There are two breathtaking and heart-stopping sequences from James Gray’s “Ad Astra” (TO THE STARS), the most probable of futuristic dystopias, which will always stay with me:
FALLING: The boys and girls with the right stuff – our hero Roy, played by Brad Pitt, being one of them – are fixing the nuts and bolts on a giant Ozymandian antenna rising from its base on the earth’s surface into outer space. Then, suddenly, there is an atmospheric electric surge (a cosmic burst from the planet Neptune) shaking the bejesus out of the thing and sending whole bunches of our workforce into free fall, Roy, again, being one of them. However, he holds on long enough to judge when to let go allowing him to tumble through the upper atmosphere without hitting anything and permitting him to stay awake long enough to pull the cord on his parachute, changing his head-over-heals tumble into a beautiful stream and allowing the perfect landing on earth.
THE RESEARCH PRIMATE: EARTH – MOON (THE BRIGHT SIDE OF) – MOON (THE DARK SIDE OF) – MARS -NEPTUNE. That’s Roy’s trajectory to visit his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who has gone AWOL on Neptune. As Roy travels from the moon (dark side) to Mars aboard the spaceship Cepheus, the vessel receives a distress signal from a Norwegian biomedical research space station. Cepheus‘s Captain Tanner (Donnie Keshawarz) insists that they must investigate, overriding Roy’s protests that the mission takes precedence and other ships can respond. Tanner and Roy split up to investigate; what follows is a brilliantly orchestrated and bone-chilling sequence in which we follow Roy through an utterly deserted cabin, except for floating rats and other laboratory animals. Then, as he turns a corner, he discovers a dying Tanner. However, only gradually do we discover WHY he is dying – his hand has just been chewed to pieces by a giant enraged research baboon who has also annihilated the entire crew. Roy just barely manages to avoid the same fate. But then there is a second one….