Cinematic Releases: Into The Heart of Darkness: Ad Astra (2019) - Reviewed

This week sees Brad Pitt launched into the furthest reaches of space in director James Gray's science fiction effort, Ad AstraPainted in the same virtual light as Christopher Nolan's masterful galactic spanning epic Interstellar, Gray reaches for the stars but sometimes barely grasps the huge premise of his latest feature film. 

In the near future, the earth is being ravaged by 'the pulse' which is causing death, destruction, and mayhem abroad. Brad Pitt's character Roy McBride must traverse the stars to find answers from a father that was lost in a fateful scientific mission years ago. The resulting story is a muddled but beautiful call back to better times in the genre. Landscapes are wondrous. Man's notion of survival is awe inspiring. Selflessness outweighs selfishness for the betterment of mankind. Science is mankind's savior. And Gray's tribute to numerous classic films is completely apparent despite a corporate hand that had alternate intentions for Ad Astra. With all the his lush cinematic work something is majorly amiss in the movie, changing course for something that could have been amazing. 

Marred by infinite toiling, there are several distinct markers that alter the grand scope of Ad Astra,  ultimately stealing away from Gray's spotlight. What could have been on par with artistic visions like Solaris, 2001, or Blade Runner is ultimately relegated to more middling fare as the daunting pace seems to drag audiences through a dynamically challenged feature film that deserved much better than this. Sometimes trying to satisfy the audience at the cost of the director's vision ends up being a worthless task that ultimately destroys the final vision of the assigned creator. 


Obvious editing to trim down the length, plot points that don't get the due time they deserve are left hanging, and the eventual climax is hampered with an implausibility that many might not really get over. However, Ad Astra touches on many finite points of human existence against the barren landscape of space. Sometimes it truly hits home. Other times, it just misses. Like a riff on Apocalypse Now crossed with Gravity and visuals ripped from numerous Ridley Scott  films, Gray's Astra takes leaps and bounds towards being a new classic, but falls short with its slow pacing, meandering movements, and a Brad Pitt that does his damnedest to offer a dramatic central character but isn't given the time nor room to fully stretch his legs. 

Even with negatives dragging down a critical response to this project, Gray creates a unique vision for the future of mankind in space. His creation sees a new take on outer space where the moon is the Wild West and uncharted areas are left to man's worst vices. In retrospect, Ad Astra will probably get the eventual cult following it deserves. And hopefully Gray gets a proper director's cut that removes the fingerprints of a frightened studio. If you like any of the other sci-fi films I mentioned here, you'll find some love for this film. You just need to brush aside the deeply flawed cut that's getting released to theaters right now. In time, there will hopefully be an updated director's cut that adds back all the footage that's been removed to placate the folks that funded this thing. 

Still, if you're a fan of hard sci-fi, you must see this on the biggest screen possible. It deserves your time. 

-Chris George