Ad Astra: an awe-inspiring epic that’s out of this world


Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Ad Astra, meaning ‘to the stars’ is easily worth a theater viewing for Sci-Fi buffs.

Anthony Kramer, Staff Editor

As we reluctantly approached fall, the season of Hollywood hibernation, Ad Astra was released September 20 without the glamorous, high profile promotion we’d grown accustomed to during summer. This makes more sense after watching the film which, despite some intense action sequences, is not your typical blockbuster.

Written and directed by James Gray, Ad Astra stars Brad Pitt as the protagonist Roy McBride and Tommy Lee Jones as his father and legendary astronaut Major H. Clifford McBride. The film opens with Roy McBride being selected to embark on a treacherous, top secret journey to the far-reaches of the solar system in search of his missing father. After being presumed dead 30 years ago, the Major is now suspected as the source of The Surge, blasts of radioactive energy threatening the Earth. 

There were countless times I found myself in awe of how visually outstanding this film is overall. Ad Astra’s introduction of vibrant, creative color palettes with each new setting is nothing short of eye candy from beginning to end. The cinematography is often grand, especially when establishing the scale of the landscapes before us, whether it be the surface of the moon or Mars. This breathtaking imagery paired with ingenious cinematic shots is sensational enough to warrant an Academy nomination.

The visual aspect of Ad Astra wouldn’t have packed such a punch without the incredible, sweeping musical score. Composed by Max Richter, this otherworldly orchestration synergizes with the film’s imagery so harmoniously that it adds nuance and depth to every scene. 

Another impressive aspect of Ad Astra is Brad Pitt’s stellar performance as Roy McBride. This may be one of the best of Pitt’s career through sheer opportunity alone. Roy is isolated much of the time, so Pitt must convey most of his thoughts and emotions non-verbally. His broad range of expression and body language bolsters the gravitas of what’s at stake as much, if not more than his line delivery, especially as he begins to lose his composure. An emotional connection gradually develops between the audience and McBride as we empathize with his struggles and triumphs. 

This lack of dialogue does present potential clarity problems which Gray overcompensates for with a heavy use of voice-over to reveal McBride’s innermost thoughts. This internal monologue is often unnecessary, distracting and used for lame exposition dumps. As the film progresses, however, the narration proves to be a sound method of revealing McBride’s increasingly complex and conflicted emotional state. 

Ad Astra is without a doubt one of the most pleasing film experiences of the year, with breathtaking visuals, cinematography, score and performance by Brad Pitt. It’s earned a solid critical reception, standing strong at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the audience reception falls closer to 50%. The slow, deliberate pacing of this two-hour long epic ensures it won’t receive the high praise it deserves from the masses, and it’s a shame. If you have trouble sitting through longer films or expect an action-packed thriller, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’re a fanatic for science fiction dramas like myself, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this experience.