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.
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: