Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut in the nearer future, a time when trips to the Moon and to Mars are routine and humanity has started venturing farther out, mining the asteroid belt, and reaching for the gas giants. When Earth is suddenly bombarded by massive and destructive power surges from a mystery energy source at the planet Neptune, McBride is recruited to help. As it turns out, the only person who ever traveled to Neptune was his own father, a decorated astronaut who was the first to reach Jupiter, then Saturn, and finally embarked on a mission to the edge of the solar system, to Neptune, presumably to seek out alien intelligence in the universe. But when he arrived, he and his crew perished and were never heard from again – or were they?
NASA suspects that the elder McBride near Neptune is still alive and has something to do with the power surges that threaten to destroy the earth. In order to communicate with him, NASA recruits his son, Roy McBride, because they think the father is likely to respond to the son. And thus he goes on a long journey.
Ad Astra is the Latin expression for “to the stars.” There nothing about stars in this movie, other than neat special effects of space travel. The entire movie and the ludicrous story that does not make any sense just seem to be an excuse to string together some interesting and effective special effects.
I watch pretty much every “large” science fiction movie because I am interested in space travel and humanity in the future. So I enjoyed the movie, even though it insulted my intelligence every few minutes along the way. There is so much wrong with this story, it’s hard to know where to start.
Warning: Significant Spoilers Below – even though I don’t think they’ll really interfere with your enjoyment of the movie, since it’s such a weak plot anyway.
First the basic premise: NASA recruits Roy for the top secret mission to travel to Mars, via the Moon, to send a message to Neptune to his father, with the option to eventually fly out to Neptune to stop the threat to the Earth. The journey to the moon is equivalent to an airline ride coast to coast for us. It’s all routine. But when they arrive on the moon, for some odd reason, they have to travel by rover overland to another base from where the rocket to Mars is launched. But there are now pirates on the moon, and they prey on travelers and attack them by rover. Everyone is in spacesuits and they are shooting each other up, like in a western, but rather than riding horses, they ride rovers in space suits. I wonder what the pirates are trying to gain. The whole chase is just a useless filler that takes up 5 or 10 minutes of movie time and adds nothing to the story.
Along the way to Mars, there is a mayday call from a research vessel, and the ship stops to try to help. I will spare you with what happens on that research vessel. It again has nothing to do with the movie other than adding some special effects footage and scary scenes. The problem is, how did the chemical rocket they were riding to Mars stop along the way, line up with the stranded vessel and match trajectories so they can board via space suit? And then start up again going on to Mars. The trip to Mars is supposed to take a few days, so the stopping and starting along the way would have taken massive amounts of acceleration that no human could possibly endure. But, it’s a movie, I guess.
Once Roy arrives on Mars, he is guided into a secret sound-proof room where he records a message to his father that is then sent to Neptune via a laser beam. After sending the second message, it appears there is a response. That is quite odd, since Neptune is about four light hours away from Mars, so the round trip of a message would take eight hours. You would not stand there waiting for it. But that’s what it looks like they are doing. Then they decide to send Roy back to Earth because they think he is not psychologically ready to continue with the mission. So explain to me why Roy bothered to travel to the Moon, get attacked and almost killed by pirates, then on to Mars, just to record a message? He could have recorded that message in his living room on Earth and they could have sent it to Neptune.But, it’s a movie, I guess.
He eventually forces his way onto the ship that travels on to Neptune. The trip will take 79 days. Again, massive accelerations and speeds are required to make that happen, and it’s not clear how the simple chemical rocket technology they have accomplishes that. As we observe him on his journey, there are some convenient shots of the ship right in front of Jupiter first, and then a bit later of Saturn, as if the outer planets were all lined up in a straight line and the ship would travel from one to the other. As it is, the planets are spread out all over the solar system, often on different sides of the sun, and a rough alignment only happens every few centuries. It seems to have happened for Roy’s journey.
Neptune has a thin set of rings. Roy put his craft in an orbit right above the plane of the rings, so he has to conveniently dive through the rings to get to the craft of his father. I enjoy thinking about floating in the rings of Saturn, and I wrote this entire post about that. So I enjoyed that scene, even though it was way too contrived. I also got a kick out of how Roy decided to return to his craft through the rings after he loses his shuttle. He uses a sheet metal panel to protect himself against impact of ring particles as the dives through. Then he finally gets back and collides with his own craft due to their velocities not being matched very well. Good scene there.
Finally, when the movie is over, somehow Roy has to travel back to Earth. To do that, he invokes a Deus ex Machina technique: he uses a nuclear explosion to propel him. Somehow the three dimensional vector between the nuclear explosion and his ship is perfectly aligned so the ship travels through the 2 billion miles plus back to Earth and hits it exactly. Yeah, sure!
As you can see, this is a movie for people that do not understand science, know nothing about space travel, and just want to see neat special effects. They might enjoy this
For the geeks, like me, Ad Astra is just silly and a waste of a good opportunity. All that money and technology could have made a good movie and a good story instead.