Ad Astra (Blu-ray) (2019)

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Released 18-Dec-2019

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Sci-fi Drama Audio Commentary-James Gray
Deleted Scenes-x 2 (3:25)
Featurette-To the Stars (8:35)
Featurette-A Man Named Roy (8:45)
Featurette-The Crew of the Cepheus (9:08)
Featurette-The Art of Ad Astra (11:15)
Featurette-Reach for the Stars (7:21)
Theatrical Trailer-and Imax trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2019
Running Time 123:02 (Case: 122)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By James Gray
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Brad Pitt
Tommy Lee Jones
Donald Sutherland
Ruth Negga
Donnie Keshawarz
Loren Dean
Kimberly Elise
Bobby Nish
Liv Tyler
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Max Richter
Lorne Balfe


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 7.1
French dts 5.1
Spanish dts 5.1
German dts 5.1
Italian dts 5.1
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 5.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Spanish
Danish
Dutch
Finnish
German
Italian
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"Most of us spend our lives in hiding": Major Roy McBride

     Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut in the SpaceCom programme. He is a resourceful, self-sufficient, self-contained man, a man who can remain calm in the midst of a dangerous situation; early in the film Roy is maintaining the orbiting space station high in the Earth’s atmosphere when it is hit by a massive power surge that throws Roy off the platform but he remains calm, controls his free fall and parachutes safely back to Earth.

     These power surges are striking all over the Earth, causing destruction and thousands of deaths. The surges are emanating from near the planet Neptune, far out into the solar system. Twenty-nine years previously a manned mission called the Lima Project had been sent into deep space on a quest to find other intelligent life. The flight was commanded by Dr H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), Roy’s father and the most revered astronaut of his generation. Somewhere beyond Saturn contact with the Lima Project had been lost and everyone on board presumed dead. But now it appears that the Lima Project, and Dr McBride, may well be alive and the source of the anti-matter surges that threaten the destruction of the Earth and our solar system. Roy is asked by SpaceCom to go to Mars, the last human outpost in the solar system via the Moon, and on Mars to try to make radio contact with his father.

     Roy may be calm but he is an introspective personality who does not relate well to others. He has a failed marriage to Eve (Liv Tyler) and has issues in dealing with his absent father who left on the Lima mission when Roy was only 16. Roy does not believe his father is still alive, but he agrees to go to Mars. For the trip he is joined by Thomas Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), a man who knew Roy’s father and has been briefed by SpaceCom to keep a close eye on Roy. To maintain secrecy the pair takes a commercial flight to the Moon where they are to transfer to the Cepheus, a military grade spaceship, for the long trip to Mars. After their arrival on the Moon, however, Pruitt’s deteriorating medical condition means that he cannot go to Mars. He does, however, provide Roy with some unsettling information that SpaceCom had been keeping from Roy: a garbled message received some time in the past from the Lima Project that indicates that there had been a mutiny on board that had been put down, with loss of life, by Roy’s father.

     Roy joins the Cepheus, Captain Lawrence Tanner (Donnie Keshawarz) and crew Donald Stanford (Loren Dean), Lorraine Deavers (Kimberly Elise) and Franklin Yoshida (Bobby Nish), for the long trip to Mars. Roy is not allowed to tell them of his mission; so when a mayday signal is received he is unable to stop the Cepheus diverting to investigate the ship that sent the mayday, with tragic consequences. Nevertheless, the Cepheus, with the remaining crew, does arrive on Mars, where Roy broadcasts the authorised message to his father.

     By now Roy is becoming aware that he is being used and that SpaceCom has a hidden agenda. Indeed, when it appears that contact may have been made with his father, Roy is shunted aside by SpaceCom agents and told that he will be returning to Earth. However, Mars base commander Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga), whose parents had also been on the Lima Project mission, shows Roy another secret message in which Roy’s father admits to killing his crew when they wanted to abort the mission and return to Earth. Helen also tells Roy that the Cepheus has an atomic weapon on board and that their mission is to find the Lima ship near Neptune and to destroy it and the source of the power surges. Roy is determined to get onto the Cepheus for the mission and to discover, once and for all, whether his father is a hero or a monster, killing his crew and obsessed only with finding evidence of other intelligent life in the universe. Indeed, before the end of his mission Roy will need to cut loose from his father, physically and metaphorically.

     Ad Astra (“To the Stars”) is an intelligent science fiction film co-written and directed by James Gray. Gray has hardly been prolific, only directing seven feature films in two decades including Little Odessa (1994), We Own the Night (2007) and The Immigrant (2013). All these films were set in Gray’s native New York but then Gray expanded his horizon with The Lost City of Z (2016) set in Ireland and Amazonia; with Ad Astra he has expanded his scope further going into the solar system! Having said that, despite its scope Ad Astra is really about the demons within the human soul, with the search for his father mimicking Roy’s search for his own humanity. The debt of Ad Astra to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is clear but its debt to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) is even more obvious: the internal monologue voiceover, the journey into the unknown, a flawed lead, the tragic side-track along the way, a “hero” who has gone off the pale, and Ad Astra adds the complication of an absent father into the mixture.

     Ad Astra was shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema whose resume includes Spectre (2014) and Dunkirk (2017), for which he was Oscar nominated. Van Hoytema also shot Interstellar (2014) for Christopher Nolan so he is no stranger to space epics and his experience shows in Ad Astra with some impressive visuals of spacecraft and astronauts in the void and the Moon base. One does not necessarily expect that films set in space would be colourful, but Ad Astra uses light and colours effectively, including the gold highlights on suit helmets, blue, yellow and red washes in some scenes and the vibrant red, blue and yellow lighting on Mars.

     Ad Astra includes action sequences, such as a chase on the surface of the Moon, and impressive visuals but it is a rather old fashioned film in that the most important element is the characters, their doubts, flaws and inner conflicts. Roy’s inner monologues propel the story forward in Ad Astra just as Willard’s do in Apocalypse Now. Theirs are journeys into the void; journeys towards self-discovery in which Brad Pitt gives a mesmerising performance. He may have won his acting Oscar for Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood the same year but in Ad Astra he is equally impressive giving a complex and nuanced performance.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Ad Astra is presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     Shot on Kodak film Ad Astra looks stunning. It has strong detail and depth; vision of space craft in the black, tiny white suited astronauts in the void, the base on the Moon, all look spectacular. The interiors of the ships are beautifully detailed and look functional, with few of the Star Trek type visual displays. The blacks of space are inky but Ad Astra uses light and colour effectively, including the gold highlights on suit helmets, blue and red and yellow washes inside the Cepheus and the Lima and the vibrant red, blue and yellow lighting on Mars. The many close-ups of Pitt’s whiskered face show every pore, skin tones are natural, contrast and brightness consistent. There is deliberate distortion in some scenes and in others grain is evident such as in flashbacks. Marks and artefacts are absent.

     English and English subtitles for the hearing impaired are available plus French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles. Audio commentary subtitles are available in the same range of European languages.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio choices are English DTS HD-MA 7.1, French, Spanish, German and Italian DTS, English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 and the English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0.

     I am not set up for 7.1 but even in 5.1 Ad Astra is impressive; the sound mixing for Ad Astra received an Oscar nomination. It employs all the effects one expects in space films, the roar of rocket engines during blast off from the Earth, the rumble of engines in space, engines, crashes and shots in the buggy chase, the explosion in the climax but elsewhere there are the groans of ship’s metal, the clang as fittings flying loose, voices on the Moon base. There is also effective use made of silences, where effects are reduced to allow the score to dominate. Indeed the music, credited to Max Richter with other music by Lorne Balfe, is epic and almost classical in feel. Dialogue is clear. The subwoofer provided appropriate support to the engines, explosion, action and the music.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     These featurettes include film clips and on set footage, including stunts and wire work, plus comments, in many of them, from writer / director James Gray, screenwriter Ethan Gross, producer Jeremy Kleiner and cast Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga. The featurettes are:

To the Stars (8:35)

     A general EPK type featurette about how Gray and Gross met, the script, the themes and plot of the film and the main characters.

A Man Named Roy (8:45)

     Brad Pitt, the character of Roy McBride and fathers and sons.

The Crew of the Cepheus (9:08)

     Meeting the crew of the Cepheus, their diverse characters and their fate. Shows the make-up applied to Captain Tanner and details of the wire stunts. Includes comments by cast Donnie Keshawarz, Loren Dean, Kimberly Elise and Bobby Nish.

The Art of Ad Astra (11:15)

     A look at the production design and building of the Cepheus sets, the costume design and the sound design. The intention was to make the sets and costumes as real and functional as possible. Added comments by production designer Kevin Thompson and costume designer Albert Wolsky.

Reach for the Stars (7:21)

     Science fiction and science fact; the assistance of NASA in making the film and the reality of humanity’s looking towards space. Additional comments by technical consultants Robert Yowell and real astronaut Garrett Reisman.

Deleted Scenes (3:25)

     Two deleted scenes with optional commentary by James Gray explaining why they were cut from the finished film.

Audio Commentary by James Gray

     Gray provides an excellent commentary, one of the best I have heard for a while. While he does go into some of the technical details, talking about practical vs CGI effects, stunts, shooting on film and editing choices and challenges, production design and the language of music, he is knowledgeable about films and film history and he talks about his influences, his intentions, plausible and practical science, the psychology of isolation and space travel, what it is to be a man, fathers and sons, constructing the future and who and what we are as a species, delving deeply into the process of making this film. This is thoughtful and intelligent and adds to one’s understanding of the film.

Trailers

     The film’s theatrical trailer (2:32) and Imax trailer (2:27).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     Our Ad Astra Blu-ray is identical to the US Region All Blu-ray release except that we get a whole lot more audio and subtitle options.

Summary

     Ad Astra is an intelligent, rather old fashioned science fiction film; a journey into the unknown in search of an authority figure while reflecting on inner demons and what it is to be human. Perhaps the film was too cerebral for audiences that expected an action packed space opera type film; it has received an audience rating on rottentomatoes.com of a low 40% although the critics’ score is a vastly different 84%. Some of the science feels unlikely, such as the reservoir of water on Mars, but the thoughtful script, impressive sound and visuals and a compelling performance by Brad Pitt result in a film that deserves to be given a chance.

     The video and audio are excellent. The extras are decent, including the excellent commentary, and we get what is available elsewhere.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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