Welcome to what I hope will be the first of many movie reviews [ sans-Vlog for now 🙁 ]. Mind you, I’m not much of a blogger so hopefully this won’t be too dreadful to get through.
Well… let’s get to what you’re here for. SHOULD YOU SEE AD ASTRA? Short answer, yes. Absolutely. Unless you’re expecting a Fast and Furious action packed type film and lack the ability to dig deeper and get sucked into a mature film that actually makes you think. In that case stick with your tide pods and make some “dank vape clouds” in your basement, ‘cus this isn’t the film for you.
Ad Astra explores the deep seated issues of society and how we are ultimately a selfish being, individually and as a whole, while focusing on the main quest of a son looking for his long lost father.
The story progression and pace has a very similar feel to Apocalypse Now and that feeling is driven even further by the monologue style narration of the main character’s emotions and thoughts. You’re quickly drawn into this deep, dark void of sadness and loneliness with the beautifully crafted visuals and excellent sound design.
While usually space/sci-fi movies tend to be more action driven, there are a few gems that span to more unexplored galaxies and put more emphasis on the psychological drama. One film that did this extremely poorly was Gravity, but hey… at least they tried. Originally when I went into the theater I had a lingering feeling that I’d leave as unsatisfied as I did with Gravity. Thankfully, I was proven completely wrong.
The cinematography is absolutely the backbone of this film and ultimately the best support to Brad’s character and performance (and a lackluster story based on severe daddy issues). The tone of the film from the script to the visuals carried a very solemn and lonely mood, which paired up with the amount of closeups of Brad and with his monologues, it really makes you feel the same way the character does… empty and alone. Which ultimately is another sub-concept of the film, is there life out there, or are we the only life that exists in our universe?
A friend asked me while discussing this movie if I thought that expressing loneliness on film is difficult, to which I answered, no. Showing that someone is alone or lonely can be easily achieved, making your audience feel the same way however, that’s the challenge. In this movie, everything from the soundscape to the visuals to Brad Pitt’s haunting performance leaves you feeling completely immersed in this emotion.
With a run-time of barely over two hours, it honestly felt like minutes that we were in that theater. The way Hoyte van Hoytema utilizes light is just short of genius. Mars for instance, we see represented not as the usual red planet, but we are presented with a more yellow, sickly ambience. The use of colors had me reminiscing on Blade Runner 2049 (one of the most visually stunning films to me).
On a more “scientific” level, we know that sunlight has a rich spectrum close to the sun, but the further away it is you lose this spectrum and intensity. Hoytema used this perfectly in the film taking us to a series of cold, dimly lit final scenes. On a deeper level this also took us through Brad’s journey into deep space and the physical as well as psychological effects of a trip of this magnitude.
If you look past some blatant creative liberties taken when it comes to physics, forgettable supporting characters and scratch a bit beyond the surface of that brief thought of “moon pirates? Wtf?”, this film is quite the psychological trip and a must watch if you like thought provoking movies. The sequence where Brad is on the final leg of his trip to find his father is nothing short of haunting and I may or may not have had nightmares thanks to it. However I do feel the movie as a whole is like a broken vase that got perfectly glued back together but was left extremely fragile and if one of the pieces were to move even slightly, the whole thing would crumble. Thankfully, it wasn’t the case.
(skip to the bottom for the conclusion)
Donald Sutherland – The Bodyguard
When it’s revealed he’s supposed to be Brad’s liaison on the mission, making sure he doesn’t stray due to his personal connection with Tommy Lee Jones (Brad’s dad) all I could think was “no way this tired old man can make it through an ‘extremely dangerous and classified mission’ to the outer edges of our solar system.” I was proven right moments after the moon pirates scene, where they kill his character off with cardiac problems, utilizing this as a crutch to reveal one of the more… pivotal?… parts of the story.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some space pirates… and while it added that bit of sci-fi action that I feel most people were craving, it didn’t really fit with the whole of the film. I get it, they are trying to emphasize that we as humans are a plague and bring chaos, war and destruction where we go, to quote Brad in this film – We are the eaters of worlds. Yet the whole scene served for nothing more than cool moon visuals.
Mediocre Supporting Characters
There is no doubt that Brad’s performance in this film was majestic. So much so that his character basically engulfs this film as a whole and leaves any other characters feeling nothing less than forgettable. Apart from the brief but captivating appearance by Ruth Negga (we’ll get to her later). Even Tommy’s character is worth little more than a “meh”.
Lighting that tells the story
As mentioned earlier, the cinematography really plays the strongest part in pulling you into the character. Light intensity and color really are what drew me into what felt like a monologue storyline. The way we are carried through space by the colors used really makes it easy to get lost in your own self and forget you’re in a theater full of people.
Eyes are the windows to the soul…
And Brad does an amazing job at playing true to the phrase. He does a phenomenal job of making us feel his internal turmoil, his loneliness, his inability to connect with another human with a deep emptiness expressed through his eyes.
I’m a huge fan of her from the show Preacher and think she is one of the most talented actors in Hollywood today. While her appearance was short in the film, she punches right through the screen with her performance.
While we never saw them together, seeing them (Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland) in a space film made me reminisce on their old characters from Clint Eastwood’s film.
It all ties together
The storyline, the lighting choices, the script, the acting. Surely this is meant to happen seamlessly in every film, but it rarely does in such a beautiful way. Every main element of this film flows perfectly together and takes us into the void of space, while making us feel the void in the main character and leaving us questioning if we are, in fact, alone.
C’mon… Liv Tyler sending off another astronaut into space and getting him back in the end? If this doesn’t make you smile, you’re dead inside.
All in all, I feel this film is so beautifully thought out and produced on a deeper level that details like Brad climbing up the underside of a space rocket at T-20 seconds before takeoff are easy to shrug off. I definitely recommend it to anyone who doesn’t go to the movies solely for the CGI, explosions and ADD action scenes we see in 90% of sci-fi movies today. Definitely a solid 8/10 for me. Definitely experience this film in the theater, if possible on IMAX.