” I do what I do because of my dad.”
Set in times of fantastic future, ‘Ad Astra’ (Latin for ‘to the stars’) is about an astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) who looks up to his workaholic personified father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Roy has been feeling deserted for decades ever since Clifford went as a commander on a space mission,’The Lima Project’, from Earth – in search of “intelligent E.T. life” in the universe. Last tracked on Neptune, the entire crew has disappeared for the last 16 years sans contact. As of now, some mysterious pulses are booming the entire solar system, and the source of this antimatter is suspected to be Neptune, with his father as the apparent sender. So, our Roy is told to travel to Mars to send laser pulse messages to communicate with his father to stop all this and save the solar system.
With this initial story unfolding quickly in few minutes, one may be tempted to roughly pass off Ad Astra as a mere ‘2001 meets Interstellar’ product. Indeed, it is not. Where every new ambitious sci-fi movie is only upping the game of cinematic experience with its stunning visuals, Ad Astra excels highly due to its father-son bond theme, while the magnificent visuals have been audaciously handled by the genius Hoyte van Hoytema. Best known for Interstellar, Dunkirk – his name’s enough. Several sequences may seem a bit illogical to the science geeks, but Hoyte has shot them majestically on a 35mm widescreen, sticking to soft warm colors, making the voyage look believable and captivating.
At the center of this serene mess, we see Brad Pitt pouring all his heart and soul into the calm and composed Roy, with his voiceover doing the perpetual guiding. Hoyte captures the human beauty of Brad in zoom shots against the contrast of the little astronomical objects of vast space. With this maximized impact, Roy looks believably restrained, and the charming actor subtly conveys it all simultaneously through his eyes for the most part – delivering another praiseworthy performance in 2019 after Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Unarguably, both Brad and his career are aging like fine wine!
Contributing to Roy’s feeling of loneliness amid the grandeur of space is the minimalistic yet effective score by Max Auteur. Director James Gray ensures that the human touch of the storytelling isn’t lost like Roy’s father in the vast space. Though the geographical spectrum spans across billions of miles, the central focus of the narrative always remains Roy’s internal psyche. As a result, we see everything from Roy’s point of view, if not literally through Brad’s eyes. So if a gravity-defying fun chase occurs on Moon feat. Roy vs baboon creatures, what one feels is Roy’s trauma. That sequence is easily one of the best ever shot sci-fi sequences, adding to the attracting visual appeal the sci-fi genre proudly holds.
Not just technically, James Gray’s Ad Astra is philosophically sharp too. Here, different stars in vast space explored have figuratively a distinct appeal, however unreasoned. The Earth is a place of mundane activities and unsatisfaction, The Moon is a beauty trap with living baboon creatures defying gravity, The Mars is the place of connection of inter-planetary infrastructure, The Neptune is where your search ends but staying cautious is the key. In the entirety, these little objects in space are just depicted as a dynamic part of the journey – it’s rather loneliness that never leaves until one keeps on questing for more.
As the end credits roll, Ad Astra emerges as a sublime cinematic experience due to the way it portrays a deeply moving theme of existentialism in the grandest possible manner. It isn’t a regular sci-fi adventure high on the scientific steroids. The big picture is melancholic and dextrously emotional with little action – enough for a feeler like me to ignore the logical sci-fi shortcomings and submit to the lasting impact the movie creates with its magical cinematography. If one is patient enough to sit through the voyage, the meditative destination reached is worth the wait!
P.S: Investing every suspension of disbelief required, one thought that has still stayed with me is how Clifford McBride was able to survive on Neptune for these long 16 years? What amount of food lasts edible enough in space for 16 years! That’s too far-fetched. Nevermind.
Watch its Trailer here: Ad Astra (2019) Trailer | YouTube
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