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James Gray
Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Writing Credits:
James Gray, Ethan Gross

Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition.

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
English Descriptive Audio
Spanish Dolby 5.1
French Dolby 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 124 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date:12/17/2019
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director James Gray
• Deleted Scenes
• “To the Stars” Featurette
• “A Man Named Roy” Featurette
• “The Crew of the Cepheus” Featurette
• “The Art of Ad Astra” Featurette
• “Reach for the Stars” Featurette
• Trailers & Previews


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Ad Astra [Blu-Ray] (2019)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 24, 2019)

Based on its trailers, audiences likely expected a fast-paced action/sci-fi flick from 2019’s Ad Astra. Instead, they got a slower, more contemplative piece.

This might account for the film’s lackluster box office. With a budget of $80 million, Astra took in a mediocre $127 million worldwide.

That total actually seems about right for a story of this one’s nature. Still, given the presence of Big-Time Star Brad Pitt and the broad world-spanning story, I suspect the studio expected more from it.

Set in an unspecified “near future”, strange power surges threaten human life. Authorities discover that these relate to the “Lima Project”, a mission to the edge of the solar system that left 26 years earlier.

Commander Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) led that endeavor, and it went radio-silent years ago. Clifford’s son Major Roy McBride (Pitt) gets the lead to head to Mars and attempt to establish contact with Lima.

Inevitable snarls occur along the way. Roy battles through challenges and finds himself on a mission to regain communication with his long-lost father.

As I mentioned earlier, Astra will let down anyone who expects a rollicking adventure. Much more in the 2001: A Space Odyssey vein, it comes with occasional thrills but doesn’t pursue a true action vibe.

Once I adjusted to the reality of the tale, I found it to be consistently compelling, if a bit confusing. Mainly this related to the science of the whole thing, as it makes space travel awfully fast.

Writer/director James Gray understands the lack of scientific grounding in this. In his commentary, he discusses the potential of space travel that moves quicker than what we can currently imagine, but he gets that the film pushes the bounds of reality.

When I read comments from others, I think they got too hung up on the science, and Gray brought on some of that. As he also mentions in his commentary, he made a statement that Astra would offer the most realistic space travel movie ever, and he acknowledges that this was a dumb claim.

As it develops, Astra really doesn’t want to be taken literally. It's clearly meant to be more of a spiritual journey about how Roy reconciles all the choices he's made with his father's distant influence.

Does it succeed in all those ways? No, but these give it a more introspective feel than most movies.

And I'm not entirely convinced that much of Astra doesn’t consist of Roy’s dream or some near-death fantasy. At matters proceed, elements make less and less sense, and the character survives an awful lot of situations that should kill him.

The filmmakers aren't idiots. They had to understand the absurdity of so much of what they depicted, and I think there's a strong chance we're not meant to take much of it literally.

In addition, some viewers thought Gray aimed for an “intellectual” journey, but I disagree. Even with Gray’s claims of scientific accuracy, I actually don't think the filmmakers were aiming for the intellectual bent that others feel it desired.

I think this is a 99 percent emotional journey and not one that aims to go for that Big Brain on Brad thing at all. Astra presents a man coming to terms with his father's abandonment and legacy while he tries to redeem his Old Man - and save the day.

And I don't think Gray really shot for a grand statement about human existence. I think it's a personal story shot on a grand scale, not one meant to be a Big 'n' Meaningful!

How much of this works will be up to the individual viewer, of course. As someone with an aging father, Astra connected to me in ways that I didn’t expect from a sci-fi flick of this sort. While its flaws keep it from greatness, the movie still offers a pretty compelling journey.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio A-/ Bonus B

Ad Astra appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though generally good, the image came with occasional anomalies.

Sharpness became my only concern, as occasional shots appeared oddly soft. Some came by design, but I couldn’t explain the lack of definition found in others, so I thought these created unexpected distractions.

I saw no jaggies or moiré effects. Edge haloes remained absent, and print flaws failed to mar the presentation.

Astra went with a standard teal and orange palette, though it tossed out some other hues at times as well. The hues displayed appropriate clarity and vivacity.

Blacks seemed dense and dark, while low-light shots boasted nice smoothness and delineation. Outside of the occasional soft spots, this became a positive transfer.

In addition, the film’s DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack fared very well. When the movie stayed with general atmosphere, it felt convincing and immersive, and the chances for greater life blossomed in a satisfying manner. With a lot of space-related elements on display, the soundfield used all the channels in an engaging, engrossing manner.

Audio quality succeeded. Speech remained distinctive and concise, without edginess or other issues.

Music showed nice range and warmth, while effects appeared dynamic and full. We got good low-end response and nary a hint of distortion, as the flick boasted some subwoofer-rocking bass. I thought the audio added a lot to the experience.

As we move to extras, we open with an audio commentary from writer/director James Gray. He brings a running, screen-specific look at goals, themes and influences, story/characters, cast and performances, photography and film stock, sets and locations, production design, and connected topics.

When I screened Gray’s commentary for Lost City of Z, I raved about it, and his discussion of Astra proves this wasn’t a fluke. Once again, Gray produces an absolutely stellar look at his film.

Gray digs into the production with gusto and acknowledges potential mistakes. He can be self-effacing, and he makes sure we get an intelligent view of his decisions. Expect another top-notch commentary from Gray.

Two Deleted Scenes appear. We get “The Void” (1:36) and “Epilogue” (1:49).

“Void” offers a little more related to Pruitt’s experiences, while “Epilogue” adds a bit of a more clear “happy ending”. Both are interesting but neither seems vital.

We can watch these with or without commentary from Gray. He discusses the scenes and why they got the boot. Gray continues to offer excellent insights.

A few featurettes follow, and To the Stars runs eight minutes, 35 seconds. It offers notes from Gray, co-writer Ethan Gross, producer Jeremy Kleiner, and actors Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and Ruth Negga.

“Stars” examines the script and its development, influences, story/characters, themes, and the finale. Though some of this repeats from Gray’s commentary, we get enough new material to make it worth a look.

A Man Named Roy fills eight minutes, 45 seconds with info from Gray, Pitt, Jones, Negga, Sutherland, and Kleiner. “Roy” looks at Pitt’s character and performance. Not as praise-heavy as most clips of this sort, “Roy” doesn’t offer a ton of info but it works better than expected.

Next comes The Crew of the Cepheus, a nine-minute, eight-second piece with Pitt, Gray, Kleiner, Gross, and actors Donnie Keshawarz, Loren Dean, Kimberly Elise and Bobby Nish.

As expected, this reel examines the characters and situations related to the vessel that takes Roy on his journey. It becomes a less than stellar overview.

The Art of Ad Astra spans 11 minutes, 15 seconds and features Gray, Pitt, Kleiner, production designer Kevin Thompson and costume designer Albert Wolsky.

“Art” examines sets and production design, costumes, photography, and audio. Inevitably, some of the content repeats from the commentary – again. Still, we find a nice take on the different technical areas.

Finally, Reach For the Stars occupies seven minutes, 21 seconds and features Sutherland, Jones, Pitt, Kleiner, and technical consultants Robert Yowell and Garrett Reisman.

“Reach” views the movie’s depiction of space travel. It becomes a fairly satisfying discussion.

The disc opens with ads for Lucy In the Sky and Ford Vs. Ferrari. We also get both the theatrical and IMAX trailers for Astra.

Viewers who expect a rock-em sock-em sci-fi adventure from Ad Astra will encounter disappointment. Those who anticipate a moving emotional journey seem likelier to enjoy the tale. The Blu-ray brings generally good picture as well as strong audio and supplements headlined by an excellent commentary. Though not for everyone, I think Astra accomplishes most of its goals.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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