Opinion: Ad Astra proves Hollywood originality isn’t dead

The sci-fi movie is unique and takes risks, something that the film industry needs to do more often.



Brad Pitt in "Ad Astra" [Francois Duhamel/20th Century Fox]

Peyton Downing, Columnist

It’s no secret that much of what modern Hollywood puts out is either a reboot, remake, or sequel to previous media. It is especially awash with the likes of Star Wars, Marvel films, and others wanting to be like them. However, there is still plenty of talent and imagination to go around. Ad Astra is just one such film that shows originality is alive and well in Hollywood.

Ad Astra, directed by James Gray, is an entirely unique film almost entirely centered on an individual character named Roy McBride. The plot takes a back seat to the development and study of Roy McBride as a character. There’s very little action within the movie, but plenty of self-reflection — something Hollywood hasn’t seen done well in a long time.

This is not to simply praise Ad Astra for being original for originality’s sake. It certainly has a multitude of faults. The plot can be nonsensical. It’s incredibly slow-paced. The ending might not be enough of a payoff. For many people, the list goes on.

But that’s what I feel is special about the film. In a market where it is so easy to shoot for the lowest common denominator and just make a simple, easy action adventure, Ad Astra takes significant risks in its production.

It’s easy to tell it’s taking certain artistic choices that may drive off some people. On Rotten Tomatoes, Ad Astra has an 83 percent for critics and only a 42 percent for audience. I don’t mean to say that if someone doesn’t like this movie, they’re not smart enough to understand the symbolism or artistry behind it. What I am saying is some stylistic choices within the movie appeal to some more than others, and that first segment may be a lot smaller than the latter.

Ad Astra is not the only movie in recent times to come out that’s been original. This year alone, Midsommar, Us, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were all released to great critical acclaim. It’s easy to tell the industry can put out great original movies, and the demand for them is there. There are just not enough people fulfilling that demand.

But there needs to be a balance of what is available in cinema. For too long, the balance has been skewed in favor of sequels and reboots. DI columnist Emily Creery has written about the monotony of sequels and reboots before. In fact, just 39 percent of all movies from 2005 to 2014 were not based in other works, such as books, previous films, or the vague “based on a true story.”

For a medium that has so much unique potential to distinguish itself from others, it is a shame that Hollywood does not take better advantage of that fact by creating more experiences that only cinema can produce.

For this to happen, it’s just not enough to complain. Just as with many other things, we must vote with our wallets. Support smaller movies and skipping out on the next boring blockbuster are good steps to take. If we demand Hollywood take a risk with original stories, everyone needs to make sure we watch them. 

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.