A postscript to yesterday’s review on the subject of ‘serious’ SF. (I had written that piece hastily in a Jamie Oliver airport cafe balancing my laptop beside a badly heated poached egg which I didn’t have time to send back again; no wonder he went broke.)
‘Ad Astra’ fell at the first hurdle here because instead of an opening-out, a grand expansion of ideas that unify or coalesce or broaden to encompass humanity and all within or beyond the universe, we have a reduction of what ‘serious’ now appears to mean when applied to Hollywood films; family bonding, ‘closure’, faith, and the endless examination of the self, the self, the self.
While one can think of dozens of great mould-breaking SF writers, I can conjure up only a handful of great SF movies; ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Arrival’, Annihilation’, ‘The Martian’, ‘Close Encounters’, both Blade Runners, ’28 Days Later’, ‘Children of Men’ and ‘Gattaca’ among them, along with some terrifically enjoyable and underrated screen forays that get overlooked; ‘The Omega Man’, ‘In Time’, ‘Soylent Green’, ‘Life’, ‘Orbit 9’ and others. I’ve never been a fan of the ponderous ‘Solaris’ because too many SF movies use space as a metaphor for the human condition in isolation.
Unfortunately ‘Ad Astra’, or perhaps we should just call it ‘To The Stars’, has beneath it’s glittery wrappings a ridiculously pedestrian central story about father-son relationships. It’s a shame because one of the best ideas on display here is left unexplored – that because space travel will be micro-controlled upon the results of psyche-evaluation, we will only ever be government pawns. The film can’t explore this because it would take the story in the opposite direction.
SF is allowed to be a bit ridiculous, of course. There’s something screwy about a great many SF novels from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ to ‘The Stars My Destination’, but we buy in because the central premise allows the author to explore specific themes. I have lately become friends with Christopher Priest, whose books I greatly admire, and he develops his stories from more mysterious starting points – the things we can’t define about ourselves.
There’s a reason why Homer didn’t explore his tale from the point of view of Telemachus – and ‘Ad Astra’ pinpoints it. Although I did like the zero-gravity baboons.