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IMAX Review: Ad Astra – “Space Pirates, Space Monkeys and quiet moments of contemplation”

Ad Astra hit cinemas this week and Amanda has already reviewed it here. In her review she said to see it on the biggest screen you could, so yesterday I headed off to the IMAX at the Odeon in Liverpool ONE and watched Brad Pitt head into space.

Directed by James Gray (Lost City of Z), the film is set in the near future and features Brad Pitt as Roy, an astronaut who is always calm and focussed to the detriment of his personal life. He is unable to make lasting connections or show his emotions. Very similar to Neil Armstrong as seen in the recent First Man. He is tasked with tracking down his father after strange energy pulses begin causing storms and knocking out electrical systems on Earth. Roy’s father, played by Tommy Lee Jones, headed out to Neptune on a mission years before but contact was lost. The basic set-up is similar to that of Event Horizon.

What follows is Brad Pitt heading to the Moon, to Mars and beyond. Basically Hearts of Darkness or Apocalypse Now meets 2001: A Space Odyssey. It even has Pitt doing a Martin Sheen Apocalypse Now style voice over. On the way, he encounters Space Pirates, Space Monkeys and quiet moments of contemplation. He is also joined by a great supporting cast that includes Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and lots of other familiar faces.

These other characters join Roy for only part of the journey and then leave him when he heads onto the next leg. To be honest, I did feel this became a bit repetitive. Roy would meet one or two new people who would help him on his journey. They would then either die or have some excuse not to go any further. I understand the need to have Roy take the journey alone, but it just happened over and over again.

The quiet contemplation of the film seems to be the main point of the film, but the moments of action (which are very cool – I’m looking at you Moon Rover scene) do seem a little out of place within the context of the film. At times I was wondering whether they were actually happening or whether it was meant to be Roy’s imagination kicking in, but I don’t think they were. I did like the nod to Project Mayhem and the Space Monkeys from Fight Club, but it did take me out of the film a little.

The score was absolutely wonderful and the sounds of rocket engines and ambient electronic noises were full of rumbling goodness. However, there were quite a few times where I could not make out everything that was being said. I’m not sure whether this was because the characters were talking quietly or the sound mix was a little off, but it meant I did miss a couple of things. This mainly occurred during the segment on the Moon when they were talking about the politics of the situation and the reason why they had pirates tootling about in Moon Rovers.

Pitt reminds us why he is such a brilliant actor throughout the film. Roy is totally buttoned-down, to begin with, but as the film progresses the cracks begin to show. Pitt does this with just the smallest movement, a glance, a slight tremor in his brow, and with the camera close-up to his face, you see every little emotion. There are wonderful scenes of him on Mars as he sends a message that is just a masterclass in acting. His Roy is both supremely capable and calm yet also vulnerable and broken.

The voice-over, on the whole, was pretty good. I always feel that they are hard to get right. You want them to enhance what is happening on the screen, but don’t want them to be major exposition dumps. They manage to almost get the balance right. Thinking about it afterwards, if there was no voice-over I am not sure whether it would work. Pitt actually has very few lines of dialogue as Roy on screen so the viewer could feel a bit lost without the voice-over keying us into what he is going through.

The visuals are absolutely stunning. Some of the best space scenes I have ever seen and they looked even more incredible in IMAX. You feel as if you are out in space with Roy. The space antenna sequence from the opening was just jaw-dropping on the drive across the Moon and the sight of the Earth, that little blue marble, was awe-inspiring. In fact, despite what I said in the previous paragraph, you could probably remove all dialogue from the film and just pump up the score and let those beautiful visuals wash over you. It would be a different experience but could work.

I could see some people being a little bored in places, especially as some of the marketing plays up the action sequences which is a little misleading. This is one of those thought-provoking sci-fi films that stays with you.

The film also saw me leaving the cinema with a feeling of hope, which is always good to feel.

It is not quite as clever as it thinks it is and is a small story told on a grand scale. Yet it looks absolutely beautiful and is worth seeing on the big screen as it is a proper cinematic experience.

The IMAX release of Ad Astra is in cinemas NOW and will be digitally re-mastered into the image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience® with proprietary IMAX DMR® (Digital Re-mastering) technology. IMAX remains the premier destination for space exploration cinema and only in IMAX cinemas will audiences experience the full vision and vastness of director James Gray’s outer space adventure.

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