portrayed by actress Ruth Negga. She randomly shows up on Mars, and it is revealed that her parents knew our hero’s, Roy’s, dad. She ends up not doing much, except for giving McBride plans to get into a rocket.

The last reason why “Ad Astra” suffered was because of lousy script writing. Although it wasn’t cheesy, it was too philosophical and bland at times. Most of Pitt’s lines were just him sulking in a monotone voice.

When McBride does his needed physical evaluation checks (which he does about 3-4 times), Roy almost always gives the same answer. His first “Med-Check” was “I am feeling good, ready to do my job to the best of my abilities.” In his second Med-Check, he says: “I am feeling good, ready to do my job to the best of my abilities.” In his third Med Check, he says: “I’m steady, calm, ready to do my job to the best of my abilities. I will remain calm. I will remain focused.” Repetitive lines like these change the quality of the movie, and not for the better.

The directors also copied the styles of both “Interstellar,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “Gravity.”

Over the duration of the film, the action sequences were very reminiscent of those of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The Med Check sequences in particular reminded me of the interactions between Hal 9000 and the humans.

As most of “Ad Astra” was philosophical, the monologues and characters reminded me of the 2014 space epic “Interstellar.”

The actual outer space shots, however, were very similar to that of Sandra Bullock’s “Gravity.”

Overall, I would recommend this movie to those who love space epics, especially philosophical ones. If you like amazing visuals, and are interested in seeing what should be a realistic depiction of the future, “Ad Astra” is the movie for you. But if you are looking to see an action-packed thriller, “Ad Astra” may not be the best choice.

The visuals and cast did very well; however, there were many mistakes (that most space films have), such as a confusing plot, lousy scriptwriting, and un-needed elements that overwhelm the viewer.

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