Two years ago, James Gray, who has directed the newly released sci-fi Ad Astra, stated that he wanted to direct a film that was “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie.” Then last year, 33-year old Damien Chazelle completed and released his epic biopic on Neil Armstrong’s life and trip to the moon. And while I’m unaware of what Gray thought of the film, any space-related cliche would apply to how magnificent Chazelle’s First Man was.
Unfortunately for Gray, I would wager a bet that I’m not the only one who thinks First Man depicts a much more “realistic depiction of space travel” than Ad Astra, coming out this weekend. Ad Astra, a Latin phrase for “into the stars,” is a sight to behold, without a doubt. Yet its progression through space and its screenplay is about as weightless as Brad Pitt’s moon rover floating over a crater.
Watch It: If you want superb production design (eye candy) that looks magnificent on the big screen, an excellent musical score, and/or to see Brad Pitt dressed as an astronaut.
Skip It: If you want a well-directed and well-written story that offers intellect, weight, thrills, and/or majesty.
Okay, so I’ve been a bit brutal so far. Ad Astra is a fine, decent movie. It received great praise at the Venice Film Festival and Brad Pitt was praised for a great performance. Perhaps some of us, like myself, went in and will go in with high… out of this world expectations. It just barely receives my recommendation, primarily as a technical achievement. The visual, musical, and sound departments are merited some award nominations in my opinion.
Yet in the realm of direction, screenwriting and even acting, Ad Astra doesn’t hold up to other premiere astronaut films. It lacks the intellectual and thought-provoking material from Christopher Nolan in Interstellar. It lacks the character’s grittiness and technical majesty in First Man, directed by Chazelle. It lacks the complete thrill from beginning to end in Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. It even lacks comedic moments that Matt Damon brought to his survival film in The Martian. What’s left is a blah film with a typical performance from Pitt and marvelous images and sounds to take in.
Ad Astra gets a reluctant recommendation from me for a necessary, formulaic structure it has, though the high level of lackluster dialogue helps it to drag. As said, the film has stunning images of the moon and other planets throughout the story, and the musical talent is a welcome bonus. As early reviews are in from other audience members, it appears I’m not alone on my critique. But if you’ve had a knack for space travel films, you’ll want to see Ad Astra and get your own take. It’s sure to cause distinctive opinions among us film goers!
Zimm Score: 6.5/10