‘Ad Astra’ thrusts viewers into a beautiful space-fueled nightmare

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox | Reproduced with Permission

With Brad Pitt in space, clearly nothing can go wrong.

“Ad Astra” is a space thriller directed by James Gray and starring Brad Pitt in the leading role of Roy McBride. The film follows an acclaimed astronaut who is sent on a classified mission to discover the whereabouts of his estranged father. “Ad Astra” excels in its visual and audio storytelling, though it lags in its overall plot and story-arch.

Most of the narrative revolves around Pitt’s McBride, making him the center-piece of the film. Despite the dangers he may face, McBride is calm and collected for the majority of the film so when he finally does express true feelings, it showcases narrative impact.

The cinematography and special effects is absolutely brilliant. The filmmakers conjure breathtaking galactic visuals, with detailed depictions of the vastness of space and its planets. Impeccable sound design creates a deathly silent and eerie inter-galactic audio-scape. Only certain loud noises are clearly heard, keeping characters and audiences on their toes.

While most science-fiction films set in space are usually reduced to the same pale-blue and gray color palette, “Ad Astra” takes initiative to spice up its visuals. The interior of a spaceship casts beautiful purple light on its inhabitants and a message recording booth is decked out in an orange glow. These unique color schemes and visuals paint “Ad Astra’s” other-worldy environment in a refreshing and interesting light.

Max Richter’s score provides a beautifully haunting backdrop to the scope of the narrative. Richter doesn’t over-emphasize his tracks, allowing the diegetic sound of space to convey suspense and isolation. When his music is present, it casts a heroic yet unsettling vibe across McBride’s journey throughout space.

In contrast to the loud, robust strings and percussion many science fiction films repetitively use, Richter relies more on intimate piano sequences and quiet synth patterns. Space feels like an angelic environment in this film, as opposed to the intense backdrop of an action thriller.

What sets “Ad Astra” apart from other science fiction epics is its ability to tell an extremely intimate story, despite being set within the grand setting that is outer space. “Ad Astra” is not about aliens threatening to destroy Earth, or a meteor shooting into the atmosphere. It’s a story about a man who is forced to search for his estranged father deep within space. While most of the journey is geared toward the physical hurdles McBride must jump through to reach his father, it also highlights his internal conflict regarding the crippled relationships he has with those closest to him.

The main hook of the narrative is the eager anticipation to discover where McBride’s father has been and what he has been doing all of these years. Unfortunately, this key piece of information is revealed in an extremely underwhelming way. If the scene preemptively explaining the ending was simply removed, the narrative and climactic impact of his father’s fate would be so much more powerful and rewarding. In addition, the film has the opportunity to end on a very thematic and bold note, but instead prolongs its story to give viewers a bit of a cliché “Hollywood style” ending that feels awkward amongst the grim and stylized journey McBride has been through.

“Ad Astra” is a visually beautiful, space-fueled nightmare that slightly suffers under the weight of its plot execution.

3.5/5 floating Brad Pitts