One very hot afternoon when I was feeling a bit ‘floppy’, I sat down to watch this film that I had recorded from the TV a while ago. It is a Space/Science Fiction film set in an unspecified future not that far removed from what we know now.
People are living on The Moon, and commuting there by commercial spaceship. Others are living on Mars, long enough for someone in their late 20s to have been born there. On Earth, we would recognise daily life, though NASA has been replaced by ‘Spacecom’, a branch of the US Military.
Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Roy McBride, a major in Spacecom. He is dedicated, committed, and very focused. So much so that his wife has left him. He is the son of a very famous astronaut, a man who travelled to Neptune to try to discover alien life and is believed to be dead. Then strange energy pulses begin to cause devastation on Earth, as anti-matter is projected through space. The authorities trace the source to Neptune, and believe it is something to do with the earlier mission involving Roy’s father.
So Roy is recruited to travel to Mars, where a special laser-guided communications system can project his message to Neptune, hoping to discover if his father is still alive, and responsible for the anti-matter pulses. First he travels to The Moon, where a special rocket wil take him to Mars from the dark side. We soon discover that The moon is a dangerous place. Not unlike the old Wild West, it is lawless, and bothered by Space Pirates trying to steal the valuable minerals. (Or anything else) After an encounter with said pirates, Roy gets to his spacecraft to travel to Mars.
On the way, they answer a Mayday call from a Norwegian spaceship. (Norway apparently has a space programme by then.) If you have ever watched any modern Space epic, you can guess that doesn’t end well. But Roy survives, and continues on to Mars. Once there, he is used by Spacecom to contact his father, and then suddenly told he is being sent home. When he discovers that they intend to explode a nuclear bomb on his father’s old spaceship, he hijacks the ship carrying the bomb.
No more spoliers in this long film, (124 minutes) so I will stop outlining the plot.
What we have to do is to suspend some belief, ignore the science, and treat this a lot like an adventure film set in space. Yes, we have elements of Conrad’s book ‘Heart of Darkness’, and the film ‘Apocalypse Now’, but ‘Ad Astra’ manages to overcome those comparisons with some excellent special effects. Those effects are never overblown, and mostly believeable. In fact, they are on a par with Kubrick’s ‘2001’ at times.
Much of the film is slow-paced, but the viewer always understands why. I didn’t feel it dragged too much, though some complained that it did. If you can forgive the liberties taken with some of the science, and treat it like a drama, you should not be disappointed. Hollywood stalwarts Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones make the most of small but significant roles, and though I didn’t know anyone else in the cast that well, they all did their jobs supporting. (Including Liv Tyler as Roy’s wife, mostly seen in flashback.)
This is Pitt’s film completely. He is in every scene, and earned his money. Brad stepped up, delivering a quiet performance with no flash, in a film that I surprised myself by enjoying.
Here’s a trailer.