James Gray’s hard SF movie has been playing to generally strong reviews– and an uneven box office. It depicts a nearish-future astronaut on a quest to a lost station, out among the solar system’s gas giants.

Title: Ad Astra

Directed by James Gray
Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross

Cast
Brad Pitt as Roy McBride
Tommy Lee Jones as H. Clifford McBride
Ruth Negga as Helen Lantos
Donald Sutherland as Thomas Pruitt
Kimberly Elise as Lorraine Deavers
Loren Dean as Donald Stanford
Donnie Keshawarz as Captain Lawrence Tanner
Liv Tyler as Eve
Sean Blakemore as Willie Levant
Bobby Nish as Franklin Yoshida
LisaGay Hamilton as Adjutant General Vogel
John Finn as Brigadier General Stroud
John Ortiz as Lieutenant General Rivas
Freda Foh Shen as Captain Lu
Kayla Adams as Female Flight Attendant
Ravi Kapoor as Arjun Dhariwal
Elisa Perry as Woman in White
Daniel Sauli as Sal (as Daniel S. Sauli)
Kimmy Shields as Sergeant Romano
Kunal Dudheker as Technician One
Greg Bryk as Chip Garnes
Alyson Reed as Janice Collins
Sasha Compère as Female Team Member
Justin Dray as Male Team Member
Alex Luna as Woman on Screen
Natasha Lyonne as Tanya Pincus
Jacob Sandler as Roy as a boy
Elizabeth Willaman as Voice of Cepheus

Premise:

In a future not so very far away, mysterious power surges threaten earth and its Lunar and Martian colonies. Roy McBride, son of a space legend, heads to the last known whereabouts of the “Lima Project,” identified as the possible source of the surges.

High Point:

The film features spectacular visual imagery and a credible future world, and both serve a story worth telling….

Low Points

….Though one overshadowed somewhat by that visual spectacle and world-building. The essential human connection at the heart of this story can at times be difficult to feel.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The script combines a hero/father-quest with Heart of Darkness and any number of other stories you’ve encountered, with some inevitable visual echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Effects: 6/6 See “High Points.” Many people have made the point now, many times, that we can no longer determine for certain in a big-budget film when we’re looking at an actual structure or model, and when we’re seeing CGI, unless we’re looking at something that would have been impossible to capture on film.

Acting: 6/6 The acting is low-key but above average, exemplified by Pitts’s performance as an astronaut known for his emotional control. A sizable cast appears, mostly in minor roles. Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black, American Pie) makes an interesting but bewilderingly brief cameo.

Production: 6/6

Story: 4/6

Emotional Response: 4/6 The film’s deliberate pacing and filtered emotions suit the story, but they result in a film that tends to move at a slow rate that not all will embrace.

Overall: 5/6 Publicity stresses the realistic depiction of space travel and, visually, it looks right. Certain elements seem off or, at least, unexplained. This interview with Stanford’s Dr. Nicholas Lee gives a good overview of the film’s space science: good, bad, and, ugly.

In total, Ad Astra receives 34/42