(Release Info London schedule; September 18th, 2019, Vue West End, 3 Cranbourn St, Leicester Square, London WC2H 7AL, UK, 20:00 pm)
A sci-fi thriller set in the future, "Ad Astra" stars Maj. Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) as an elite astronaut who travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) and unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of our planet. His journey will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos.
In the future, astronaut Maj. Roy McBride is leading a team building the world’s largest antenna, designed to locate advanced alien life, when a sudden power surge almost costs him his life. This incident is the latest in a long line of recent catastrophes taking place on Earth, including fires and plane crashes, caused by electrical surges that have been happening due to radioactive bursts. U.S. intelligence believes that these bursts are a result of cosmic rays emanating from explosions that happened near 'Neptune' from 'The Lima Project', a long-ago mission whose ship disappeared in deep space 16 years after launching. The idea of 'The Lima Project' is that they would be far from 'The Sun' so it's magnetic field would not upset any instrumentation and they would be able to look with great accuracy at the reachable 'Universe' and check for all kinds of planets. The drive is to see if they could find signs of intelligent life. The commander of the Project was Roy’s father, Clifford McBride, a legendary astronaut who’s been missing for 16 years. Even though Roy hasn’t seen him since he was 16 years old, Roy has always idolized him, while inheriting his incredible tolerance for risk and his belief that the answers to all of life’s physical and metaphysical riddles lie in deep space. But Clifford had been a distant parent and husband and his neglect helped make Roy solitary and remote, closed off from relationships, repressing all emotions positive and negative. 'United States' government officials come to Roy and tell him that his father, whom he thought was long deceased, is alive and out at the edge of the solar system. Roy has got to communicate with him.
They've to find him because he might be doing something horrifying, committing potential acts of terrorism in the rings of Neptune. They want to use Roy to lure him out of silence. You can imagine what that must be like for Roy. For 16 years you’ve thought your father was dead and all of a sudden, he might be alive and out there doing something destructive. To arrive at 'The Lima Project', Roy must first travel from 'Earth' to 'The Moon' via commercial shuttle and then transfer to a remote base to meet 'The Cepheus', the spacecraft that will take him first to 'Mars'. There, he will attempt to contact his father via a secure direct laser link, and, if successful, then on to 'The Lima'. Accompanying Roy on his journey is Col. Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), a retired 'SpaceCom' astronaut and one of his father’s oldest friends. Pruitt tells Roy, who he’d previously met when Roy was just a kid, that his last conversation with Clifford, many years earlier, had not been pleasant; Clifford became angry when Pruitt told him he was leaving 'SpaceCom'. Their flight to 'The Moon' is uneventful. 'The Moon' has become a series of highly developed outposts colonized by people from various countries from 'Earth', who, as on Earth, quarrel over resources. However, the areas in between these outposts are as lawless as 'The Wild West'. On their way to 'The Cepheus', they’re attacked by lunar pirates and renegades. If you look at the history of human endeavor, our species can’t seem to get past ideological squabbles. So we've a 'Moon' that’s filled with pirates because of the valuable natural resources there along with potential hostages they can hold for ransom.
This is a future that has both problems and promise. Their military escort is killed and Pruitt is seriously hurt in the attack. Unable to continue on, Pruitt passes on to Roy a highly-classified video from 'SpaceCom' revealing top secret intelligence about 'The Lima Project'. After being away in space for so long without any discoveries, the scientists had become disillusioned. Half the crew wanted to return to 'Earth', but Clifford, would have none of it. As each faction tried to wrestle control of the ship, some kind of meltdown occurred with the anti-matter that powered 'The Project', releasing electromagnetic pulses which caused the explosions and threatened the entire stability of the solar system with already drastic effects on 'The Moon' and 'Mars'. Having lost his mind, Clifford executed the dissenters for mutiny, and since then has been hiding out in space. From the videotape, Roy realizes that the real goal of his mission is to quietly coax his father out of the darkness, so that the government can assassinate him and destroy 'The Lima Project' without the public knowing. Aboard 'The Cepheus' with a crew of four, Roy is annoyed when Captain, Lawrence Tanner (Donnie Kershawarz), insists on responding to an 'SOS' signal from a nearby Norwegian biomedical and animal research ship, 'The Vesta'. Roy reluctantly agrees to accompany Tanner onboard 'The Vesta', where they encounter no signs of human life but an enraged research baboon in zero-gravity that kills Tanner. Roy manages to eradicate the beast and make it back to 'The Cepheus'.
Approaching Mars, Roy has to take over the controls when they experience a loss of power during landing and Tanner’s second, Lt. Donald Stanford, (Loren Dean) freezes up. Upon arrival, Roy is met by Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga), 'The Superintendent Of The American Section' on Mars, before he’s quickly escorted to the secure laser link to contact 'The Lima Project'. Roy’s first attempt at reaching his father, reading a statement prepared by officials, is unsuccessful, but after delivering an unscripted informal message, he’s informed that he will not be continuing on the mission because he’s too close to the subject and poses too much of a psychological risk. They will send 'The Cepheus' crew instead. Frustrated and angry, Roy turns to Helen, who confesses that, like him, she too was orphaned by 'The Lima Project', that her parents were among the scientists murdered by Clifford when they wanted to return to 'Earth'. She tells him that 'The Cepheus' is being loaded with nuclear munitions in order to assassinate Clifford and destroy 'The Lima'. Knowing that it’s Roy’s destiny to complete his journey, Helen leads him to an underground lake where he can gain entry to 'The Cepheus'. Making it aboard just in time, Roy must face off with the crew who have been ordered to terminate him. Following a zero-gravity fight to the death, Roy continues on to 'Neptune' alone, a trip of 79 days, 4 hours and 8 minutes. Anxious to confront his father, Roy is no longer the emotionally repressed, unsociable man he was when he began his mission. He’s had enough of his solitary existence in space. He’s ready to try exploring human connections on 'Earth'. There’s a new passage in his life that’s taking hold.
We see Roy at this point in his life where this is no longer working for him, and he’s becoming aware of it. And that's set against finding out that his father may still be alive. Roy as an extension of practically everybody, who's headed somewhere, but not exactly sure where. Roy is thinking he knows what he wants and even got a little of it, but there’s something seriously lacking. There’s a hole that needs to be filled inside and he can’t verbalize it yet. So, the whole point of the movie is, how to fill that hole. It’s really about his solitude, about how alone he's, about how he has all this information he can’t communicate to these other people, about how he doesn't know them, and about how that’s how everybody wants it. The more connection there's, the more risk there's, the more risk to the mission, the more risk there's to him personally. And so, he meets these other people, but doesn't care about their reality. Roy feels fully alive when he’s up on top of the Earth’s atmosphere, when he’s away, when he’s exploring. That’s when he feels alive. And he has a relationship with this woman, Eve (Liv Tyler). Eve, is Roy’s former partner, shown primarily in flashbacks. She's cares about him and he seemed to care about her but he’s got something, a block in him, that makes him push her away. And it’s caused by his father abandoning him years ago led to his inability to have intimacy in his life, just like his father.
So he’s not just alone, but a loner. Someone who, in a way, prefers it. At least it in the first half of the movie, and has to deal with his own issues, and actually, if you can’t express things to people, if you've to keep things a secret, that’s a huge cause of anxiety, not being able to reveal yourself to anyone or anything. All through his assignment, Roy is monitored, and not only for his vitals. The idea is to chart his psychological state, and let’s be honest, in such a circumstance, there’s this potential catastrophe, there’s this struggle to get to know who your father was, and of course, all this is against the back drop of having to leave 'The Earth', having to leave terra firma. So, that’s a whole lot for a person to try to absorb, and he kinds of breaks a little bit. The risk to his psychological state is even greater than his physical state. Along the way, Roy realizes that he’s sort of turning into his father, and he has to stop that. He doesn’t want to be his father; somebody that escapes his humanity. And he finally is determined to return to Earth and become a father and a caring, connected human being, a man who's not afraid of intimacy with other people. Clifford is a sort of an Ahab figure. That he had become obsessed with his white whale of trying to find all the cute little aliens that were going to bail us out and provide us with answers.
Roy’s father, Clifford, wants to be the first person to discover meaningful life outside of our planet and years and years have gone by and most of the people in 'The Lima Project' had become disillusioned thinking that there’s no signs of life. Clifford is a great astronaut, an explorer, who becomes a dangerous man. A lost man. He's a vain man, and he’s determined, he’s not going to give up. He’s going to stay there even after the last member of his team is dead and is going to keep looking for life outside of 'Earth'. He clearly doesn’t care about anything on 'Earth'. He doesn’t care about the lives of his own fellow scientists aboard 'The Lima Project' nor anything else. To provide insight and information to Roy about Clifford’s real nature and intentions, the film creates the character of Col. Pruitt, an old friend of Clifford’s who’s assigned to accompany him on his mission. Pruitt knows what has happened to Roy’s father and what 'SpaceCom' really intends to do, and represents the kind of human connection Roy has learned to live without. Pruitt can’t go on the journey with Roy. You want him to go, you want him to be a kind of protector for Roy in some way, but he’s weak, he can’t do it.
Helen Lantos is very much a root of the human experience, even though she doesn’t appear very much in the film. For Helen, a woman born and raised on 'Mars', you needed an emotionality, a connectedness. Roy’s meets Helen in an underground dwelling, represents a turning point for him. She's sort of a flip side of him. She represents somebody who has also been orphaned by people on 'The Lima Project'. She was orphaned on Mars and left there at a young age when her parents enlisted to go on Clifford McBride’s expedition. And she had a lot of hurt and anger about that, but unlike Roy, she didn’t really bury it. She’s been dealing with it and living with it throughout every day of her life and Roy sees that in her. She’s concerned for the other people there. Nobody tells her anything. Roy is the only person that’s ever been honest with her. She, in turn, is actually honest with him. He doesn't have many of those people in his life. But there's this bond between them, and although it’s not romantic, that’s what leads him to acts of desperation, and it’s what leads her to help him board 'The Cepheus' to 'Neptune', even though it will undoubtedly cost her job and perhaps worse.
The script is very existential and not your typical sci-fi outer space movie. The design is always rooted in something tangible that we can understand. There are a lot of details of 'The International Space Station' and people living in tight claustrophobic spaces. There's no cruise ship fantasy vision of the future. For a film that takes place mostly in outer space, "Ad Astra" has very little green screen and 'CGI' work. All the monitors, the cockpits, and the backings are practical, which fit the aesthetic and feel for the movie. We've 'The Moon' as more or less a very highly developed series of outposts. The main lunar concourse and tunnels are all polished concrete and rough-faced concrete. Then on 'Mars', which is sort of the last manned outpost for the film, we look at images of a scientific outpost in 'Antarctica' today. 'The Mars Communication Center', the rotunda takes on an atmospheric color that's sort of an orangey-gray light with some fog to enhance the sense that it's humid and damp. It has a fairly neutral clean palette with tones of gray and brown, because the film reserves color for Mars. The lighting feels and looks like being in a humid incubator.
When you do a period movie, not everything should be from that moment in time. Early on we've an expression; look to the past to see the future. The film includes things from different time periods to represent the idea of new technology colliding with things from the past. What you won’t see in "Ad Astra" are futuristic gadgets and weapons. We’re taking a little step backwards, with people still using paper, still using old systems of communication. The most futuristic item we've is a little, clear scanner because the screens will be transparent and project information on them. When you think about costumes for a science fiction movie, it’s one of the great challenges because the clothing gets dated instantly, no matter how artistic you get with a zipper or pocket. Finding a way to make it banal and ordinary yet 100 years in the future, which is difficult because the results have to be totally invisible. The space suits are very close to what 'The Apollo Crew' wore, which is why they're completely different from those in current space movies where they've been totally invented. Space suits come complete with a cooling system, materials that expand and contract from pressure, and of course a computer. There’s an entire world inside that space suit. People are wearing what they should be wearing, which is hard in a science fiction movie.
This film is inspired by Joseph Conrad’s 'Heart Of Darkness' How would that be if you had nothing to lose and you're in deep space. There’s no end to what experiments you might be willing to undergo or to perform. The idea is to have a character on a transformative journey. Like '2001: A Space Odyssey' which has 'The Homeric Odyssey' sort of imbued within it. There have been so many great films made in the science fiction genre, but how many of them are there that move you? It's the opposite of most space travel movies that offer a somewhat positive view which results in meeting aliens, intelligent life that are benevolent or at least interesting enough to involve us. What if there’s nothing? What if there’s a kind of emptiness out there that we can’t even grapple with. The film explores the fact that as human beings, we’re not really meant to be in space. We’re not designed to be floating around 250 miles outside the atmosphere. We’re not built for that, and we’re never going to be built for that. And that's going to have a cost. Either we’re not alone in the universe, or we're, and both are equally terrifying.
What's vulnerability? What's strength in a man? Where does strength really come from? True confidence comes from we as individuals being able to acknowledge our foibles, our shortcomings, our insecurities, and instead of hiding or trying to cover that to actually be very open. A lot of us now are looking at maybe making a sustainable human presence on another planet in our solar system, and specifically the red planet, and thinking about all the wonderful utopia that it might be. And that we've to consider, what if it turns out that it’s not a utopia. What if it’s a dystopia? And what if we can break the bonds of gravity and with our rockets and that advanced technology transport humanity to another planet, but we take our human failings along with us? What if it doesn’t turn out well. This idea of space travel is both beautiful and horrifying at the same time. We're hugely in favor of space exploration and missions to 'Mars'. But sometimes exploration is also a means of escape.
People have to understand that at some point it's incumbent on us to both cherish exploration and to cherish 'The Earth'. 'The Earth' and the human connection are worth preserving at all costs. This movie isn’t the future, it’s a future. This story is not necessarily the future we think is going to happen, it’s not a predictive movie. It’s just a film about what could happen if space exploration continued and we populated 'The Moon' and 'Mars' and beyond. This movie is almost an extension of the ‘60s and ‘70s space technology, as if it had progressed, jumped into the future without most of the things that most of today’s science fiction movies are made of. The film tends to view progress in a mostly optimistic way and is resistant to present a dystopian future in which everything is terrible. Neither it's a movie that says in the future everything will be incredible and great. It will be more or less like we live now, but with a few more gadgets.