PG-13 because of weird space violence. Like, it gets really bizarre. This is a world where there are space disasters, space pirates, and space gibbons. Those space gibbons, sorry to say, tend to get gory violent. I want to be specific, but I already feel like the MPAA section has gotten way too spoilery. Yeah, there's probably language. I don't remember any specific examples of bad language, but I know it is in there probably somewhere. It's violence and depression in space, which probably means PG-13. Is there blood? Sure. But not so much that it would deserve an R rating.
DIRECTOR: James Gray
I can't stop making the connection between this title and the line from To Kill a Mockingbird. I know, it's from smart things too. Latin stuff that I'm woefully ignorant about. I'm sure a quick Google search would cover up a source of insecurity, but that seems like it would take time and I only have about twenty minutes before I have to stop writing. I thought for sure that this would be Oscar bait. I remember seeing the trailer, wondering what the heck it was going to be about, and then people talking like it was going to be the next big sci-fi epic. For five seconds, I feel like people really got behind Ad Astra. But ultimately, it's something that is getting acknowledgment for sound mixing or something like that. Regardless, I was excited to see it and the Oscars gave me a chance to see it.
My wife hated it. I'm throwing that on the table. I don't even blame her. It is a drama that is steeped in science fiction. I think my wife can handle fun science fiction or science fiction romance. But throwing together a slow, introspective science fiction piece is probably not her cup of tea. I can completely get it. While I liked it, I also really activated my snob sense to get through this movie. And even then, I think I left with more of a meh-attitude than anything else. As I've mentioned in many of my others writings, I'm such a sucker for an estranged father narrative. Something in me is broken when I hear that a story is about a father and son pairing that needs fixing. The movie, coupled with a pretty visually spectacular setting and a sci-fi genre, had a couple of feet in the door that allowed the movie to just be functional to get me through it. Let's just say that I'm glad that I sprung for the extra $0.80 to get a Blu-ray from the Redbox.
But my big question is, "Why is it science fiction?" That's kind of what I want to explore through today's writing assignment. I know the bare bones answer, which is probably pretty lame from an analysis perspective. I think it's science fiction because that's exactly what I would do. The internal conflict of Ad Astra has legs. There's something to be explored there. A father leaves his son to do something altruistic. The world sees him as a hero when really, he was kind of a jackass. Reuniting with this man might not be the healthiest thing in the world and the divide between expectation and reality grows wider as you grow closer. Yeah, that story exists. It is up to the writer and the director to decide how to make that story play out and to play out over the course of two-hours-and-three-minutes, in Ad Astra's case.
And that explains exactly what I would do. I would fall back on things that I really enjoy and advocate for. Ad Astra has all the markings of a serious drama. Most of the film is told through the internal monologue of an introverted man of action. His entire persona, as stressed by his psychological exams performed throughout the movie, is based on control. Having him lose control over the course of the film makes sense. How does one do that? Well, I like space and space seems really stressful. It's the perfect foil for what is going on with him. He can handle the most impossible situations in space, but he can't come to grips with assuming that his dad might be a monster. (I made the connection with To Kill a Mockingbird and now I'm connecting Go Set a Watchman.)
If I had a movie that had a lot of padding to figure out, I think I would set it in space. Films in space are either goofy throwaway (to the general public) or prestige films. Ad Astra desperately wants to be Gravity or 2001: A Space Odyssey. It wants to be considered serious cinema, which is kind of mind blowing considering that it never actually got any of the nominations it really wanted. There's something so degrading about considering a movie to be simply good or bad. I don't think that Ad Astra necessarily fails in any way from its premise, but it also treats a good portion of its storytelling as padding. Does it world-build? Heck yes it does. Does it need to world-build? Probably not.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the psycho space gibbon. I love writing that. I don't know if that animal is a baboon or an ape or what, but I like writing the phrase "psycho space gibbon." It's a really fun scene in a movie that often takes itself way too seriously. If I was the director and I had a chance to shoot that scene, I know that I would keep it in there. The temptation would be too great. It's a fun scene in the midst of all this depression going on. But art critic Tim is also aware that the scene doesn't really contribute to the overall story. The only thing that I could justify as director Tim is that it shows that Roy handles stress and thinking on his feet better than anyone in the story whatsoever. But the film already does a more-than-admirable job showing that choice. We're introduced to Roy on the space antenna and he manages to keep his heartrate at a steady and calm pace. Similarly, the movie is loaded with scenes where his peers go into panic mode and he remains stoic and level headed. Adding a scene where he abandons his ship against his own better judgment to fight a space gibbon is fun, but ultimately a distraction from the film itself.
For a movie that really fights to be spartan and to focus on the internal monologue of this guy having to meet his dad while battling what can only be described as extreme depression, it throws all of this gorgeous imagery around all willy-nilly. It's a pretty as heck movie and I absolutely adore that stuff, but I also recognize a distraction when I see one. I can't help but make a comparison to Blade Runner because I think it might hold the most in common with that very specific sub-genre. Blade Runner stands on the shoulders of film noir and science fiction and melds the two in a way that the story can only be told in the way it is. The plot is so intricate to the protagonist's sense of self. If Blade Runner is an examination of self-knowledge, the metaphor of wondering whether someone or other is a replicant is central to the story. But with Ad Astra, I'm not sure why it has to be science fiction.
So I get the instinct to make this a work of science fiction. I, too, would do this. I know me. I know the type. The movie is gorgeous and it has all the trappings of being one of those movies that transcend the genre. But really, Ad Astra grafted something to a plot that doesn't really need to be there. I like the movie, but it really doesn't need to have stuff muddying up what could be a very poignant story. I get why the Academy didn't lose their mind about this one. The foundation is good, but it is mismatched with its content.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.