AD ASTRA (USA/Brazil/China, 2019) **
Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Production Company: New Regency Pictures / Bona Film Group / Keep Your Head / MadRiver Pictures / Plan B Entertainment / RT Features / Regency Enterprises / Twentieth Century Fox; Release Date: 29 August 2019 (Italy), 18 September 2019 (USA/UK); Filming Dates: began August 2017; Running Time: 123m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: SDDS | Dolby Atmos | DTS (DTS: X) | IMAX 6-Track | Auro 11.1 | Datasat | 12-Track Digital Sound (IMAX version) | Dolby Surround 7.1; Film Format: D-Cinema; Film Process: ARRIRAW (3.4K) (source format) (some scenes), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
Director: James Gray; Writer: James Gray, Ethan Gross; Executive Producer: Marc Butan, Jeffrey Chan, Paul Conway, Sophie Mas, Yariv Milchan, Anthony Mosawi, Michael Schaefer, Lourenço Sant’ Anna, Dong Yu; Producer: Dede Gardner, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Yariv Milchan, Brad Pitt, Rodrigo Teixeira; Associate Producer: Christina Oh; Director of Photography: Hoyte Van Hoytema; Music Composer: Max Richter; Film Editor: John Axelrad, Lee Haugen; Casting Director: Douglas Aibel; Production Designer: Kevin Thompson; Art Director: Christa Munro; Set Decorator: Karen O’Hara; Costumes: Albert Wolsky; Make-up: Nana Fischer, Jaime Leigh McIntosh; Sound: Brad Semenoff; Special Effects: Scott R. Fisher; Visual Effects: Allen Maris.
Cast: Brad Pitt (Roy McBride), Tommy Lee Jones (H. Clifford McBride), Ruth Negga (Helen Lantos), Donald Sutherland (Thomas Pruitt), Kimberly Elise (Lorraine Deavers), Loren Dean (Donald Stanford), Donnie Keshawarz (Captain Lawrence Tanner), Sean Blakemore (Willie Levant), Bobby Nish (Franklin Yoshida), LisaGay Hamilton (Adjutant General Vogel), John Finn (Brigadier General Stroud), John Ortiz (Lieutenant General Rivas), Freda Foh Shen (Captain Lu), Kayla Adams (Female Flight Attendant), Ravi Kapoor (Arjun Dhariwal), Liv Tyler (Eve), Elisa Perry (Woman in White Pants / Shirt), Daniel Sauli (Sal), Kimmy Shields (Sergeant Romano), Kunal Dudheker (Technician One).
Synopsis: An astronaut undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.
Comment: Whilst the film is a technical triumph it is also a dramatic failure. The mission for Pitt to seek out his father (Jones), who is perched in an experimental lab at the edge of the solar system, in order to prevent a life-threatening electrical pulse wave is fanciful and more than a little contrived. The space setting also ensures the story unfolds at a slow pace, with echoes of Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY but actually working against the story here because in reality, it takes a long time to get to Saturn and then to Neptune. The story’s main theme of a father-son relationship turned sour is set against a canvass so broad it feels inconsequential and saps the film of any dramatic core it hoped it would provide. The performances are one-level and the script totally lacks any saving grace of humour. The result is a depressing and monotonous experience. Occasional glimpses of a more exciting movie emerge in two scenes. A buggy chase across the surface of Saturn and a bizarre encounter for Pitt, answering a distress call, with two apes aboard a Norwegian space vessel. These two set-pieces aside there is little else to connect the viewer to the characters and their plight. The visuals are outstanding and well shot but are wasted on such a shallow story. A great example of how to blend of visuals with dramatic tension can be seen in 2013’s GRAVITY.
AD ASTRA (USA/Brazil/China, 2019) **