Ad Astra (2019): Cliff Booth Goes to Space
“Ad Astra” is directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant) and stars Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, World War Z), Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive), Ruth Negga (Preacher, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Liv Tyler (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Incredible Hulk), and Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games, Ordinary People). This film is about an astronaut by the name of Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) and he is trying to fulfill a space mission with one person in mind. Specifically, his father. But it’s not easy, it is in fact, as this movie presents, dangerous to the tenth degree.
I. Love. Space movies. Period. Some of the best movies of the decade have primarily taken place in space. So naturally, I was curious about “Ad Astra.” I will say though, compared to other years, “Ad Astra” didn’t seem to have the same level of anticipation that I had for say “Interstellar” or “The Martian” as they were coming out. But, it doesn’t mean I didn’t take whatever anticipation I DID have into account. This is being released at the end of the summer into the beginning of the fall, which is around the kickoff of awards season. Plus, Brad Pitt is playing the starring role, which is something that is totally attention-grabbing for this year because Pitt just had the scene stealing role as Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
Before going into the auditorium to sit down and watch the movie, I have been exposed to tons of positive word of mouth regarding the film’s technical aspects. Let me just say off the bat, to every person who said this movie is cinematography gold, you are 100% correct. And I can totally see why, because this movie is shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema, who shot another wonderful space adventure during the decade, specifically “Interstellar.” And he also shot “Spectre,” which had one of the most incredibly well-done opening scenes in a recent action film. And at times, you can say this film has thrills and vibes that maybe a film like “Interstellar” also had. But you can also say that much like “Interstellar,” it’s slow at times. Now “slow burns” are not a bad thing. As long as the “slow burn” is used to execute the story well, then I’m all for it. But that is something to keep in mind, because “Interstellar” was still entertaining and somewhat compelling at its slow moments, this movie is just… f*cking dull.
I mean, it’s not bad! But it’s utterly forgettable! This movie sort of reminds me of the most recent movie I reviewed, “Brightburn.” If “Brightburn” were considered an organism and had a personality, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had to take it to a professional to see if it could diagnose it with a minor disability. This film is sort of on the same level. Would I immediately go back and watch the movie a second time? Probably not, but maybe I would, there’s always a chance. But if there were any reason to pay attention, I’d say it would be due to certain well thought out and executed concepts.
One sci-fi flick I often think about is “Star Wars,” and one reason is because of their “spaceports,” which to me, are futuristic versions of airports, even though that movie takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” And guess what? One of the standout scenes in “Ad Astra” involves a literal space version of an airport! You’d look around and you have random shops, restaurants. If I were in this movie, I could literally go to the moon, get off the craft, be surrounded by walls, and go grab a muffin at Dunkin’. I guess this was in one way or another, just an excuse to shove product placement down our throats, but it doesn’t I’m denying that this was a good idea! I wouldn’t mind seeing a future where I could go to the moon and grab some chicken crispers or something at a Chili’s Too during a long layover to Mars.
The main message that I have honestly gotten out of this movie is to appreciate your parents and make them proud. This movie relies heavily on a plot involving the son of a famous astronaut, who also takes on the same lifestyle. In fact, one of the main reasons why our main character is doing what he is doing in the first place, is because of his father.
That being said, this does bring up one thing… I’m not going to give anything away, especially considering how “Ad Astra” was not the highest grossing film of the past weekend. I’m kind of shocked, but apparently I underestimated the level of anticipation there was behind “Downton Abbey.” Anyway, in “Ad Astra,” some things were established about the main character’s father. What things? I’m not going to go into any of them, but based on the information that was provided about him throughout the film, I questioned why we were getting the movie we happened to be getting in the first place. If you ask me, if you were pitching two movies, they took place in the same universe, and a movie about the main character’s father was one of them, I’d rather watch that. It would probably be way different from what we’re getting here, but from an entertainment factor, I think a movie like that would have a better shot at putting a smile on my face. But, keep in mind, this is just an idea. The execution of the final product is what matters. Things like proper direction, stellar acting, and excellent writing are all supposed to culminate to make something special. Based on what I’m about to tell you regarding the screenplay… They don’t.
The movie’s script, on the surface, is not bad. There are a fair share of attention-grabbing and thrilling scenes. But between the pacing issues and lack of knowledge I have about Brad Pitt’s character or some other characters during the movie when it starts, it doesn’t flow the way I would want it to. I imagine some people, specifically those in the general audience demographic would rather watch “Ad Astra” than “Interstellar” simply because of the two films, it’s shorter. To me, when it comes to characterization, “Interstellar” has a significant advantage because it takes its longer runtime to have us as an audience get to know our characters and eventually care about them. I like Brad Pitt, but the character he plays is almost not even worth giving a damn about. But let’s get into something that I did not expect to talk about. One of the last pieces of marketing I saw for “Ad Astra” before going into it was a trailer where Brad Pitt is just narrating from start to finish.
There is a lot of narration in this movie. And I can’t say I dig it.
Granted, you can also make the argument that since Brad Pitt’s character is a little reserved in this movie, almost similar at times to Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong in “First Man,” the narration works. It gives the audience some insight to what the character’s thinking given how little he tends to open his mouth. And if I had to judge Brad Pitt’s acting in this movie, it’s actually really good, but his character’s minor turnoff for me was the narration. There were a lot of times where it just felt tacked on. It makes “Ad Astra” feel more like a book than a movie. If this were originally a book, I’d understand everything that occurs in the film in terms of narration because narration in a book, specifically in the same case as the movie presents, which is “first person,” is a common happening. I’ve yet to watch the original cut of “Blade Runner,” although I’ve watched “The Final Cut” quite possibly ten times. But if you are familiar with “Blade Runner’s” different cuts, you’d notice that in the original, the main character of Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, narrates. I’m not forcing for this to happen, but I wouldn’t mind if one day they came out with an alternate cut of “Ad Astra” and they called it the “Third Person Edition” because I want to see how a narration-less version of this movie will turn out. It could be better, it could be worse. Who knows? But part of me thinks that the movie will end up benefiting from something like this because I think it would allow an audience member to immerse themselves into the vibrant environment of the film. Again, the cinematography in this movie is some of best I’ve seen this year. It’s up there with films like “Us” as far as 2019 goes in that realm. But sticking with the topic of narration, I will say that it doesn’t make me feel stupid, so as much as I am not exactly satisfied with it, I can tolerate it.
This review is weird! I’m saying I like this movie, but at the same time, I want two different ones that I think could be better, based on its material! Pretty f*cking crazy if you ask me!
In the end, “Ad Astra” has the potential of being the worst good movie of the year, if that makes any sense. Brad Pitt is really good in this film, although he is better in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” if you ask me. I like some of the directions in terms of concepts and story elements this movie tends to lean towards. The cinematography, lighting, and sound are all superb and this movie would be excellent to show off as part of a tech demo. But if you are watching purely for the story, I’d seek out another space movie. Who knows? Maybe this is one of those movies that will be better on the second watch, but I cannot say for sure. I’m going to give “Ad Astra” a 6/10. I almost gave this a 7, but I had a few days to think about this because I’ve been busy with life and school. This is a good movie, but I wouldn’t rush out to see it, but if you want to watch Brad Pitt act well and see big pretty things for a few hours, no judgments here. Thanks for reading this review! I just want to remind everyone that tonight I will be going to see a movie that will not be out until the end of October, and that is “Black and Blue.” I honestly know little to nothing about this movie, but since I have an opportunity to attend a press screening for it, I thought why not take it? Be sure to follow Scene Before to check out that review when it is up, I’m not even sure when the embargo lifts so I might have to guesstimate as to when I can officially release ANY thoughts related to the movie. Also, like my Facebook page and tell your friends about the blog, it really helps me out! I want to know, did you see “Ad Astra?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a movie that you thought you would be at the top of the box office charts on its opening weekend but couldn’t make it? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!