Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Gray|
|Cinematography||Hoyte van Hoytema|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
Bona Film Group
|Box office||$127.2 million|
Ad Astra (transl. to the stars ) is a 2019 American science fiction adventure film produced, co-written, and directed by James Gray. Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland, it follows an astronaut who goes into space in search of his lost father, whose experiment threatens the Solar System.
The project was announced in early 2016, with Gray saying he wanted to feature "the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie". Pitt signed on to star in April 2017 and the rest of the cast joined later that year. Filming began around Los Angeles that August, lasting through October.
Ad Astra premiered at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2019, and was theatrically released in the United States on September 20 by 20th Century Fox. It received positive reviews from critics, with praise for Pitt's performance and vivid imagery, but was a box-office disappointment, having grossed $127 million worldwide against a $80-100 million budget.
In the near future, the Solar System is struck by mysterious power surges, threatening all human life. After nearly dying from an incident caused by a surge, Major Roy McBride, son of famed astronaut H. Clifford McBride, is informed by U.S. Space Command (SpaceCom) that the surges have been traced to the "Lima Project" - created 26 years earlier to search the limits of the Solar System for intelligent life, under Clifford's leadership - from which nothing has been heard for 16 years after reaching Neptune. Informed that Clifford may still be alive, Roy accepts a mission to travel to Mars to try to establish communication with him, joined by his father's old associate Colonel Pruitt. It is shown in several scenes that Roy is very emotionally detached. He has no emotional reaction to his wife leaving him, or to the news that his father may still be alive.
After taking a commercial flight to the Moon, Roy and Pruitt are escorted by US military personnel to the SpaceCom base, located on the far side of the moon. En route in lunar rovers, they are ambushed by scavenging pirates who kill their entire escort. Upon arrival at the base, a dying Pruitt is placed into intensive care. Roy transfers to the ship Cepheus, bound for Mars. The ship receives a distress signal from a Norwegian biomedical research space station. Captain Tanner has the Cepheus stop to investigate despite Roy's protests, and Roy and Tanner make their way to the station. It appears abandoned and the two split up, but Roy soon discovers an escaped baboon test subject feeding on Tanner, who is severely injured in the face. It attacks him when it notices his presence, but he manages to kill it. Another baboon attempts to attack him, but he quickly subdues it and locks it in another module. He then kills it instantly as it attempts to open the door, by depressurizing that module. Believing that he can save Tanner, he tapes over the broken helmet visor of his spacesuit and carries him back to the ship, where he is declared to be already dead. A brief service is held where Tanner's body is ejected into space. Again, Roy appears to be very emotionless and calm after the violent encounter and death of Tanner. He does admit that he experiences rage, and recalls his father expressing his rage.
Another surge hits as the Cepheus lands on Mars, requiring manual piloting to complete the landing. The interim captain freezes in fear, while Roy remains very calm and takes command of the ship, landing it safely. Roy is led to the underground SpaceCom base where he meets facility director Helen Lantos and is tasked with recording voice messages to send to the Lima Project in hopes that Clifford will respond. During one recording, Roy goes off-script with an emotional appeal to his father and is abruptly taken off the mission on the grounds of his personal connection posing a risk to himself and the mission's success. From the startled reaction of the recording observation team to his emotional recording, he assumes correctly that an immediate response from his father had been received and demands to hear it.
Sequestered in a "comfort room", he is visited by Lantos, who reveals that she was born on Mars and was the daughter of Lima Project crew-members. She shows Roy classified footage revealing that Clifford's crew had mutinied and tried to return to Earth, causing him to turn off their life-support systems, her parents included. She tells Roy that the crew that brought him to Mars are leaving to destroy the Lima Project station with a nuclear payload. The two decide that Roy should confront Clifford himself, and Helen sneaks Roy to an underground lake beneath the rocket launch site.
Roy clandestinely climbs aboard as the rocket takes off and is subsequently discovered by the crew, who are instructed to neutralize him. The entire crew is inadvertently killed in the ensuing confrontation. During the long journey to Neptune, a solitary Roy reflects on his relationships with his father and Eve, his estranged wife. The isolation and stress of the mission take a mental toll, but after a couple of months he arrives at the Lima Project. While approaching the station in a shuttle attached to the Cepheus, the shuttle is damaged in a collision with objects in Neptune's rings and from another surge, preventing it from docking with the station. Roy enters the station via a space-walk while the shuttle drifts away. Finding the station abandoned and encountering the dead bodies of its crew, he plants the nuclear payload before encountering Clifford, the station's sole survivor, who explains that the surges are coming from the ship's malfunctioning antimatter power source, which had been damaged in the mutiny. Clifford has continued to work on the project, refusing to lose faith in the possibility of non-human intelligent life.
Roy copies data gathered by Clifford and his team for "Lima Project" and persuades Clifford to accompany him back to Earth. He arms the nuclear payload and they climb out on the station's surface in preparation for returning to the Cepheus. Clifford suddenly uses his spacesuit's thrusters to launch the two of them off into space. With Clifford pleading for Roy to untether them from each other, Roy reluctantly does so and manages to propel himself back to the Cepheus using his own spacesuit and with a piece of the station's hull as a shield against Neptune's ring debris. Without enough fuel to return to Earth, he relies on the shock wave from the nuclear explosion in the station to gain the required speed.
The data retrieved from the base suggests that humans are the only intelligent life in the universe. This inspires Roy to reconnect with those closest to him, and he returns to Earth with a newfound optimism. After expressing his opinions in a psychological evaluation, he reconnects with his estranged wife Eve.
Director James Gray first confirmed his plans to write and direct Ad Astra on May 12, 2016 during the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. In April 2017, while promoting The Lost City of Z, Gray compared the story of Ad Astra to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Gray also mentioned that he intended for the film to feature "the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie and to basically say, 'Space is awfully hostile to us.'" Gray also confirmed that filming for Ad Astra would commence on July 17, 2017.
On April 10, 2017, Gray confirmed that Brad Pitt would star in Ad Astra. In June, Tommy Lee Jones joined the cast to portray Pitt's lost father. In August, Ruth Negga, John Finn, Donald Sutherland and Jamie Kennedy joined the cast.
Principal photography on the film began in mid-August 2017 in Santa Clarita, California, lasting 60 days. Following poor initial test screenings, reshoots were conducted (although Pitt was unavailable), increasing the production budget from $80 million to over $100 million.
The visual effects were by Moving Picture Company, Method Studios, Mr. X, Weta Digital, Brainstorm Digital, and Capital T, and supervised by Allen Maris, Christopher Downs, Guillaume Rocheron, Ryan Tudhope, Aidan Fraser, Olaf Wendt, Anders Langlands, Eran Dinur, Jamie Hallett, and Territory Studio.Max Richter composed the film's score, with Lorne Balfe later writing additional music. James Gray consulted with experimental film scholars Gregory Zinman and Leo Goldsmith for inspiration on the visuals.
Ad Astra had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2019. It was released on September 20, 2019 by 20th Century Fox. It was previously scheduled for January 11, 2019, and then for May 24 before being pushed back.
As of November 30, 2019, Ad Astra has grossed $50.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $77 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $127.2 million.
In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Downton Abbey and Rambo: Last Blood, and was projected to gross $15-20 million from 3,450 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $7.2 million on its first day, including $1.5 million from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $19 million, finishing second behind Downton Abbey. The opening was compared to First Man (2018), another drama involving outer space which received high praise from critics but a lukewarm audience reception, resulting in a muted box office turnout despite its cast and budget. Deadline Hollywood deduced the film would lose Fox $30 million off a projected $150 million final worldwide gross. The film made $10.1 million in its second weekend and $4.4 million in its third, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 84% based on 352 reviews, with an average rating of 7.59/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Ad Astra takes a visually thrilling journey through the vast reaches of space while charting an ambitious course for the heart of the bond between parent and child." On Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, the film has a score of 80 out of 100, based on 56 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B-" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average 2.5 out of 5 stars and a 40% "definite recommend."Richard Roeper of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the movie 3.5 out of 4 stars and said "In the hands of director and co-writer James Gray, "Ad Astra" is one of the most beautiful films of the year, even when it makes little sense and even when Brad Pitt's performance veers between one of his all-time best and one of his all-time not-best".
David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film an "A", saying that "Ad Astra is one of the most ruminative, withdrawn, and curiously optimistic space epics this side of Solaris. It's also one of the best." Similarly, Xan Brooks of The Guardian gave the film five out of five stars, called it a "superb space-opera" and praised Pitt's performance, writing: "Pitt embodies McBride with a series of deft gestures and a minimum of fuss. His performance is so understated it hardly looks like acting at all."Varietys Owen Gleiberman praised Pitt's performance and wrote: "Gray proves beyond measure that he's got the chops to make a movie like this. He also has a vision, of sorts -- one that's expressed, nearly inadvertently, in the metaphor of that space antenna."Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated the film four out of five stars and referred to it as "absolutely enthralling" and praised Gray for his direction and his unique approach to the science fiction genre, as well as the cinematography and Pitt's performance (whom he referred to as "marvel of nuanced feeling"). He also drew comparisons of the film's tone and themes to other notable films set in space, particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Solaris (1972), Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (2014).
Adam Graham writing for The Detroit News found problems with the film giving it a "C" rating and stating that, "This is slow, obtuse filmmaking with little emotional connection." Critic Laura Dean Mandel found similar difficulties with the film stating that "While Ad Astra richly imagines practical and interpersonal aspects of settlement on the moon and beyond, the insights on human nature are on the simplistic level of pop psychology."
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Result||Ref(s)|
|Venice Film Festival||September 7, 2019||Golden Lion||Ad Astra||Nominated|||