“Ad Astra” (Rated T)
Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler
A science-fiction film for those not really interested in science-fiction.
That may be the best way to describe the new fantasy/mystery, “Ad Astra”.
In fact, if you’ve ever thought to yourself that human beings have a lot of nerve even dreaming about colonizing other planets, when we’ve done such a tragic job as stewards of Earth, and that talk about searching for intelligent extraterrestrial life is nonsense, when people on this planet can’t even get along with others who don’t look or sound or think like they do – knowing fully well that any encounters between humans and different kinds would likely end in the worst type of disaster – then perhaps this is your kind of sci-fi.
Conversely, if you love your sci-fi replete with aliens and sciency/aerospacey/astrophysical-whatever stuff, then “Ad Astra” – Latin for “to the stars” – perhaps, not so much.
To say more would probably spoil some of the mystery elements of the film. But “Ad Astra” does examine human interpersonal relationships in a way sci-fi rarely, if ever, does.
Thirty years ago, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) led a voyage into deep space, but the ship and crew were never heard from again. Now his son, Roy (Brad Pitt) – a fearless astronaut – must embark on a daring mission to Neptune to uncover the truth about his missing father and a mysterious power surge that threatens the stability of the universe.
At times, there are flashes of similarities with other recent space thrillers like “Interstellar” and “Gravity”, and even sci-fi horrors like “Life”. Like those, “Ad Astra” is visually impressive. It’s also full of tense, suspenseful moments, especially as for most of the film, you’re not sure of which direction this is going, and the type of sci-fi picture this really is.
The solid cast helps add to the intensity, particularly Pitt, following up on his memorable turn this summer in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” with another decent performance here.
If you’ve had a bad day, or are in a depressed state, you might want to hold off on watching, though. This thinking-person’s space drama paints a rather bleak and somewhat cynical picture of the future.
Sadly, it’s probably quite realistic. We have no reason to doubt that humans wouldn’t try to spread our usual commercialism and destructive tendencies and inclinations to wherever else we venture in the universe.
For all our mastery of science and technology – of which we’ve certainly only scratched the surface – we still have a long way to go when it comes to actually being human, and we may even be getting worse.
The phrase “ad astra” was often accompanied by “per aspera”: so “ad astra per aspera” translates to “through hardships to the stars”. Ultimately, “Ad Astra” asks whether we’ve done enough of all that really needs to be done here on Earth.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.