Published on September 16th, 2019 | by gareth0
My first experience in IMAX was at the IMAX theater at the Grand Canyon. This was before IMAX theaters could easily be found within easy driving distance in most large cities. The movie, which interestingly still is showing today from those early years took viewers on the magical journey through the Grand Canyon. Throwing in a bit of history, with incredible visages, viewers could experience the canyon without ever hiking within its depths. It may seem odd to compare a big budget title like Ad Astra written and directed by James Gray (The Immigrant / The Lost City of Z) to a short thirty-minute experience film about the Grand Canyon, but both are equally awe inspiring and beautiful if experienced in the same way.
Ad Astra features Brad Pitt as Astronaut Roy McBride, a film that takes place in the not so distant future where the moon has become a commercialized tourist destination. A place where outside the safe tourist zones corporations fight for control of resources, and convoys are regularly ransacked by pirates looking to make a quick buck off the wares they are able to obtain. Mars has become a staging location for deep exploration ships hoping to discover if intelligent life exists outside our solar system.
Strange power surges begin to emanate deep within the galaxy, threatening to destroy everything in their path (Earth not excluded) and the top scientist are brought together to identify the threat and propose a theory to stop it. Roy McBride after suffering a near fatal fall from aboard a space station is brought into a top-secret meeting to discuss these surges. It is in this meeting that Roy is informed that the surges appear to be manifesting near Neptune and even more interestingly they are identified as anti-matter surges that are being generated from a ship that Roy’s father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) was in charge of nearly 29 years ago. The mission was a search for extra terrestrial life that Clifford was overseeing and presumed dead after Earth had lost contact with his ship. Roy must put his personal feelings aside regarding his father and must travel to the outer reaches of our solar system to put a stop to the surges, in any way possible.
Ad Astra is an incredible achievement in cinematography. The visions of the moon, mars and the numerous rockets taken to get there are spectacular. Much like the Grand Canyon film I spoke of earlier, in IMAX Ad Astra gives you a front row seat exploring the solar system as we know it. It takes a realistic approach while not bogging the viewers in all the technical details that would be necessary to achieve this flight. You would be doing yourself a disservice to see this film on any but the largest of movie screens. While it might be an acceptable experience in a normal theater, much of the grandiose vistas and beautiful sets would be wasted. This is not a movie to wait for on Netflix if you have any interest in seeing it at all.
From a story perspective, there isn’t a whole lot to tell. Brad Pitt brings his amazing acting abilities to a film that features more inner dialogue to himself, then to others on the screen. It is reminiscent to the original Dune movie from the 80s combined with 2001: A space odyssey. For a movie that literally is about a voyage to deep space, there are some scenes sprinkled throughout that provide some action and even a bit of suspense. Supporting characters such as Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland provide outstanding performances, even if their screen time is extremely limited. Liv Tyler once again reprises a role similar to the one from Armageddon as the reluctant wife of a man who is tasked with saving the world.
Ad Astra is a cinematic experience, the story alone is passable if not particularly quick moving and at time rarely engaging. However, when you combine this with the technological wizardry used to bring the Solar System to life it makes for an adventure that certainly lives up to the hype and will delight your visual senses. If you’ve ever dreamed of what it would be like to live on the moon or adventure into the stars, then Ad Astra might just be the closest we ever get in our lifetime. It’s beautiful, deadly and overall an achievement to behold, just make sure you see it on the biggest screen you can.
4 out of 5 stars
Second Review By Lucas Wunch
If you’re looking for a deeply beautiful and thought-provoking space epic, then you’ve come to the right place. That said, if you’re just curious about what it would be like to have a car chase on the moon, well then, you’ve also come to the right place.
The trailers for Ad Astra often seemed to be purposefully vague and mysterious. Going into the film you’re left to wonder exactly what kind of space story James Gray would be drawing you into. Having secured an all-star cast including Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland should have told you that this was going to be more than the typical story of cosmic exploration. And coming off the heels of The Lost City of Z, viewers should already be aware that Gray’s stories tend to be much deeper than simple action films. They are often tales of deep introspection and maintain many of the same themes of family honor and personal glory. Indeed, Ad Astra is very much the same. But his new venture into the realm of sci-fi will take viewers to an entirely new level of epic wonder.
Set in the near future, Brad Pitt plays the role of Major Roy McBride of Space Command. Son of famous astronaut Clifford McBride, Roy travels to the edge of the solar system in search of his father in order to solve a mystery that threatens the survival of Earth. He’s accompanied by Colonel Pruitt played by Donald Sutherland and assisted (or occasionally hindered) by stars like Liv Tyler and Ruth Negga. His quest will lead him not only off planet and into the outer reaches of the solar system, but also on a path of deep personal introspection (a common theme amongst Gray’s films).
Ad Astra combines some of the best elements of a good space movie with a gravid personal drama to give us the kind of masterpiece that we really deserve from Gray, Pitt, et, al. The stunning space visuals drop the audience into an ocean of blackness and easily rival those of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Anthony Lane has described the film as “calculated grandeur” and I have to say that I agree. It’s stunning, both visually and auditorily. An experience that should (whenever possible) be enjoyed in IMAX. Combined with a haunting soundtrack (or often lack thereof during MOS scenes), Ad Astra forces you to feel exactly what it wants you to feel. The well-written story (James Gray and Ethan Gross) and perfectly executed acting comprise the knockout punch that will undoubtedly earn Ad Astra high praise and accolades.