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Josh Reviews Ad Astra

At the start of James Gray’s film Ad Astra, we see astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) working on a space platform in low Earth orbit, when a mysterious “surge” destroys the platform and nearly kills him.  As the mysterious power surges continue to range across the planet, threatening to destroy all human civilization, the U.S. Space Command tells Roy that they believe the surges are connected to the Lima Project, an expedition beyond our solar system to search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.  The Lima Project was commanded by Roy’s father, H. Clifford McBride.  Roy believed that the mission had gone wrong and that Clifford had died, years ago.  Roy is sent on a mission to track down what remains of the Lima Project, and perhaps his father, in order to stop the surges and save the planet.

There’s a lot that I like about Ad Astra, through the film doesn’t quite come together the way I’d hoped.

The film is very quiet and somber.  There is an elegiac tone that hangs over the entire story.  It’s an interesting choice, one that separates the film out from your average sci-fi adventure.  There is an adventure aspect to Roy’s mission, but the film doesn’t treat it as such.  There are a couple of outer-space action sequences — like a fight between moon-rovers speeding across the lunar surface, and an investigation into a derelict spacecraft that turns tragic.  But the film doesn’t lean into the fun or excitement of those sequences.  This film is closer in tone to 2001: A Space Odyssey or Solaris than it is to, say, Apollo 13.  Although I know some people have found the film to be boring, I didn’t see it that way.  I am all for a sci-fi film that is treated more like an adult drama or character-study than an action-adventure shoot-em-up.

Brad Pitt is terrific as Roy, and what works in the film can mostly be said to rest squarely on his shoulders.  Mr. Pitt’s Roy is really the only character that is at all developed in the film.  We follow this story exclusively through Roy, and the film is so internal to Roy’s character that the absence of other developed characters feels like a conscious choice rather than a mistake (though it does nevertheless feel to me like a mistake; more on this in a moment).  But Mr. Pitt is terrific at bringing us into the story, and allowing us to slowly access what’s going on inside this quiet, stoic military man.  A lot of the film is played in close-up, and his face and eyes do a lot of the heavy-lifting.  It’s a powerful performance and a great use … [continued]

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How to edit a movie, starring The Incredible Hulk

In the weeks before Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk opened this summer, there were a lot of stories on-line and in various entertainment magazines about a dispute over the editing of the film between Marvel and star Edward Norton (who played Bruce Banner).  As the tale was told, Norton was fighting for a longer cut of the film that would include more character development, while Marvel wanted a leaner, more action-packed version.  

Ultimately, it seems that the latter is what was released to theatres.  And while I found the film to be fairly enjoyable, it certainly didn’t blow my skirt up the way Iron Man had the month before.  I also found it to be inferior to Ang Lee’s weirder, more cerebral 2003 movie The Hulk.  

But I was intrigued to read that the DVD of the new Incredible Hulk movie would include a significant number of deleted scenes (almost 45 minutes worth).  That’s not the same as having an extended cut of the film to judge, but I was still very curious to check out all of that additional footage to see if I felt those scenes’ inclusion would have strengthened the film.

Well (and I’m not sure if this is good or bad), with just a few exceptions I must report that they would not have.  What we have here is a fascinating study in film-editing.  There isn’t one scene, amongst the deleted footage, that is a complete “thank god they cut that” clunker.  Everything is good, and interesting.  There’s an opening opening to the film in which Bruce Banner tries (unsuccessfully) to kill himself; scenes that show us more of the life Bruce made for himself on the run in Brazil, including how he created the science set-up in his apartment; several additional scenes with Betty’s new boyfriend Leonard (whose presence on-screen suffered the most in the theatrical cut); several scenes with General Ross which shed some more light on why he was so focused on capturing Banner, etc. etc.  It’s all decent stuff.  

Probably the best scene is a monologue by Ross, in which he describes his awe at having seen a glimpse of god (in his encounters with the Hulk), and he compares himself to those great men throughout history who have dared to grasp such power for the good of mankind.  It’s a great moment of acting, and it makes his character a bit less of an evil-for-no-reason villain, while also making him even scarier as we glimpse his passionate dedication to the cause.

And yet, none of these scenes really would have added much of anything to the movie as a whole.  Is it sort of neat to see how Bruce made his … [continued]