“Ad Astra” caps off the summer with beautiful planetary visuals

By Brennan Atkins
Arts and Features Editor

By Noah Barnes
Entertainment Correspondant

In Hollywood, it seems as if contemporary filmmakers share as much interest in the topic of space as astronauts themselves.

In fairness, the setting of space can set up different themes, moods, and aesthetics that aren’t possible if it were to take place on our big blue marble.

Feeling isolated while also being a “representative” of the human race is a fascinating internal conflict that can lead to interesting character development.

What a majority of contemporary sci-fi films seem to get wrong is using the space setting as the plot itself, rather than using it as a platform to tell its story.

With how quickly new software is making CGI look better and better, it begs the question: Will 2019 be the year we receive something akin to “2001: A Space Odyssey?”

“Ad Astra,” directed by James Gray is a sci-fi mystery in which Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) must venture across the treacherous outreaches of our solar system in order to find his father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), to stop a galaxy-sized catastrophe.

What is most impressive in the film has to be the camera work, special effects, and the cinematography as a whole. This is due to the work of Hoyte van Hoytema, a veteran cinematographer who has worked on films such as “Interstellar” and “Her.”

The film showcases beautiful planets, such as Neptune, in detail unlike anything seen in film before.

However, the best shots in this movie aren’t on a planet. Rather, the most memorable shots are the ones in which there isn’t much of anything – nothing, even.

There’s a certain shot in which Pitt is surrounded by nothing but space, darkness encroaches on every stitch of the spaceman’s suit, and it’s quite a daunting, yet thought-provoking image.

Is space travel all it’s cracked up to be? Is it really so amazing to venture into space and discover what man perhaps was never meant to see?

Or is it lonely and sad? Is it the tragic realization that discovery may not be so essential when we have family, friends, and life on Earth?

These are questions that come up not so much through dialogue, but through the extraordinary imagery captured within the film.

Simple, yet memorable melodies interweave the chilling silence of space to create audible tension for the audience – there’s a very cliched way of doing an eerie, violin-heavy soundtrack, but fortunately, this film used it in the best ways possible.

Pitt was given the hard task of playing McBride, as the character is a calm and collected astronaut, but because of his father’s mysterious circumstances – he faces new anxieties.

While the many monologues, and dialogue are adequately executed, Pitt really shines through his movement. He thoroughly understands body language and uses it to his advantage in this film.

It’s the little twitch in the eye or shudder of the lip that really sinks the audience into the character’s psyche, and these little aspects make a good performance great.

While shooting for the moon in terms of visuals, it seems as if the story is ultimately grounded it back on Earth.

This movie might leave people wanting more, but its length deters the audience from becoming invested.

It’s an odd feeling of promoting more interest in the themes associated, than the story itself. They prioritize the cinematography over the narrative, and although this movie may be visually flawless, it ultimately results in a less than stellar storyline.

It’s not “boring” by any means – but it still has a slow start.

Unfortunately, Stanley Kubrick will have to keep his throne as the king of space flicks, but don’t let that detract you from watching this.

There are elements that “Ad Astra” provides, such as the aforementioned visuals and interstellar performance from Pitt, that make this a great movie to cap off the summer.

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