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KPCW sends its most discerning moviegoers to the movies each week to let you know which films are worth going to and which are a pass. The Friday Film Review airs at 7:20 a.m., during the Noon News and in The Local View. KPCW Friday Film Reviewers are: Barb Bretz, Rick Brough, Mark Harrington and Linda Jager.

Friday Film Review - "Ad Astra"


The new science-fiction film “Ad Astra” is spectacular and looks awesome. It’s also about moody astronauts in space.

In the Star Trek universe, you recall, the mission was always “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

In James Gray’s film “Ad Astra”, the characters act like they want to believe that. But this is a different universe.

Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Roy McBride, who is famously cool and steady amid the hazards of space. Early in the movie, he survives a disaster at a satellite station that would have Capt. Kirk calling for his brown pants.

The trouble is, Roy is not just cool—he’s tight, locked up. The woman in his life has walked out on him (Hey, look, it’s Liv Tyler!)

Now, he’s being asked to save the world. Earth is being ravaged by anti-matter bursts, and it’s believed the source may be the Lima Project, an expedition that was lost 30 years ago near Neptune and was headed up by Roy’s legendary father Clifford. (Did we mention Roy also has absentee-dad issues?)

Roy is sent out into the solar system to find his father. Is Clifford alive or dead? In his obsessed search for extra-terrestrial life, has he found exaltation or madness?

The director and co-writer, James Gray has admitted there are echoes here of Joseph Conrad and “Apocalypse Now.” (complete with Brad Pitt doing a lot of inner monologuing.)

We get a tour of a not-too-distant space age. A moon base resembles a tacky modern airport (where CNN and Subway sandwiches have survived) but on the outer reaches of the moon, Wild West ambushes still take place.

Roy hitches a ride with a not-very-stalwart space crew. Along the way, a distress call from a science station turns suddenly horrific. On a long-established Mars base, secretive and soft-looking bureaucrats manipulate Roy’s attempts to contact his father.

Let’s not give away any spoilers. The ending is rather anti-climactic, but on the plus side, Clifford is played by Tommy Lee Jones, who can be effectively heroic, mournful and crazy all at once.

The title “Ad Astra” is supposedly short-hand for a Latin phrase that means “through the hardships, to the stars.”—kind of like a high-brow version of “To boldly go….”

The movie is perhaps the best presentation of space travel since the Sandra Bullock film “Gravity.” In its stunning visuals, the movie does suggest there is beauty, majesty, perhaps new knowledge to be gained from the void.

Just don’t expect too much from the void. Humanity here subsists on mood stabilizers and a regimen of psych evaluations. Scared, stupid humans are the danger, not bug-eyed monsters, and everybody seems on the verge of clinical depression.

In space, no one can hear you primal scream.

“Ad Astra’ is ambitious, but it broods too much. It gets up to Warp Factor Three on a scale of five.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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