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Read: Don’t bother being starry eyed about the flick Ad Astra

There’s something bewitching about those little twinkly dots in the night sky isn’t there? We seem to have a longing to find out what is out there in that vast universe.  

That yearning has inspired poets, writers and of course filmmakers to speculate and to dream. Ad Astra continues in that vein – sort of. But somehow, despite high production values and a very capable cast, it manages to stay earthbound.

In saying that, I think I enjoyed the film. 

Yeah, I know, that statement seems like a cop out right?

Ok, let’s start with the good bits. The soundtrack is great. Mostly ethereal and tense but not in an overdone way. The effects and cinematography are superb and the way the film is shot makes you feel as though you are really there.

It doesn’t have the typical ‘Hollywood’ approach to blockbuster sci-fi. In other words, there are no smart assed people with overblown egos setting out to win the day. The action sequences are believable and don’t go beyond the realms of the possible, well, most of the time. 

Brad Pitt (Major Roy McBride) plays his character in a buttoned-down fashion that is quite intriguing. 

All through the movie I was second guessing what was coming and being proved wrong time and time again. And so, it managed to keep my interest almost to the very end. The way action scenes are set up provides a really good level of suspense. Unlike many of the space dramas on Netflix which have a disaster happening every few minutes (such as the ghastly and over the top Another Life), Ad Astra manages to keep the tension so that when there is a sudden twist, it feels real and not manipulative.  

Now the negatives.

There’s an over reliance on voice over by Pitt outlining McBride’s thoughts and fears, this gets a bit tedious at times. I guess they are using it because the dialogue in the film is quite stunted and there was probably a desire to base the film around what is going on in McBride’s head. This illustrates the disconnect between the persona he projects and the man on the inside. 

The other problem with this movie is that many of the scenes are overly long, and have very little actual plot in them – we often have to bear witness to a whole load of nothing that doesn’t push the story along.  

Worst of all, I left the theatre feeling that although I kind of enjoyed the movie, it seemed pointless. 

In a nutshell, McBride’s father was on a now malfunctioning spacecraft that is parked off Neptune and sending bursts of energy that are wrecking Earth. McBride is tasked with sorting it out. 

That’s it! 

There are some red herrings but basically there was no central ‘why’ in this story, and that is incredibly disappointing. All of the conjecture that is set up in the film ultimately comes to a meaningless conclusion. 

A perfect illustration of what is wrong with Ad Astra is a scene where the spaceship McBride is travelling in stops to help a research station after picking up a distress call. What McBride encounters in the station provides one of the most frightening screen moments I’ve seen in a while – brilliant in its execution and simplicity. And yet, it is completely superfluous to the plot. 

It might help if you imagine the film as a giant soufflé  – the ingredients were superb and they were all added in the right way, but somehow when it was cooked, the damn thing didn’t rise. You still eat it, and it tasted ok, but you leave the table feeling just a bit dissatisfied. 

Ad Astra may have aspired to head to the stars, but it never quite got off the ground. 

AD ASTRA 

In New Zealand Cinemas from 19 September 2019

Starring:    Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland

Directed by: James Gray 

124 Minutes

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