Check out the Video Lab Podcast, where Sam and I talk about this movie in more detail.
“Ad Astra” is initially reminiscent of “Gravity” in its opening scenes, with our main character Roy struggling to survive a collapsing tower built from earth that extends high into the atmosphere. But “Interstellar” is a more useful comparison film. Earth is decaying and in conflict, and earthlings are reaching out deep into space for resources and exploration. Where “Interstellar” had lofty, convoluted ideals and plot, “Ad Astra” is surprisingly straightforward and minimalist in its reach. This is space travel and exploration imagined in the very near future, with commercial flights and all.
“Ad Astra” is less interested in dwelling on interdimensional questions of time and space, and more about moon battles with space pirates, murderous space monkeys, and surfing asteroid fields with metal sheets, all cut to a great, eerie soundtrack.
This movie’s overlaying theme calls the viewer to stay present to the one world humanity has, warning of the obsession with space travel and infinite forward that might lead to a decay and cheapening of the known world. “We’re world eaters.” as Roy says, as he watches a commercialized moon tourism with fast food joints and photo ops that is untethered from the actual wonder the moon is.
This calls to mind the tech world’s obsession about establishing colonies on Mars or other planets, what amounts to escapist utopian fantasies about the abilities of humans outside of earth even as we struggle to sustain the long term viability of this planet.
Despite some lingering questions about the soundness of its storyline, “Ad Astra” is a thoughtful film that dives into space exploration in fresh and exhilarating ways, unencumbered by grand designs, intricate characters, and deliberate dialogue where it counts.