Ad Astra

The Ultimate Catastrophe Could Be Possible!


The film feels like the therapist he wished he'd had. The one that doesn't ask the hard questions.
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Reported on 30th of December, 2019

I think this may be a first – using a quote from a film for a title to one of the pieces. But Ad Astra is an unique film, being one of the top ten worst films of all time. This includes Swept Away, Nine Months and White God and the weight that it’s coming from someone who actually has some exposure to the control group. You can count on someone being an expert when they describe something as both ‘unique’ and ‘one of ten’. The ultimate oxymoron could be possible.

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The same ghost is present here that did so much damage to the otherwise pretty good Doctor Sleep: the unfortunate one of Mr. Stanley Kubrick, and watch-the-part-with-the-apes-again-without-fastforwarding-and-you’ll-see-that-I’m-right-and-it-actually-sucks 2001. A pioneering film, but hardly a great one, and one that has done inestimable damage to cinema in general.

Science fiction, until recently, and even after Mr. Kubrick’s shit d’œuvre, has had a struggle breaking into film as a genre. The very bland but I saw it in a 24 hour science fiction film festival in 1984 Things to Come so I’m really just talking about how many movies I can see at once… was so bad in 1936, so the story goes, that no studio would touch anything SF until Forbidden Planet some twenty years later. FYI, the only time I slept was during Zardoz. This was allowed because I had seen it before. And because it was Zardoz. And it still counts as seeing it twice.

Along comes Mr. Kubrick who makes a new but lifeless-enough-to-ponder-that-it-better-goddamn-mean-something-I’ve-been-sitting-here-for-hours film in 1968. It still took a while for SF to really take off (and I’ll argue that it still hasn’t), but what 2001 did was teach the 12 year olds of that and later generations that seeing a film when you’re 12 wasn’t about the film, but the experience of seeing it at that age. Which means the film could be any film. So say the many future fans of Ad Astra.

Not teach. Failed to teach. Which is so often the same.

When I tell you it has space monkeys that eat your face, I want you to understand, it makes space monkeys that eat your face boring.

2001‘s inspiration was not limited to writers and directors, but to money guys as well; what the film did was made many a good film not like 2001 ungreenlightable. I’m not talking about great novels (2001 was not one of those, by the way) like Ubik and Joe Haldeman’s impossible to make and impossibly relevant Forever War. I’d like to see those, and I could: films like Ender’s Game and I, Robot and A Scanner Darkly and All You Need Is Kill and TV series like The Expanse are still made, with varying quality.

What I’m talking about is original scripts. ‘Original’ in the Oscar sense of ‘not based on material from another medium’, not in any other sense of the word. For… well, remember the part of having to trust me about what really are the worst films of all time? Thing is, I’ve seen Mission to Mars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture and High Life and Interstellar and Matrix: Revolutions and Red Planet. Mr. James Gray (previously of The Lost City of Z) this is not the first film about Finding God In Space. What Mr. Kubrick gave us is a template for those confused by too much money: 2001 + _____ and the confusion floats away.

In this case, ______= ‘daddy issues!’, which makes you cringe as much as it got the venmo flowing from the people who 1) saw 2001 and want to be part of trying to remake something instead of what Kubrick actually did, which was make something new, and 2) think they’re daddy issues are interesting to anyone. Ad Astra is a film obsessed with its writer’s feelings, the painfully underwritten VO like someone unloading to the therapist he wished he’d had. But in this case, it’s the void of space, so it won’t ask the hard questions.

The story, if we must: Mr. Tommy Lee Jones, Mr. Brad Pitt’s father, disappeared twenty years ago on a vague, but super important mission. Mr. Jones reappears with a message and a could-be, maybe, who knows penultimate catastrophe. Any second lost might mean the destruction of the solar system! Possibly! Time’s a wastin’, so Mr. Pitt flies to the moon, then buggies to another part of the moon, to take another ship, to fly to Mars, to make a phone call.

You want me to be kidding, don’t you? Now, going to have an interlude here to describe that the phone call is a fairly straightforward movie beat. The Suits tell Mr. Pitt ‘Say X because we’re evil even though we really don’t know what’s going on. You came to Mars for a phone call?’ Mr. Pitt first acquiesces and then – not a criticism – must rebel, and Get Emotional. It’s an easy and perfectly standard beat.

Stupid movie beats – love them. This is the criticism. See, when you do this, you have to have the second plea contain actual emotion. Instead it went something like this.

Mr. Pitt
(scripted speech)
Dad, I miss you.
Throws away the script. The suits REACT.
Mr. Pitt
(true emotional self)
Dad, it’s you that I miss.

Now, I might be paraphrasing. Armed only with a pad of paper this time, I could only write out zingers like the don’t-say-this-in-a-film-like-that ‘What the Hell am I doing here?’ and ‘Why go on? Why keep trying?’, so I did not get this speech verbatim. Unable not speak my truth, I went and downloaded it. This caused physical pain to read, but some joy that the internet has everything, and some amusement that what I had written – as a joke – was better.

MR. PITT
Father I remember you taught me in mathematics. You planted me a strong work ethic. Work hard, play later. As you said. You should know that I chose the career you would approve of. Dedicate my life in space exploration. I thank you for that. So I hope we can connect again. Your dear son Roy.

He did say ‘dear’. Which is how you distinguish a job interview from talking to your father you thought was dead for twenty years. You got the job, Mr. Gray. You pitched 2001 + flat affect. A film with virtually no affect.

Whereupon Mr. Pitt walks through space, hijacks a ship and accidentally kills the crew. But he does say sorry (see, ‘want me to be kidding’, above) to then find Mr. Lee Jones. Mr Lee Jones is, and sorry both for myself having watched and for you Mr. Gray that I actually was watching, but this is the story, that Mr. Jones went to Neptune in order to find out that there was no other life in the universe.

Because this is where you find this out. Neptune. There. No, not that section of space near Neptune. There. The spot with the sign that says ‘But don’t forget, when you find out things, there’s danger to all life (unless there isn’t, who knows?)’

And thence for Mr. Pitt to surf on metal panels through a ring debris instead of going around because it’s space you dumbass! It’s the kind of film where you feel like you don’t just have to explain space to filmmakers, but space in the sense that that thing is over there and you’re over here. As I did this morning, for someone that doesn’t know HOW ROUNDABOUTS WORK!

But this substantial lead up was actually about the daddy issues, and his meeting of the paterfamilias is just an excuse to say:

MR. BRAD PITT
I never knew you, father. Or am I you?

Word.

For.

Word.

Clunkers like this and so many more, makes it feel like watching a $200 million dollar Ed Wood film. I realize the sentence previous makes it sound way better than it is. To the film’s credit, and Dorothée can vouch, this line got giggles from yours truly for a good two days after. It’s especially fun to say to someone when ordering a Croissant Ispahan, for example.

GUY WHO WORKS AT PIERRE HERMÉ
Please just take the pastry and get out.

When I tell you it has space monkeys that eat your face, I want you to understand, it makes space monkeys that eat your face boring.

So there must have been something worthwhile? There was an okay part in the middle, or least something that could have been okay. There are moon pirates in between the two places on the moon where … you have to go from one place to the other to get to Mars… and there’s a movie in here. One character says, for example.

ONE CHARACTER
It’s like the Wild West out there, and would be a much better movie than whatever this one is about

This section of the film bears mentioning because I was to find out that this film was hated by the public and adored by critics. I could rant on about how the disconnection between the critics and the audience proves something or other. But it doesn’t prove anything. I should know; I ranted about it last week.

No, it was more the heavy featuring of this space pirate (and what is it that they’re pirating, exactly, if they blow everything up to get it?) sequence in the trailer, people going expecting anything but watching Mr. Pitt recite Mr. Gray’s navel poetry.

The critic/human divide reveals two groups at war: the who love action and are taught that suppressing that love means they must be watching ‘good’ cinema, and people who love action and are tricked into seeing a film made by someone who was taught to suppress anything the least bit cinematic.

I’m in the exclusion group. Turns out you don’t need to see the trailer to hate this film. Just any other movie.

The Take

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Profits!
That one line. I laughed a little bit afterwords, like the guy with one leg finding the other one with the same size foot to save half on shoes.
$0.12
The space monkey, also funny
$0.23
That there was a movie worse than Once Upon A Time… and The Irishman. It puts the rest of 2019 in perspective
$0.39
Total Profits
$0.74
Losses!
Having to see it. The movie is so bad it traumatizes you into thinking movies couldn’t be this bad. You forget. So you will tempted to see another. Note to self.
$42.00
Total Losses
$42.00

-$41.26

Thoughts on Ad Astra

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  1. Julia Caston says:

    this is why you are the best film “noticer” of our time
    and because you think monkeys in space are funny too!

  2. Scott Scott says:

    I’ll go with film noticer. It sounds extremely scientific. If only the whole film was about space monkeys…

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