Ad Astra: proving style over substance sells a film

Rating: 3 stars

Countless times I have seen ‘Ad Astra’ advertise, the new film by director James Gray. With Hollywood hero Brad Pitt in the protagonist role, it was set to be an incredible blockbuster, with Gray stating in an interview that he wanted it to be the most honest and raw depiction of space travel that has ever been put in a movie.

We meet Major Roy McBride, an astronaut who has followed in his absent father’s footsteps for many years. His father, was an astronaut also, assumed dead after ‘ the Lima project’- something classified which has left mysterious power surges across the solar system plummeting towards earth, threatening all of humanity. This leads Roy to a journey to find what remains of ‘Project Lima’ and what is causing those surges, but along the way he is facing a personal journey of discovery. This is one man’s reflection of life in a space setting.

The first ten minutes of this film are absolutely breathtaking. There’s so much action crammed in you are certain this will be the best film that’s been shown in cinemas for a while. The cinematography takes the audience on a journey of beautiful stars, mesmerising planets, a Birdseye view of earth from space. It delivers the audience a view we will never see, it unlocks the key to the solar system for us. A comfortable looking McBride moves around a space shuttle, like any of us tapping away at a computer in an office.

When he’s travelling, the camera moves with his eyes, we are spinning and losing gravity with McBride- I imagine if you saw this in 3D it would have to come with a motion sickness warning. But that aside, it is stunning and feels like a real rollercoaster. The editing is clever, snappy and unapologetic as it bounces from space to visions or memories it seems, of McBride’s personal life. It is unclear at times whom is in these memories or why they are relevant to the story- sadly this doesn’t get cleared up. We are not invited to know that side of his life, we are only invited on the current journey. So why were those memories inferred?

This becomes a bit of a theme throughout. Opening plot holes without sewing them up, but the audience is sat in the cinema in absolute awe at the pretty space pictures, so that makes up for the lack of story, right? Even as the general plot is closed up, there’s still a huge amount of questions the audience wants to ask. I won’t include spoilers, but if you will watch it, you will be sure to understand.

This is an example of a film that has been heavily marketed with all the best bits of the film in the trailer. The setting and cinematography make the film, the story takes a complete backseat to what feels like a blanket covering it for protection. The CGI is the main focal point throughout, which is a shame as this is a story that could have so much potential. Back to Gray’s idea of wanting it to be an honest depiction of space travel, I don’t really think a man travelling in space having what seems to be random flashbacks to a life we don’t know, can connote that to the audience. But hey, If you’re going to watch this movie, just watch the stars. After all, Ad Astra does mean ‘to the stars’.

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