“2001 meets Apocalypse Now” may be the preferred pitch for this self-consciously philosophical science-fiction adventure from James Gray, writer-director of such varied fare as The Yards, Two Lovers and The Lost City of Z, but “Event Horizon with interstellar overdrive” is perhaps a more accurate description.
In Paul WS Anderson’s British-made 1997 potboiler Event Horizon, a spaceship powered by a black hole disappeared on its maiden voyage to the stars, popping up years later near Neptune, having apparently gone to **** and back. In Ad Astra, it’s the ghost of the “Lima project” that haunts Neptune’s rings, after vanishing with its cataclysmic antimatter drive decades ago.
Time - Brad - Pitt - Richardson - Jason
This time it’s Brad Pitt rather than Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs or Laurence Fishburne (a veteran of Apocalypse Now) on the trail of the cosmic mystery, but the essential thematic coordinates are the same – a trip into deep space in search of a lost expedition that had gazed too long into the abyss. The result is an A-list B-movie that juggles moments of breath-taking visual splendour with much on-the-nose speechifying about sins of the fathers and eternal isolation, spiced up with some action-packed silliness that entirely undercuts its more po-faced pretensions.
Just as the makers of Alien looked to Joseph Conrad when naming their spaceships Nostromo and Narcissus, so Gray and co-writer Ethan Gross use Marlow and Kurtz from Heart of Darkness as models for astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) and his pioneering father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones). As leader of the Lima project, Cliff “went further than any of us”, travelling to the outskirts of the solar system before going off-grid – physically, morally, theologically. Now Roy (whose “What did he find out there?” narration might as well have been read by Martin Sheen) must follow Dad’s path into the void. Will Roy be able to...
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