Venice Film Festival: First Reactions Describe James Gray’s ‘Ad Astra:’ “Melancholic, Terrifying, Sensational”

Photo by Francois Duhamel - © Twentieth Century Fox

James Gray‘s “Ad Astra” world premiered at the Sala Darsena at the 76th Venice Film Festival Thursday morning. Press attendees came out of the screening raving about the film, collectively describing it as “atmospheric, melancholic and awe-inspiring.”

The film stars Brad Pitt on a voyage to space where the solar system’s mysteries keep his missing astronaut father out of reach. The film also stars Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland.

The press conference for “Ad Astra” featured Pitt, Gray and Tyler. In an article written by Elsa Keslassy for Variety, Pitt talked about how the space odyssey film touches on personal masculinity:

“In retrospect, what James and I were digging at was that definition of masculinity,” Pitt said at a news conference, alongside Gray and co-star Liv Tyler. “We’ve both grown up in an era where we were asked to be strong…and there is a value in that, but [also a] barrier because you’re hiding some of those things you feel ashamed of. We all hide and carry individual pain and wounds.”

“The story is so delicate and we knew that any clips, voiceover could tip the film over, make it too obvious, so it was a constant effort to try to maintain a balance and keep this story unfolding in a very subtle and delicate way,” he said.

For Reuters, Marie-Louise Gumuchian also reported from the film’s press event, detailing Pitt’s companion advice exchanged with fellow actor George Clooney, who starred in Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 space drama, “Gravity.”

Venice is no stranger to screening space movies, having previously premiered the Oscar-winning “Gravity”, starring Pitt’s regular co-star and friend George Clooney, as well as “First Man”, about the 1969 moon landing.
Asked if he had exchanged any space movie tips with Clooney, Pitt referenced the process of hanging from wires during such shoots, saying: “George and I exchanged some discomfort stories.”

For Variety, Owen Gleiberman wrote that Gray’s new film tackles the epic space elements with a “surefire hand and a sense of detail, pace, and control that are notably accomplished, if not quite Kubrickian.” He continues:

“Ad Astra” is a Latin phrase that means “to the stars,” and in case you’re wondering where all this is heading, the answer is Neptune, but the real answer is: toward a standard drama of pain, tears, and reconciliation. In “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” Leonardo DiCaprio cried. In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt cries. The movie’s tagline should have been, “In space, no one can hear you cry about your absent-daddy issues.”

Yet what would help it more is if the movie had a genuine wow factor baked into its retro sci-fi aesthetic. I hope James Gray, as a director, continues to explore uncharted worlds, but even his cult of fans may find it hard to get too excited over a movie that, beneath its eye-candy space trappings, is this conventional.

© Twentieth Century Fox

Candice Frederick of The Wrap explores the lack of empathy in Roy’s humanity in her review and how at its core, it is a family drama. In a tweet, Frederick expressed that she loved “Ad Astra. She writes in her review :

On one hand, he’s supposed to be distant from people because his job requires routine psychological testing that monitors his ability to maintain a flatlined emotional state, but on the other, Roy is a human and lives on Earth, where people like his wife, Eve (Liv Tyler), a character so marginalized she’s often reduced to a blurry image on screen, have to bear the brunt of his aloofness.

This film is brilliantly cast by Douglas Aibel (“After the Wedding”), with Jones delivering one of his best performances in years as a man so utterly dislodged from reality that he regards an unearthly abyss as his true home. He’s unforgiving, morose and terrifying at the same time.

First reactions to Gray’s latest first began to pour out of Venice on Twitter:

“Ad Astra” is produced by New Regency Pictures and Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment. Twentieth Century Fox is distributing the film. It releases in US theaters September 20.

What do you make of the early reactions for “Ad Astra” out of the Venice Film Festival?” Share your thoughts below!