Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Ad Astra’ is enjoyable, but fails to deliver on many expectations

‘Ad Astra’ is an unique popcorn flick packed with adventure, excitement and drama.

“Ad Astra”, starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, has been hailed as this year’s “Interstellar”. I walked into the theater expecting to be blown away with lots of science, character development and philosophical-thought-fostering questions. But out of all three, “Ad Astra” only delivers on one, maybe two – and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

The opening scene is of Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) giving a meaningful monologue about his mission. Cosmic rays have been blasting the Earth from an unknown origin outside of Saturn. As McBride is en route to repair external damage of the satellite, he is hit yet again by another cosmic blast. It seems he is doomed, but he stays calm in the face of adversity. He becomes focused, analyzing the situation he is in and does everything in his power to stay conscious during his descent to Earth. After recovering from his fall, he is enlisted by the space agency yet again – this time to travel to Mars and send a message to Neptune in hopes of establishing contact with his long-lost father, played by Tommy Lee Jones.

It is unfair to walk into “Ad Astra” with hopes of feeling scientifically satisfied. Even though the film is branded as a science fiction movie, director James Gray only puts emphasis on the fiction aspect of this genre. The science of “Ad Astra”, whether it be astrophysics or space travel, could have been written by a middle-schooler in a creative writing class, to the point where it is almost insulting. It feels like the writers made a conscious decision to involve as little science as possible. In one scene, while Clifford McBride is gathering himself in the safety of a spaceship traveling to another planet, his fellow astronauts are seen in the background amusing themselves by playing with food in zero gravity. Their whole purpose of this scene is to see the astronauts play with their food and laugh about it. Other examples include impossible zero gravity leaps from spacecraft to spacecraft, characters not being ripped apart by space shrapnel and space monkeys. Science and the accuracy of space travel wasn’t just set on the back burner in this film, it never made it on the grill.

Despite failing to live up the science that is expected with a space movie, “Ad Astra” uses the genre of science fiction as a medium to convey a story. What makes science fiction unique is that it allows storytellers to explore ideas otherwise unavailable in other genres, such as infinite, extraterrestrial life and time dissonance. One might claim that the genre of fantasy or fiction can accomplish the same goal in expressing abstract ideas, but science fiction is different in the way that it involves modernity. The presence of political turmoil and social commentary enrich the world-building of “Ad Astra”.

There’s plenty of common genre tropes that are present in the movie. The only reason that there is even a resemblance of meaningful character development is because of the monologues delivered in the form of video transmissions and journal entries. Without these, the intentions and thoughts of the main character McBride would be completely unknown and viewers would be devoid of any sympathy for the characters in this film. At some points in the film I had to wonder if McBride was actually a superhero because of his robust showcase of strength and intelligence. His ability to make all the right decisions is astonishing, but he is emotionally unavailable due to trauma he’s experienced as a young child. This internal struggle aims to be the heart of the film.

McBride is a textbook astronaut hero. It almost seems like propaganda at some points with how well Brad Pitt personifies a perfect American astronaut. Despite this, it is still entertaining to watch. McBride has never had his heartbeat break 80 BPM while he’s in the field on a mission. He has a wife, but remains detached so his emotions do not impede his decision-making. He has dedicated his life to space. He lives by the Latin quote “Per aspera ad astra” – through hardship to the stars.

Gray perfectly captures the essence of space with beautiful cinematic shots expressing the magnitude of the position that these astronauts are in. This is a beautiful constant throughout the movie and reinforces the idea that the astronauts are in a foreign yet shockingly stunning environment. “Ad Astra” is rife with gorgeous cinematography and production design.

All in all, “Ad Astra” is a beautiful mess. I didn’t get the “Interstellar” that I was prodded  to expect from the trailers, but it had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. If you can look past some of the questionable decisions that the writers made and some glaring plot holes, it is an action-packed and exciting movie to enjoy.

Jeffrey Epro can be reached at [email protected].

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    Colby LaneOct 1, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    Extremely well written! There’s no way I will pass up on going to the theaters to see Ad Astra after reading this!