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“Ad Astra” will play with our Minds and Hearts, can it live up to Astronomical Expectations?

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Above: Official Trailer 2 for “Ad Astra”

Director James Gray has certainly made some interesting movies in his career, but none have been as star-studded and hyped as the upcoming “Ad Astra.” Set to be released September 20th, “Ad Astra” is an original science fiction odyssey based on the screenplay written by Ethan Gross alongside Gray himself, and starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and Liv Tyler.

The plot looks complex and enthralling, as an astronaut played by Pitt crosses the solar system in search of answers about his deceased father. In a movie market where superheroes and fantasy tend to dominate the science fiction genre, “Ad Astra” looks like it will be a refreshing return to hard sci-fi, where the science is realistic and integral to the story. 

Of course, that does not mean that the film will be a two-hour Neil Degrasse Tyson lecture. The trailer promises a high degree of action and emotion along with some great performances. Most notably, having Brad Pitt as the movie’s main protagonist comes at a good time, as Pitt’s recent performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has earned the actor a late resurgence in popularity and buzz.

Official Moon rover sneak peek clip from “ad Astra”

Perhaps just as captivating as the talent on screen, though, is the talent behind the camera. After all, a movie that takes place in space is only going to get so far without strong visual effects and cinematography. In “Ad Astra,” Brian Adler of “Avengers: Endgame” is helming the position of visual effects artist, and Academy Award nominee Hoyte Van Hoytema — best known for movies like “Interstellar,” “Dunkirk,” and “Her” — is director of photography.  This, along with a compelling score from composer Max Richter, is bound to make “Ad Astra” a treat for all senses.

In more ways than just Van Hoytema’s cinematography, “Ad Astra” looks quite reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” They are both examples of indie directors gaining enough of a reputation to piece together their own big-budget science fiction movie, and then using that opportunity to create something remarkably original and compelling within the genre. 

At the same time, however, James Gray never had a groundbreaking studio Batman franchise to launch him into the spotlight. While “Ad Astra” may be getting more marketing and attention than any of Gray’s previous films, it is not guaranteed that it will rake in anything close to the $677 million that “Interstellar” earned in 2014. Then again, “Ad Astra” was made on an $80 million budget. While this is a far greater budget than any of Gray’s previous projects, it is hardly half of what it cost to create “Interstellar.”

We should not get caught up in the numbers, though. After all, even if “Ad Astra” looks similar to “Interstellar,” there is no assurance of them being comparable as final products. For all of the potential and prestige that “Ad Astra” touts, there is the risk that it will turn out less like the renowned “Interstellar” and more like the lackluster “Passengers”—the star-studded original sci-fi movie that managed to flop at the box office despite looking like a guaranteed success on paper.

Original official trailer for “Ad Astra”

Like deep-space itself, “Ad Astra” will likely deal with dark matter and other mysterious phenomena that it is not willing to reveal until the film hits theaters. The movie is destined to play with our minds as well as our hearts, but how it will do so in terms of narrative remains justifiably clouded. Lets hope that the film delivers on its cosmological story, makes the most of its talent, and maybe even launches James Gray to a new directorial status, allowing him to create more original movies with the budget to back them.

Ad Astra Poster

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