By: Tyrone Barrozo, Columnist
In the early hours leading up to the 4:35 p.m. screening of “Ad Astra,” a science fiction film, it was a rather uneventful day. I folded laundry, my OkCupid match texted me to cancel our date (again), and I spent a lot of my time alone on my couch, fiddling about on Snapchat. Needless to say, I showed up to the theater about an hour early to escape the weekend silence.
I quietly took in awkward stares. At the concession stand, I cursed at the $6.25 price for Angry Orchard cider, then purchased one anyways. Five minutes later, I bought myself popcorn and soda, and before I knew it, it was time for the film to start.
“Ad Astra” stars Brad Pitt and is directed and co-written by James Gray. The film’s plot takes place in the near future and Pitt’s character, Roy, is sent out into space to find his long lost father, whose experiment goes awry and suddenly threatens the fate of humanity.
The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 29., and was later theatrically released in the United States by Walt Disney Studios’ 20th Century Fox on Sept. 20.
Prior to the film, I did not know what to expect as I didn’t really watch any of the trailers of the film leading up to my actual viewing of the movie.
For the most part the visual effects for the film look phenomenal and realistic. Many sections of the film felt like looking at a planetarium and managed to maintain the simplistic, wondrous feeling that kids get from looking up at the stars, even despite the heavy adult themes of familial anger and resentment.
The sound editing of the film immediately established a sense of world-weariness and unknown human emptiness through synths and industrial tones which was only reflected in Pitt’s performance of a somewhat despondent major dealing with compartmentalized emotions towards his father whose absence left scars. The film also features music composed by Max Richter, whose previous contributions in film and television includes Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” and Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror.”
Cinematography was headed by Hoyte van Hoytema whose work has been leaving impressions on viewers since 2008 with “Let the Right One In;” Hoytema has also been the head of cinematography on other films such as “The Fighter,” “Her,” and “Dunkirk.”
Needless to say, Christopher Nolan fans will be in for quite a treat with this film. A particular stand-out scene that really caught my eye had Pitt in a center-frame shot in a scarlet red hallway where light and shadows guided the narrative during that part of the film. Trust me, you won’t be able to miss the scene and you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Aside from all that the film’s production had going on with its stacked team, I did have a couple of minor issues with this film.
According to the film’s billing, Liv Tyler played Pitt’s husband but she’s barely in the film. Like, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and Ruth Negga respectively didn’t have too much screen time either, but Tyler’s minimal presence was really noticeable in the film (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a phone-in type of situation like Bruce Willis does for most films nowadays).
I also thought that some of the parts of the film were a bit preachy. That may or may not be due to the regular use of voiceover narration to progress the narrative of the film. I can’t say that it wasn’t an unwarranted stream-of-consciousness narration because the film emphasizes the importance and the integrity of the main character’s psychological wellbeing. I don’t believe that preachiness is a big issue, but it’s certainly something worth mentioning when considering to shill out $12 on a Friday night—if you want something more relaxed and entertaining, then this film might not be the right one for you.
Also, despite the praise that I gave for the film’s visual effects, there was one particular scene where the CGI felt a bit off. It involved animals. The way that the camera focused in on the animals made them seem like enemies from a video game rather than an actual animal. Because of the film’s high bar for visual effects, it really made the difference stand out enough to be noticeable and made me chuckle a bit in the theater.
If there’s one thing to take away from James Gray’s “Ad Astra,” it’s that it’s a film about fear, pain, and connection. It’s a film about longing for personal closure throughout a lifetime and deciding whether or not to follow in someone’s footsteps.
Paralleling the vastness of space and the existential dread that comes with the realization of just how small we all are in the grand scheme of the universe, the film highlights the very human fear of becoming someone else and obsessing over someone, worrying that they might simply just not care about you in the same way.
As I was sitting in a bar, writing up parts of this review on my notepad next to a glass of whiskey, I began to tie myself up with the film in that pretentious way that all reviewers do some extent. It made me realize that the film was very much about human disconnection and how crucial it is to reach out to one another, or at the very least try, much like Roy tries to do with his father.
Overall, I thought that the film was well shot, sounded great, was a pretty effective and satisfying character journey, and I’d definitely recommend this movie—probably not as a date film.