- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Brad Pitt’s stoic machismo permeates co-writer and director John Gray’s sci-fi adventure now greatly enhanced in UHD for home theaters in Ad Astra (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 124 minutes, $45.99).

Call it “2001: A Space Odyssey” meets “Apocalypse Now” as this measured and sometimes too-introspective tale explores the apparent loss of astronaut Capt. Clifford McBride (Tommie Lee Jones) and his crew on an infinite mission called the Lima Project to find extraterrestrial life in the far reaches of space.

Enter his adult son Roy McBride (Mr. Pitt), a cool-as-a-cucumber major in U.S. Space Command, first subjected to a galactic power surge hitting the Solar System that threatens to wipe out all humanity with anti-matter waves potentially tied to his dad’s failures.

Roy is under orders to try and contact his missing father from Mars but ends up illegally boarding a ship on the way to Neptune to not only solve a mystery but also save the galaxy.

The father-and-son drama plays out amid some intense action sequences highlighted by a vehicular battle with space pirates on the Moon, a terrifying distress call from a research ship and a one in a million space jump through the rings of Neptune.

Emotionally heavier than “Gravity,” more grounded than “Interstellar” but not as fun as ” The Martian,” “Ad Astra” still ultimately excels due to Mr. Pitt’s riveting performance and some stunning visuals.

4K in action: As expected, the UHD transfer offers clarity and color depth that allow humans with massive television screens to feel like they are in space.

Specifically, shot on film but finished at 4K, the result means home entertainment fans enjoy the movie at its purest source so that an opening scene of Roy free falling from the International Space Antennae is breath holdingly life-like.

Moments such as astronauts walking or driving on the Moon and Mars or floating through the ring of Neptune are a few defining moments in this visually stunning 2160p presentation of the film. I only wish it was IMAX size for the home theater realms.

Complementing the visual overload is a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that unleashes a room-shaking aural pulse as the power surge attacks the station and an equally jolting sound attack during the various rocket launches.

Best extras: First, Mr. Gray, in an excellent, content-rich optional commentary track, delivers an intimate portrait of his creative vision heard on both the 4K and Blu-ray disc.

Those willing to listen to his “rambling,” as he calls it, will be rewarded with nuggets on filmmaking such as Mr. Jones saying “I love you, my son” at the beginning of the film, looped and distorted to sound like a baby’s ultrasound.

He quickly paraphrases Arthur C, Clarke’s famous statement “either we’re alone in the universe or not and both ideas are equally terrifying” as a governance for his saga while pointedly dissecting “what if we are truly alone” and its use in other space movies.

Mr. Gray touches on the psychology of real astronauts living in space and hammering home his film’s other mission to explore the archetype father-and-son relationship as well as a man’s obsession with containing emotions.

As far as the technical merits of the production, he talks about wanting to deliver onscreen environments that were not technically possible before, his love of traditional film stock (embracing the subtleties of grain structure), and ultimately wanting to make the most plausible version of space travel.

Overall, and by far, it’s one of the most complete and interesting tracks that I have ever heard on a home entertainment release.

The Blu-ray also offers five featurettes (45 minutes in total) covering the story; an homage to producer and actor Mr. Pitt; production design; the harrowing work on the starship Cepheus (including the zero-gravity effects work); and the cast and real astronauts discussing space travel.

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