The past decade or so has given us some of the most terrific science fiction films. They’ve been so good that each one continues to raise the bar, both in spectacle and story, that is is getting increasingly harder to pick a favorite. Though, I just might have found mine.
James Gray’s Ad Astra had been discussed sparingly over the last few years or so, ever since he wrapped up The Lost City of Z. The film actually wrapped principal photography back in 2017, but it had been stuck in limbo for the better part of two years. The merger between Disney and Fox further complicated things, and it seemed like Gray’s science fiction epic would almost never see the light of day. In hindsight though, the delay was definitely for the best.
This film boasts some of the most impressive practical and digital VFX I’ve seen in any space adventure to date. It’s also anchored by an incredible performance from Brad Pitt, who’s having a bit of a renaissance this year, between Ad Astra and Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Pitt plays astronaut Roy McBride, the son of Dr. Clifford McBride, the first man to reach the outer solar system, making his dad a bit of a legend. The story really kicks off when a massive energy surge hits Earth and knocks out the International Space Antenna, which Roy and his team operate. After a tumble through the lower atmosphere, he’s brought into a top-secret operation to find the source of “The Surge,” which SpaceCom believes his father to be responsible for.
This all comes as a shock to Roy who thinks his father to be dead, after disappearing years ago on a manned mission to Neptune. From here, it becomes an adventure taking Roy across the galaxy where he must ultimately confront the truth about the Lima Project and what is causing these energy surges, which threaten the stability of the entire solar system.
Gray enlists cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and composer Max Richter to elevate the viewing experience to pure melancholy. Fans of science fiction will know Hoytema, who shot Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which was also visually astounding. The sets and technology utilized in this film are equally impressive, and give this world a great sense of plausibility. It truly feels like a world we could get to, in about thirty years.
While most of the film is quiet, intimate character study, there is also plenty of action and several heart-pounding set pieces to keep even the most general viewer engaged.
It would definitely be a mistake to skip a theatrical viewing of Ad Astra, especially in one of the larger, premium formats available. I know I can’t wait to see it again in IMAX.
This is a film that will sit with you long after viewing, as it has much to say about the human experience and where our strength really comes from. What is our purpose? Where are we going? What things are most important in our life? Gray answers all of this and then some.
Ad Astra arrives in theaters everywhere September 20th.
A paranoid thriller in space that follows Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) on a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe