Once upon a time, Stanley Kubrick made the mother of all science fiction films: “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Whether you love it or find it impossibly pretentious, “2001” is undeniably unique.
Kubrick starts at the Dawn of Man. An ape man sees a monolith that proves that there is intelligent life in the universe. Inspired by this revelation, he uses a tool to beat a rival ape man to death.
Fast forward 100,000 years or so. An astronaut is on a mission to Jupiter to rendezvous with the same alien civilization that created the monolith. Along the way, the astronaut has to battle with his spaceship’s computer, which has become sentient and murderous.
Upon reaching Jupiter, the astronaut is transported to the alien home world across the galaxy where he lives the rest of his days as a zoo exhibit.
Stanley Kubrick tells a simple but bizarre story. And he tells it in the most artsy and cerebral way possible – with no explanations, very little dialogue, and a soundtrack of classical music.
I applaud James Gray – the writer and director of “Ad Astra” – for even trying to make a space film as beautiful, artful, and ambitious as “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
That said: he failed big time. Do not let the good reviews fool you; you are not going to like this movie.
[Spoiler Alert: I am going to reveal as much of “Ad Astra” as I can to encourage you not to see it]
“Ad Astra” starts strongly. Brad Pitt is Major Roy McBride, the most fearless astronaut in the military. He’s cool under pressure and a stone-cold killer.
Plus he’s the son of Earth’s most famous space explorer. H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) disappeared decades ago near Neptune while on a mission to find extraterrestrial life.
The story gets intriguing when Roy learns that his father is alive. And there are waves of anti-matter coming from Neptune which threaten all life in the solar system.
Roy’s mission is to save humanity and find closure with his long-lost father. And possibly uncover proof of intelligent alien life.
The first 90 minutes of “Ad Astra” is slow, but I was intrigued. I thought that the story was building to a mind-blowing sci-fi climax.
Well, I was wrong. There’s no aliens. There’s almost no explanation of the anti-matter waves. There’s an idiotic, undeserved happy ending that makes no sense scientifically or logically. Major McBride hijacked a military spaceship and murdered the crew! Wouldn’t he at least get court marshalled?
Science Fiction is supposed to be intellectually stimulating. Sci-fi is where the great nerd philosophers of our society get to explore their deepest ideas. The message of “2001: A Space Odyssey” is that man uses his gift of intelligence to find increasingly inventive ways to kill his fellow man. The message of “Ad Astra” is that guys should love their families.
Come on, James Gray. You had to do better than that. You promised us sci-fi; but you gave us a Hallmark Channel movie of the week.
If you are in the mood for a weird, slow sci-fi movie, watch “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Or ignore me and watch “Ad Astra.” You won’t like it, though.