IMO: Science Fiction, Metropolis and Ad Astra

Image result for ad astra

In German class, we are exploring German Expressionism found in film. I showed them the Fritz Lang masterpiece, Metropolis (1927). My students were born after The Matrix CGI made a leap forward. CGI has been a part of their entire lives like cell phones. To show them a silent film made in 1927, and they thought the special effects were cool, and the application of the characteristics of German Expressionism (distortion, exaggeration of human feeling, extreme contrast, horror) was fascinating; I was thrilled that after ninety years, Metropolis still captivates.

Image result for metropolis

When Fritz Lang’s film came out it met with mixed reviews. Favorably, people felt the images and the production design was a character unto itself. They thought it was beautiful in a macabre way. Hence, Metropolis’s effect on future generations is undeniable. Just ask any fan of  Star Wars or Bladerunner.

I saw Ad Astra last weekend in the theater, and I left thinking I had seen a quasi-remake of Apocolypse Now. Tommy Lee Jones was Kurz. Snippets of recordings gave ambiguous meanings to his tracker. Was the fallen angel of the space program crazy and a murderer? I wish Tommy Lee’s character Clifford McBride had lines to say like Kurz:  “I’ve seen horrors, horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror! Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.”

Brad Pitt’s narration reminded me of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen). Narrating his long epic journey from Earth to Neptune, he questions and fears meeting his father, the man the government wants to be assassinated.

The visuals were fantastic. I’m so glad I saw it on the big screen. Like Metropolis, the production design of Ad Astra transported the individual to the future.

However, I left the theater disappointed. The execution of the storyline was bland. I wished for philosophical discussions. I thought there was too much build-up for a weak finish. I wanted more than the overused close-ups of the wrinkled faces of the two leading men. If only they shortened the journey (It was hard to believe he had traveled to Neptune) and gave more scenes to the father-son like Kurtz and Captain Willard. I thought back to Metropolis and realized once again that you can have the best special effects in the world, but without an interesting storyline, it ends up flat. I wanted a biting social commentary.

Of course, this is just my opinion. Metropolis had mixed reviews. And look how it fared over time. Got five minutes? Here, take a look at why:

 

 

30 thoughts on “IMO: Science Fiction, Metropolis and Ad Astra

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  1. Interesting review…I see the trailers for “Ad Astra” and don’t feel excited at all…they throw some “Action” shots in but nothing really suggests it is one, and Pitt’s acting in the trailer is restrained and in many ways “bland” as you describe the film…

  2. A thoughtful take, I totally get your dissatisfaction. The reaction to Ad Astra has been fascinating. So many different reactions. And I think that’s why I really love movies like this — and this one specifically. Lots of people coming at it from different perspectives.

    I only recently saw Metropolis — I think for a Blind Spot feature I committed to a couple of years ago, and I was blown away. That film is really special. A visual delight and the narrative is soo ambitious, it’s amazing it’s pulled off as confidently as it is.

    1. Hi Tom. I was telling Keith that you were in his corner with a highly-positive review. I think you on to something with regard to Ad Astra’s reaction. Wow. Brad Pitt has chosen two contemplative, wide-swinging roles this year. If I were an actor, I would hope that the roles I picked sparked discussion.

  3. More or less any silent film by Fritz Lang is wonderful. You might like “Die Nibelungen”, “Destiny”, “Frau im Mond” and his Indian epics. An absolute master of cinema!

  4. I haven’t seen Ad Astra, and I am in no rush to do so. But I have seen Metropolis many times, and would watch it again tomorrow quite happily. As with the film version of Things To Come (1936) it has a wonderful feeling of prescience, as if both Lang and H.G. Wells could clearly see into the future.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. People are divided over it. I certainly didn’t hate it. Others are enthusiastic about it. It is a film seen once was enough for me. While Metropolis or Apocolypse Now I could (have) see many times.

  5. Saw Ad Astra the other day. I thought it was a pretty good piece of Movie making. Damned with faint praise? I wasn’t bored – that’s for sure.
    What did I take away? That you can’t be alone. That’s a killer.
    I wouldn’t tell anybody not to go.

    1. One other thing that personally grabbed me. A son’s relationship with his father. No matter your father has or may be, you need his Love. He is a God to you. A fallen God perhaps … but you need him so. And the failing and falling of that relationship is a tragedy. To you.

      1. I was thinking when I watched it that this film would resonate more with males than females for precicely this reason. Fathers and sons. Boys growing into men without affirmation from their fathers. Bearing the sins of the fathers. Feeling empty and loss.

  6. Great post 🙂 I have not seen Ad Astra yet, but I am fully aware of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and I am glad that you are introducing student to it. So much to talk about. It is one of Fritz Lang great films that would probably rank somewhere in the 11-20 of his top 20 and beyond great films. Others have beaten me to this, but I think what has made it so influential lies in the ideas it has influenced on succeeding science-fiction films (i.e. Blade Runner). Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    1. Thanks for commenting, John. I’d rank it a lot higher of his best films, but that’s okay. I haven’t seen M in ages and feel like watching Peter Lorre. Nosferatu is coming up for my students…

    1. Interesting. Thanks for sharing. When I get home to Illinois, I’m going to have to take a side trip to MSP and over to Ft. Snelling. My first character has become a “Ruby” who is the daughter of six and there family are Hungarian Jews. She is first generation American. This has brought up a conflicting definition. I double and triple checked and “1st generation” Americans are the children who were born in America from immigrants who came to the country from elsewhere. Yet, when I’m reading about the Nisei, there was referenced made that they, the collective, were second generation. That seems wrong to me.

      1. That is wrong. Nisei is first born.

        ni·sei

        /nēˈsā/

        noun

        a person born in the US or Canada whose parents were immigrants from Japan.

        Powered by Oxford Dictionaries

  7. I haven’t seen Ad Astra yet, but James Gray is one of my favorite filmmakers… The Immigrant, Little Odessa, The Yards, etc., all brilliant movies, all stunningly beautiful films! 🙂

      1. I did find the characters in Gray’s The Lost City of Z “shallow” and “uninteresting,” the only film of his that I didn’t like. So Gray isn’t infallible! 😉

  8. just watched ad astra and agree with you 100%. i was shocked when that firsr apocalypse now scene, willards briefing, stealing every nuance from apocalypse now…then both the narrative voice of pitt.and the taped recordings of tommy lee jones. i coulnt believe how brazen and outright it was. like most of todays space operas, it was 90% empty space, and would have worked better as a 25 minute twilght zone episode. but brad pitt was sure better here than in the tarantino mess. id place it along side the martian as an abve average entry in a genre that has had its worse decade since the 70s. another interesting SF from this year is Aniara . brilliant concept and set design but mediocre script ad unintereting characters.

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