Imagine the taglines in the movie ads: “Really good” portrayal of zero-gravity! “Absolutely” better than George Clooney!
There’d be some justification for Brad Pitt’s space movie, “Ad Astra,” to use those lines after today’s Earth-to-space video call between the A-list Hollywood star and NASA astronaut Nick Hague, who’s finishing up a six-month tour of duty on the International Space Station.
Pitt said the linkup, arranged through NASA, was a “real treat.” And he didn’t waste any time getting a film review from Hague, who watched an advance screening of “Ad Astra” with his crewmates on the station.
“Now that I have you all the way up at the space station, let’s talk about me,” Pitt said. “How’d we do? How was our zero-G?”
“I gotta tell you, it was really good,” Hague said as he floated amid the trappings of the station’s Destiny laboratory module. “The depictions, the settings, as you can tell, look very similar to the type of setting I’ve got around me.”
Toward the end of the talk, Pitt pushed his luck even further when he referred to George Clooney, who starred with Sandra Bullock in the 2013 space thriller “Gravity.”
“I need to call on your expertise: Who was more believable? Clooney or Pitt?” he said.
“You were, absolutely,” Hague said with a smile.
The reality checks from space enthusiasts flew fast and furiously when “Gravity” came out, and “Ad Astra” is sure to bring a similar response. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the film plays fast and loose with realities including the time required for a rocket ship to get to Neptune and back, the effects of a nuclear blast, communication delays due to light-speed limitations … and the fact that in space, no one can hear you scream (or hear even the muffled blast of a gun).
On a cinematic level, you’ll love “Ad Astra” if you love watching a brooding Brad Pitt go about his angst-filled business. But if you’re expecting star turns from the likes of Liv Tyler or Natasha Lyonne (the Emmy-nominated actress from “Russian Doll”), you may be disappointed.
“Ad Astra” is all about Brad. Most of the other actors, including Donald Sutherland, are like characters in a video game who help the hero make his way to the final showdown with the Big Boss (played here by Tommy Lee Jones).
The movie’s vibe certainly resonates with some reviewers: Forbes’ Scott Mendelson calls it “an interstellar version of ‘Apocalypse Now,’ with the scope of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ along with the tone and inner monologue of a stereotypical Terrence Malick drama.” Insider’s Kirsten Acuna hails Pitt’s character as “a mix between Joe Cool and James Bond.”
If you’re not a fan of Brad Pitt, the biggest reason to see “Ad Astra” in the theater is to feast your eyes on the space scenery, ranging from Earth imagery to views of the moon, Mars, Saturn and other celestial locales.
NASA talked up the imagery angle in advance of today’s close encounter with Pitt.
“We reviewed a script of ‘Ad Astra’ early in production,” Bert Ulrich, the agency’s liaison for film and TV collaborations at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release. “Although there was no NASA storyline, we provided some of the exciting images and footage for the film, especially of the moon and Mars. Sci-fi films like ‘Ad Astra,’ ‘The Martian,’ ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Gravity’ take movie audiences out of this world incorporating some of NASA’s most inspirational photography and footage.”
Inspiration was a big theme in Hague’s comments to Pitt as well.
“What you’re able to do through storytelling to inspire the next generation is so critical to the success of our programs in the future,” the 43-year-old astronaut said. “I am not going to be the person that steps foot on Mars, but the children that are watching your movies, those young adults that are watching your movies, are the ones that are going to be inspired to achieve great things.”
Here are some tidbits about life in space that Hague shared with Pitt:
- The space station’s six crew members work a 12-hour daily shift, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the GMT time standard. There’s no “night shift” for the crew in space, but there’s a “massive team on the ground that is controlling about 95% of what happens on the space station, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
- Pitt wondered how the astronauts kept their mental state at peace during long-term spaceflight. “One of the luxuries I think we have, working in low Earth orbit, close to the Earth, is the amount of connectivity that we have — the ability to make phone calls and check in on a routine basis,” Hague replied.
- Hague demonstrated that he really was in zero-G by flipping upside-down during the Q&A. He noted that the usual calluses on the bottom of his feet have gone, but now he has “calluses across the top of my foot, around my big toe,” because that’s where he hooks his toes onto the footholds mounted on the station’s walls.
- “Most important question: Who controls the jam box?” Pitt asked. Hague said the station’s crew members take turns choosing the playlist for on-orbit tunes. Pitt joked that some of Hague’s crewmates probably want him to ease off on the country and western music. “There’s that,” the Kansas-born astronaut replied, “and to have me stop telling my bad ‘dad jokes.’ “