Sep 30, 2019
So, here we are. The day before Reign of Terror 2019 and still no Joseph. Shane’s supposed to be showing up later today, but he’s been feverishly working while in transit. He did say he was sending a package ahead of time, however...
ONE MOVIE SPAWN: “I got it!”
AMY: “Probably just more supplies from everyone who donated to my classroom this year! Thanks, by the way, to all you listening out there!”
AMY: “What is it?”
ONE MOVIE SPAWN: “It’s the package from Shane.”
AMY: “Oh good. Let’s see what he sent along.”
ONE MOVIE SPAWN: “Any word from Father?”
AMY: “Not a word. I think I’m starting to get worried.”
ONE MOVIE SPAWN: “I wouldn’t worry. After all, he’s an adult.”
ONE MOVIE SPAWN: “Well...”
ONE MOVIE SPAWN: “Okay, maybe a little bit worried. Maybe Shane sent along some news.”
AMY: *reading Shane’s letter* “Hello to the boisterous and beautiful Amy Dobzynski...”
AMY: *not reading* “Oh, what a charmer!”
ONE MOVIE SPAWN: “More like a weirdo.”
AMY: *reading* “My regrets that I will not be able to be present as the podcast goes live. My work visa was denied because your government doesn’t believe One Movie Punch is a valid podcast. Don’t worry! Production will carry on as I return home. I’ve been loading the episodes as I finish them. Within the bag...”
ONE MOVIE SPAWN: “It’s a flash drive.”
AMY: *reading* “...is a flash drive with a copy of the trailer for Reign of Terror 2019. If there’s still time, please add it to the episode before the review. If you could find a review laying around, that is. Your friend, Shane."
AMY: *not reading* “Well, that’s actually helpful, unlike Joseph leaving us high and dry. All right, let’s roll the trailer.
ONE MOVIE SPAWN: “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
AMY: “Oh yeah.”
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Here we go!
<< REIGN OF TERROR 2019 PROMO >>
AMY: “The only review I could find was this written one from the ‘Ad Astra’ advanced screener he attended. Guess we’ll go with this one. And now, time for sweet revenge!” *clears throat*
Today’s movie is “Ad Astra”, the near future space thriller directed by James Gray and written for the screen in collaboration with Ethan Gross. The film follows Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), the son of the legendary H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who was lost during a mission to reach the edges of the solar system. After a massive cosmic event threatens the existence of the solar system, he learns his father may still be alive, and embarks on a mission to reach him.
AMY: “I can’t keep doing this voice.”
When it comes to films and televisions shows about space exploration, or about humans living out among the stars, there’s generally a huge gap between the technology we have today and the technology we would need to mimic those same stories. The reason for that gap is twofold. First, some technologies we like to see in space films completely defy the laws of physics as we understand them. Warp drives, matter transporters, stable wormholes, Dyson spheres, all more fiction than fact, at least until our understanding of physics changes dramatically. That gap will never be crossed.
‘Ad Astra’, by contrast, is part of a new renaissance of ‘near-future’ space films which eschew...
AMY: “Who the <BEEP> uses eschew in their review? Ah, Joseph does.”
Space films which eschew these fantasy technologies in favor of practical, realistic advancements. Other works in this genre would include ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’, and to a more advanced degree, ‘The Expanse’ now on Amazon Prime. Astronomers, astrophysicists, and space nerds really love these shows, not just for their content, but because they can visually demonstrate a possible future for humanity’s continued exploration of our solar system and beyond. But that means telling stories that move at the speed of space, which is painfully slow. Hyperspace may not be realistic, but it sure does help to move stories along. And the slow speed of space travel isn’t something you can really describe to someone, nor demonstrate on a screen without inducing audience boredom. I did find myself one or two times getting bored, no matter how much I loved the realism on display.
The second main reason there’s such a gap between our current technology, and the technology on display in these near-future films, is our pathetic investment into the space program, compared to, say, the massive investments into militaries around the world. Even as a self-identified space nerd, I can’t imagine what a trillion-dollar space program would look like, but many other people have thought about it, especially astronomers and astrophysicists craving that kind of investment. Space antennas / elevators, like in the opening scene of ‘Ad Astra’, are possible with that kind of investment, admittedly with one or two advancements in structural engineering. It would certainly make you or I getting to visit space much cheaper and faster than any of the billionaire rocketmen offering commercial rides soon.
This near future realism is the playground of today’s space engineers and scientists, and serves two purposes in closing the gap between our technology. First, it can provide a venue for educating the public of what the future could actually look like, separating the impossible technologies from the possible and plausible ones. ‘The Martian’ reignited interest in the space program because people asked, ‘Why can’t we do that?!’ I sincerely hope ‘Ad Astra’ does the same about reaching the outer planets. I won’t lie and say that ‘Ad Astra’ gets the science right every time, but it does keep the ballpark of technologies within our grasp.
The second important purpose this genre serves, aside from what’s technologically possible, is what’s socially possible from those advancements in technology. This has always been a hallmark of science fiction as a genre, but it’s way more important for selling the idea of investment into these technologies. ‘Ad Astra’, as a story, gives us a number of social ideas to consider along the way, like moon pirates and long-term residents of other worlds, and near-future experimentation and mining expeditions, and the kind of politics surrounding missions that need to be successful in order to continue funding. All of this is space nerd heaven.
Brad Pitt’s performance as Roy McBride isn’t just a character study of the kind of person it takes to travel across the solar system, but also a social look into what a potential multi-generational astronaut family looks like with an expanded space program, and how those same people may not turn out to be as cool under pressure sometimes. In particular, I liked how Pitt’s performance transforms as his character spends more time in space. Always a fan of a little Ren & Stimpy Space Madness!
However, what prevents ‘Ad Astra’ from being a perfect film is the underlying thematic idea at the core of the film, which is the search for extraterrestrial life, the final mission of Clifford McBride, who was going to positively determine whether there is life outside our solar system. Obviously, revealing the answer to that question in this movie would be a spoiler, but it’s in this moment we’re expected to trust that a method has been developed that can search the entire universe to definitively answer that question. And given the size of the universe, that would be an impossible task, which means we’re relying on an impossible technology to answer an impossible question, one better suited for a philosophical rather than a scientific discussion. How the viewer reacts to this reveal is a strong indicator as to how much they will have enjoyed the rest of the film.
“Ad Astra” is a near-future story that uses possible and plausible technologies to tell a larger story about humanity’s place in the cosmos, when slightly extended into the larger solar system. Brad Pitt gives a great performance as Roy McBride, taking the character through a fascinating and diverse journey through one possible future, in order to answer what might be an impossible question. Science fiction fans, especially those who like a healthy measure of realism in their science fiction, will definitely love this film, even when it plays fast and loose with the science. Everyone else should be ready for a two-hour ride that has a few slower moments and a lot of heady introspection, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Rotten Tomatoes: 83% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.8/10
“Ad Astra” (2019) is rated PG-13 and is currently playing in theaters.
AMY: “All right. Well, I guess we’ll just wait to see what happens tomorrow. Thank goodness Shane is helping out! Join us tomorrow for Reign of Terror 2019.”
AMY: “I said, Reign of Terror 2019.”
AMY: “Dang it, why don’t I get an echo?”