Nihilo Ex Astra A Review of “Ad Astra”

 BY JOSEPH HA

In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt plays an astronaut named Roy Mc- Bride, whose famous astronaut father, H. Clifford Mc- Bride (Tommy Lee Jones) goes missing during a mission to Neptune to find extraterrestrial life. The opening scene depicts mysterious power surges in the near future that afflict Earth and wipe out all its technologies. Roy discovers that Clifford may still be alive, and the potential source of the life-threatening power surges. He is then sent on a topsecret mission to Mars, where he attempts to communicate with Clifford to determine his location and destroy his ship to stop the power surges. A journey of dangerous adventure, and self-discovery, as Roy shows his emotional vulnerability, even as he discovers negative parallels between his father and himself.

“Ad Astra” means “to the stars” in Latin. If I were writing a snarkier negative review, my greatest joke would be that this film didn’t reach its destination. However, this sci-fi tale’s quality reached the heavens and beyond smoothly. The film’s best moment occurs when Roy tries to get a response from his father on Mars and gains a reply only after he goes off script and sends an emotional message. It’s a nice visualization of love transcending space and time from which “Interstellar” would’ve benefitted.

But no matter how well-crafted “Ad Astra” is, it brings nothing new to the sci-fi genre, mainly due to how human-centered it is. Of course, it’s normal to see cinematic stories focus on humans and their problems, but sci-fi is unique in that it can transcend humanity and focus on entities and phenomena found beyond Earth. However, sci-fi on the screen hasn’t lived up to this potential. For instance, the aesthetics around aliens’ appearance in films like “Star Wars” or “E.T.” have been surprisingly anthropomorphic, and sometimes extraterrestrials are quite literally humans who live on other planets. At least “Ad Astra” is honest about how human-centered it is, as the data gathered by Roy declare that humanity is alone in the universe. Given this, it would have been nice to have the film’s subtitle be “Nihilo Ex Astra,” meaning “nothing from the stars.”

In other words, if you are looking for a well-crafted film with excellent performances, then “Ad Astra” is the movie for you. But for sci-fi enthusiasts looking for a sci-fi film that isn’t human-centered, it’s best for now to stick to classics like “Alien,” “The Thing,” or “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

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