There seems to be no reason for the title Ad Astra, meaning “to the stars,” to be in Latin, except to highlight writer–director James Gray’s elevated intentions.
“Honor, greetings and blessings to you, conquerors of the moon, pale lamp of our nights and our dreams!” Paul VI exclaimed in his July 21 message to the astronauts on the day after the lunar landing. “Bring to it, with your living presence, the voice of the spirit, the hymn to God, our Creator and our Father.”
Last year’s Interstellar and the previous year’s Gravity follow different paths in a long tradition of asking ultimate questions against the biggest canvas available to our senses, the universe itself.
If you love art and science, and in particular if you love astrophysics, space travel and movies about them, it will be hard not to love Interstellar. By this I mean not that you will be bound to love it, but that you will take it hard if you don’t. A film like Interstellar is a rare event, and if such a film falls short, it stings in a way that the day-to-day failures of conventional Hollywood fare don’t.
Sandra Bullock shines in Alfonso Cuarón’s mesmerizing action thriller in space, a rare Hollywood spectacle with a touch of spiritual awareness.
Gorgeous, nerve-racking, literally awesome, Gravity takes us to a world much nearer in both time and space than Duncan Jones’ Moon; nearer even than the layer of satellites that our mobile phones and GPS devices talk to every day: only about 350 miles away, in the low Earth orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope. Roughly the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco — but oh, that’s far enough.
John Carter in 60 seconds: My “Reel Faith” video review.
Burroughs didn’t invent science fiction, but he perhaps created a genre of serial sci-fi fantasy adventure, with an idealized action hero going from one extraterrestrial adventure to another. Carter’s closest literary ancestor may be Sinbad from One Thousand and One Nights, which is saying something. Buck Rogers, James Kirk and Luke Skywalker are all his descendants, and Jake Sully — the hero of Avatar, which really is a patchwork borrowing from everything Burroughs inspired — is perhaps more indebted to John Carter than any other character in history.
Man’s own shadow, as much as the moon’s, lies across In the Shadow of the Moon, David Sington’s moving documentary of the U.S. Apollo program. An eloquent testament to the grandeur of creation as well as man’s unique place in it, In the Shadow of the Moon offers a remarkable look at the history and technology of the Apollo program, but an even more extraordinary glimpse of the men who lived it and made it happen.
Like the full-sized rocket in Charlie’s barn, the Polishes’ film looks every inch what it seems to be. It’s been compared to a Frank Capra film, though it lacks the dark undercurrent and comedic edge that give Capra’s films their heft and stature.
In an age when we rely on computerized directions and GPS devices to drive to the next town, it seems an almost mythic scenario: brilliant men calculating outer-space trajectories on the fly with pencils and slide rules, keeping life and limb together literally with duct tape, flying to the moon and back simply because they could.
2001: A Space Odyssey doesn’t just depict a quantum leap forward in human consciousness — it practically requires such a leap, on an individual scale, from the viewer. Like the hominid in the first act who looks at a bone and suddenly sees what no hominid has ever seen before, one must watch 2001 in a different way from other films.
Overblown, overwrought, and overdone, Armageddon was a movie on overdrive, fueled by adrenaline and testosterone, lurching along in fits and starts. Eastwood’s film exudes easy charm and never takes itself too seriously; it runs on a slower-burning but higher-grade fuel: the likability and established audience goodwill of the four aging leads (Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner). Where Armageddon merely strutted, Cowboys swaggers. What’s the difference? Style.
At least there’s stuff worth looking at. First-time film director Antony Hoffman has an eye for visuals; and the Martian landscape, shot in an Australian quarry and a Jordanian wadi, is stark and compelling. Then there’s the constantly swiveling, gyrating AMEE, a preposterous plot device of a robot which, in its (or "her") feline grace and unlimited range of free-flowing motion, resembles a high-tech computer-generated cross between Transformers and Battle Cats. I liked the little touches almost as much: the crew uses nifty, collapsible hand-held computers with a flexible, glossy display that pulls out from and rolls up into a cylindrical CPU like a window shade, looking for all the world like something you might actually see in a Macintosh commercial from 2050, when the movie is set.
Talk about the wrong stuff is one officer’s disparaging comment as Willis’ team struts about NASA ostensibly preparing for their mission, hamming it up like class clowns in high school, ridiculing the process, flaunting their lack of couth like a badge of honor all but letting their butt cracks stick out. Yes, in this film the honors science students are obliged to sit back and watch as the shop class saves the world.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.