Ad Astra (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Gray|
|Cinematography||Hoyte van Hoytema|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures|
Bona Film Group
|Box office||$121.2 million|
Ad Astra is a 2019 American science fiction adventure film produced, co-written, and directed by James Gray. Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland, it follows an astronaut who goes into space in search of his lost father, whose experiment threatens the Solar System.
The project was announced in early 2016, with Gray saying he wanted to feature "the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie". Pitt signed on to star in April 2017 and the rest of the cast joined later that year. Filming began around Los Angeles that August, lasting through October. The film has been compared to Heart of Darkness (1899) for its plot, as well as being to outer space what Apocalypse Now (1979) is to the Vietnam War.
Ad Astra was produced by 20th Century Fox and had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2019, and was theatrically released in the United States on September 20, 2019 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It received positive reviews from critics, with universal praise for Pitt's performance, and has grossed $121 million worldwide against a $87.5 million budget.
In the near future, the Solar System is struck by mysterious power surges, threatening all human life. After nearly dying from an incident caused by a surge, Major Roy McBride, son of famed astronaut H. Clifford McBride, is informed by U.S. Space Command (SpaceCom) that the surges have been traced to the "Lima Project" – created to search the limits of the Solar System for intelligent life, under Clifford's leadership – from which nothing has been heard for sixteen years after reaching Neptune. Informed that Clifford may still be alive, Roy accepts a mission to travel to Mars to try and establish communication with him, joined by his father's old associate Colonel Pruitt. It is shown in several scenes that Roy is very emotionally detached. He has no emotional reaction to his partner leaving him, or to the news his father may still be alive.
After taking a commercial flight to the Moon, Roy and Pruitt are escorted by US military personnel to the SpaceCom base, located on the far side of the moon. En route in lunar rovers, they are ambushed by scavenging pirates who kill their entire escort. Upon arrival at the base, a dying Pruitt is placed into intensive care. Roy transfers to the ship Cepheus, bound for Mars. The ship receives a distress signal from a Norwegian biomedical research space station. The Cepheus stops to investigate despite Roy's protests, and Roy and the captain make their way to the station. It appears abandoned and the two split up, but Roy soon discovers an escaped baboon test subject feeding on the captain's corpse. It attacks him when it notices his presence, but he manages to subdue it and lock it in another module. He then kills it instantly as it attempts to open the door, by depressurizing that module. Believing that he can save the captain, he tapes over the broken helmet visor of the captain's space suit and carries him back to the ship, where he is declared to be already dead. A brief service is held where the captain's body is ejected into space. Again, Roy appears to be very emotionless and calm after the violent encounter and death of the captain. He does admit that he experiences rage, and recalls his father expressing his rage.
Another surge hits as the Cepheus lands on Mars, requiring manual piloting to complete the landing. The interim captain freezes in fear, while Roy remains very calm and takes command of the ship, landing it safely. Roy is led to the underground SpaceCom base where he meets facility director Helen Lantos and is tasked with recording voice messages to send to the Lima Project in hopes that Clifford will respond. During one recording, Roy goes off-script with an emotional appeal to his father and is abruptly taken off the mission on the grounds of his personal connection posing a risk to himself and the mission's success. From the startled reaction of the recording observation team to his emotional recording he assumes correctly that an immediate response from his father had been received and demands to hear it.
Sequestered in a "comfort room", he is visited by Lantos, who reveals that she was born on Mars and was the daughter of Lima Project crew-members. She shows Roy classified footage revealing that Clifford's crew had mutinied and tried to return to Earth, causing him to turn off their life-support systems, her parents included. She tells Roy that the crew that brought him to Mars are leaving to destroy the Lima Project station with a nuclear payload. The two decide that Roy should confront Clifford himself, and Helen sneaks Roy to an underground lake beneath the rocket launch site.
Roy clandestinely climbs aboard as the rocket takes off and is subsequently discovered by the crew, who are instructed to neutralize him. The entire crew are killed in the ensuing brutal fight. During the long journey to Neptune, a solitary Roy reflects on his relationships with his father and Eve, his estranged wife. The isolation and stress of the mission take a mental toll, but after several weeks he arrives at the Lima Project. While approaching the station in a shuttle attached to the Cepheus, the shuttle is damaged in a collision with objects in Neptune's rings, preventing it from docking with the station. Roy enters the station via a space-walk while the shuttle drifts away. Finding the station abandoned and encountering the dead bodies of its crew, he plants the nuclear payload before encountering Clifford, the station's sole survivor, who explains that the surges are coming from the ship's malfunctioning antimatter power source, which had been damaged in the mutiny. Clifford has continued to work on the project, refusing to lose faith in the possibility of non-human intelligent life.
After Clifford agrees to accompany him back to Earth, Roy finishes arming the payload and they climb out on the station's surface in preparation for returning to the Cepheus. Clifford suddenly uses his spacesuit's thrusters to launch the two of them off into space. With Clifford pleading for Roy to untether them from each other, Roy reluctantly does so and manages to propel himself back to the Cepheus using his own spacesuit and with a piece of the station's hull as a shield against Neptune's ring debris. Without enough fuel to return to Earth, he relies on the shock wave from the nuclear explosion in the station to gain the required speed.
The data retrieved from the base suggests that humans are the only intelligent life in the universe. This inspires Roy to reconnect with those closest to him, and he returns to Earth with newfound optimism. After expressing his opinions in a psychological evaluation, he reconnects with his estranged wife Eve.
- Brad Pitt as Roy McBride
- Tommy Lee Jones as H. Clifford McBride
- Ruth Negga as Helen Lantos
- Liv Tyler as Eve
- Donald Sutherland as Colonel Thomas Pruitt
- John Ortiz as Lieutenant General Rivas
- Greg Bryk as Chip Garnes
- Loren Dean as Donald Stanford
- Natasha Lyonne as Tanya Pincus
- John Finn as Brigadier General Stroud
- Kimberly Elise as Lorraine Deavers
- Sean Blakemore as Willie Levant
- Bobby Nish as Franklin Yoshida
- LisaGay Hamilton as Adjutant General Amelia Vogel
- Donnie Keshawarz as Captain Lawrence Tanner
Director James Gray first confirmed his plans to write and direct Ad Astra on May 12, 2016 during the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. In April 2017, while promoting The Lost City of Z, Gray compared the story of Ad Astra to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Gray also mentioned that he intended for the film to feature "the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie and to basically say, 'Space is awfully hostile to us.'" Gray also confirmed that filming for Ad Astra would commence on July 17, 2017.
On April 10, 2017, Gray confirmed that Brad Pitt would star in Ad Astra. In June, Tommy Lee Jones joined the cast to portray Pitt's lost father. In August, Ruth Negga, John Finn, Donald Sutherland and Jamie Kennedy joined the cast.
Principal photography on the film began in mid-August 2017 in Santa Clarita, California, lasting 60 days. Following poor initial test screenings, reshoots were conducted (although Pitt was unavailable), increasing the production budget from $80 million to over $100 million.
The visual effects were by Moving Picture Company, Method Studios, Mr. X, Weta Digital, Brainstorm Digital, and Capital T, and supervised by Allen Maris, Christopher Downs, Guillaume Rocheron, Ryan Tudhope, Aidan Fraser, Olaf Wendt, Anders Langlands, Eran Dinur, Jamie Hallett, and Territory Studio. Max Richter composed the film's score, with Lorne Balfe later writing additional music. James Gray consulted with experimental film scholars Gregory Zinman and Leo Goldsmith for inspiration on the visuals.
Ad Astra had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2019. It was released on September 20, 2019, by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It was previously scheduled for January 11, 2019 and then for May 24 before being pushed back.
In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Downton Abbey and Rambo: Last Blood, and was projected to gross $15–20 million from 3,450 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $7.2 million on its first day, including $1.5 million from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $19.1 million, finishing second behind Downton Abbey. The opening was compared to First Man (2018), another drama involving outer space which received high praise from critics but a lukewarm audience reception, resulting in a muted box office turnout despite its cast and budget. Deadline Hollywood deduced the film would lose the studio $30 million off a projected $150 million final worldwide gross. The film made $10.1 million in its second weekend and $4.4 million in its third, finishing fifth and sixth, respectively.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 84% based on 345 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Ad Astra takes a visually thrilling journey through the vast reaches of space while charting an ambitious course for the heart of the bond between parent and child." On Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, the film has a score of 80 out of 100, based on 56 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B–" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average 2.5 out of 5 stars and a 40% "definite recommend."
David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film an "A", saying that "Ad Astra is one of the most ruminative, withdrawn, and curiously optimistic space epics this side of Solaris. It's also one of the best." Similarly, Xan Brooks of The Guardian gave the film five out of five stars, called it a "superb space-opera" and praised Pitt's performance, writing: "Pitt embodies McBride with a series of deft gestures and a minimum of fuss. His performance is so understated it hardly looks like acting at all." Variety's Owen Gleiberman praised Pitt's performance and wrote: "Gray proves beyond measure that he's got the chops to make a movie like this. He also has a vision, of sorts — one that's expressed, nearly inadvertently, in the metaphor of that space antenna." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated the film four out of five stars and referred to it as "absolutely enthralling" and praised Gray for his direction and his unique approach to the science fiction genre, as well as the cinematography and Pitt's performance (whom he referred to as "marvel of nuanced feeling"). He also drew comparisons of the film's tone and themes to other notable films set in space, particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Solaris (1972), Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (2014).
Adam Graham writing for The Detroit News found problems with the film giving it a "C" rating and stating that, "This is slow, obtuse filmmaking with little emotional connection." Critic Laura Dean Mandel found similar difficulties with the film stating that "While Ad Astra richly imagines practical and interpersonal aspects of settlement on the moon and beyond, the insights on human nature are on the simplistic level of pop psychology."
- "Ad Astra". Venice Film Festival. Archived from the original on July 25, 2019. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 18, 2019). "Will The 'Downton Abbey' Gang Take Out 'Rambo'? – Weekend Box Office Preview". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on September 20, 2019. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
- "Ad Astra (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
- "Ad Astra (2019)". The Numbers. IMDb. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
- "AD ASTRA will release in UK cinemas on September 18, 2019". Filmoria.co.uk. Archived from the original on August 27, 2019. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- Zack Sharf (August 29, 2019). "Brad Pitt's Stellar 2019 Continues as Critics Praise 'Ad Astra' Performance in First Reviews". IndieWire. Penske Media Corporation. Archived from the original on August 30, 2019. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
- Lang, Brent (May 12, 2016). "Cannes: James Gray Making Sci-Fi Epic 'Ad Astra'". Variety. Variety Media, LLC. Archived from the original on June 27, 2017. Retrieved June 24, 2017.
- Chitwood, Adam (April 10, 2017). "James Gray Says His Sci-Fi Movie 'Ad Astra' Starts Filming This Summer with Brad Pitt". Collider. Complex Media Inc. Archived from the original on June 24, 2017. Retrieved June 24, 2017.
- Chitwood, Adam (April 10, 2017). "James Gray Says His Sci-Fi Movie 'Ad Astra' Starts Filming This Summer with Brad Pitt". Collider. Archived from the original on June 24, 2017. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
- Jr, Mike Fleming (June 23, 2017). "Tommy Lee Jones To Star With Brad Pitt In Deep-Space Epic". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on June 23, 2017. Retrieved June 24, 2017.
- "Ruth Negga Joins Brad Pitt in 'Ad Astra' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 14, 2017. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
- "Ruth Negga joins Brad Pitt and Lee Jones in sci-fi thriller Ad Astra". Archived from the original on October 16, 2017. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
- "Donald Sutherland Joins James Gray's 'Ad Astra' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 16, 2017. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
- "Jamie Kennedy Joins James Gray's 'Ad Astra' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 18, 2017. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
- "Filming this week in SCV, August 21-27, 2017". The Santa Clarita Valley Signal. August 21, 2017. Archived from the original on August 21, 2017. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
- "Now Filming in SCV: Arrested Development, Seal Team, more". SCVTV.com. August 21, 2017. Archived from the original on August 27, 2017. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
- Film and Television Tax Credit Program Program 2.0 (PDF) (Report). California Film Commission. p. 9. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 4, 2017. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 22, 2019). "Big Screen Take On TV Series 'Downton Abbey' Is A Hit With $31M+ Opening, Reps Record For Focus Features – Sunday Final". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on September 20, 2019. Retrieved September 22, 2019.
- "AD ASTRA - ART OF VFX". www.artofvfx.com. June 5, 2019. Archived from the original on June 9, 2019. Retrieved June 9, 2017.
- "James Gray's 'Ad Astra' to Feature Music by Lorne Balfe". Film Music Reporter. August 23, 2019. Archived from the original on August 27, 2019. Retrieved September 19, 2019.
- Epstein, Sonia (October 11, 2019). "Experimental Film Inspirations for Ad Astra". Sloan Science & Film.
- Anderson, Ariston (July 25, 2019). "Venice Film Festival Unveils Lineup (Updating Live)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on July 25, 2019. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- "Ad Astra". Venice Film Festival. Archived from the original on July 25, 2019. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (May 7, 2019). "Disney-Fox Updates Release Schedule: Sets Three Untitled 'Star Wars' Movies, 'New Mutants' Heads To 2020, 'Ad Astra' To Open Fall & More". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on May 7, 2019. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
- McNary, Dave (September 14, 2017). "Brad Pitt's Sci-Fi Movie 'Ad Astra' to Hit Theaters in January 2019". Variety. Archived from the original on April 6, 2018. Retrieved April 7, 2018.
- Fuster, Jeremy (September 17, 2019). "'Ad Astra,' 'Downton Abbey' and 'Rambo' to Bring Box Office Back to Full Speed". TheWrap. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 29, 2019). "Dreamworks Animation-Pearl Studios' 'Abominable' Bigfoots B.O. With Near $21M Opening Weekend". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (October 6, 2019). "Warner Bros. Laughing All The Way To The Bank With 'Joker': $94M Debut Reps Records For October, Todd Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix & Robert De Niro". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 6, 2019.
- "Ad Astra (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on September 4, 2019. Retrieved September 22, 2019.
- "Ad Astra reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on September 20, 2019. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
- David Ehrlich (August 29, 2019). "'Ad Astra' Review: James Gray's Space Odyssey Is an Interstellar Masterpiece". IndieWire. Penske Media Corporation. Archived from the original on August 29, 2019. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
- Brooks, Xan (August 29, 2019). "Ad Astra review: Brad Pitt reaches the stars in superb space-opera with serious daddy issues". The Guardian. Archived from the original on September 1, 2019. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
- Gleiberman, Owen (August 29, 2019). "Venice Film Review: Brad Pitt in 'Ad Astra'". Variety. Archived from the original on August 30, 2019. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
- Travers, Peter (September 17, 2019). "'Ad Astra' Review: Brad Pitt, Lost in Space". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on September 20, 2019. Retrieved September 23, 2019.
- Graham, Adam (September 23, 2019). "Review: Brad Pitt space saga 'Ad Astra' never achieves liftoff". The Detroit News. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
- Mandel, Nora Lee (September 21, 2019). "Review – Ad Astra". Film-Forward. Retrieved September 30, 2019.