Movie Report: Ad Astra (2019)

Book coverThis weekend, gentle reader, I spent a moment to take the DVDs that in September at the Friends of the Library Book Sale (fifty or more) out of the box in which I brought them home. I fit some of them into the to-watch cabinet, a repurposed old stereo cabinet, and others into the ones atop the video game cabinet (including fitting some into the box atop the cabinet that I brought home my purchases from the April Friends of the Library Book Sale). I have been watching television DVDs of late, so I had a little space to condense the cubic feet of media. But something occurred to me. I have kind of made peace with the fact that I have more books than I will ever read (and, to be honest, some are just reference works and not readers, like books on trees of North America or weeds of the Midwest). But with these films piling up, for decades in some cases, I might be getting to having more movies than I will ever watch. Unless I make a concerted effort. Which I have here recently. I bought this film in September amidst the aforementioned fifty-some films because my oldest picked it up. And then I watched it without him.

Being a 2019 film, this is one of the more recent films that I have seen–Spider-Man: No Way Home and Top Gun: Maverick might be the only others I’ve seen as recent. And if you’re looking for a 2001-like film where at the end of the day it’s not an artificial intelligence that the hero must destroy but his own father, his hero, and perhaps his past (although I guess thematically, I am taking it one step too far there).

Brad Pitt, whom I saw recently in Mr. and Mrs. Smith from fourteen years earlier, shows some lines on him. He plays Roy McBride, an astronaut/space worker. When mysterious pulses devastate the electronics on Earth and in space, including sending him falling from–a space elevator?–he is tasked with going to Mars to send messages to a space station in orbit around Neptune which looks to be the origin. The Lima project, which was supposed to look for extra-terrestrial intelligence, went that far out to escape interference from the sun, and Roy’s father headed it up, but the project has not been heard from in 30 years.

A couple of side quests ensue on the moon and on Mars, from which Roy is supposed to send pre-written radio messages to the Lima project, but he breaks protocol and sends a personal message instead which causes Space Com to keep him from joining the mission heading to Neptune. He learns from Reina the station director the truth about the project: how McBride the father went mad in his obsession to find other intelligences out there–and that he killed her parents when they tried to leave the Lima Project. So Roy tries to stow away on the mission to Neptune–not a rescue mission, but a search and destroy mission with a nuclear weapon designed to destroy the Lima Project. The other astronauts discover him as he comes aboard, and Space Com orders them to dispatch him, so he kills them instead. He travels to Neptune (currently the furthest known planet from the sun even when you count Pluto) and finds his father, and the unfortunate truths.

As I said, it tracks kind of closely with 2001 in spots but without alien intelligence to guide or to provide the deus ex maquina. Roy returns with a lot of knowledge of Space Com’s wrong doings and cover-ups, which it seems to me would end the film on a bit of a sour note, but instead the film wraps up with McBride returning the data collected by the Lima Project over the decades, which includes exoplanets to explore and colonize, and he reconciles with his estranged wife, whom we see in numerous flashbacks as Roy has pushed her away in his drive to be autonomous.

A slower paced movie, but not a waste of time. Its depictions of life in space and space travel are very detailed and nicely filmed.

In addition to recognizing Ruth Negga (who played Reina in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), I thought I recognized Liv Tyler as the wife even though her face is obscured, out-of-focus, or blurred in the flashbacks.

I first saw Liv Tyler in Armageddon, but the first time she made a real impression upon me was in One Night At McCool’s in which she had red hair. I’ve seen her in other things, of course, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jersey Girl, and Reign Over Me. She is continuing to look lovely into her 40s.

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