I’ve sure been getting tired in recent years of the constant sequels and reboots.
Aren’t you? All the remakes and reimaginings that seem to come out of Hollywood every single week now, sometimes two a week! It’s rare in this day and age to get anything out of the studio system that’s remotely original, and when something does break through, like last week’s Hustlers, it’s practically a miracle.
Just this past summer we got a new John Wick, a new Aladdin, a new Godzilla, a new X-Men, a new Men in Black, a new Toy Story, a new Spider-Man, a new Lion King, a new Fast & Furious, a new Angry Birds, a new Gerald Butler movie where something falls.
And it’s not difficult to see why. Many of these movies do exceedingly well at the box office, even the middling efforts seeing big profits in international markets. Sure, there’s your occasional disaster like X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but look at Aladdin, Lion King, Toy Story (pretty much anything Disney gets a hold of) and you’ll see box office receipts in the billions. It’s hard to expect Hollywood to churn out anything but known properties when you see incredible numbers like that.
Even in September, typically a month where few major properties are released, you currently have the blockbuster It: Chapter Two in theaters, and just this weekend saw two films released that have what the box office prognosticators call pre-awareness — a new Rambo (part five, for those of you keeping track) and a Downton Abbey movie, which just became Focus Feature’s biggest opening weekend of all time.
And then there’s a third film that just came out in wide release.
The kind of big-budget studio film that comes around every once in awhile, and that’s Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z). It’s an $80 million dollar movie not based on anything. It’s not an adaptation of a book, it’s not an update of an old TV show or something. It’s something brand new, and just that detail makes it somewhat exciting.
So what is the studio selling this movie on? Solid reviews (currently 81% on Rotten Tomatoes), and Brad Pitt, of course, who just gave one of his all-time great performances in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He’s having something of a moment right now, and why not support him in one more acclaimed film this year?
I do want to go out and support Ad Astra this weekend… and yet there’s something holding me back, and that’s the third element the studio is selling this movie on: the incredibly thrilling space epicness of it all that you must see not on just any screen, but on an IMAX screen! I’m actually lucky to have an IMAX screen ten minutes from my house, and they’re playing Ad Astra this weekend. I guess I could shell out the fifteen bucks if I wanted to.
But what’s stopping me is that the space element of this film in all of Ad Astra’s advertising makes it look exactly like all the other space films we’ve had of late. We’re getting about one a year now, it seems, the space epic becoming its own mini-genre.
Last year was First Man. In 2017 we got Life. In 2016 there was Passengers. In 2015, The Martian. In 2014, Interstellar. Some of these films are better than others, and trust me, I saw them all. But the problem I’ve had with some of these giant space films is that they offer little in the way of surprise and awe, particularly since the most striking one of all arrived to theaters first.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which was released in 2013 and went on to win seven Academy Awards.
That was the one to see on the biggest screen you could find… because there had never been a movie like it in decades, since maybe Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out in 1968. It was as visually impressive as a space film had been in a long while, and it presented a vision wholly original and emotionally rich.
One other feature Gravity had? Sandra Bullock. A giant $100 million dollar budget resting on what is mostly a movie about one person, and it earned $723 million at the worldwide box office. So many actors had been up for the role of Dr. Ryan Stone. Angelina Jolie was almost about to do it at one point, and others considered were Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman (who has her own space film coming out next month, Lucy in the Sky).
Gravity was able to marry the fantastic visuals and almost non-stop suspense with a compelling lead performance of an actress at the top of her game. We all wanted to go on that journey with Sandra Bullock into the great unknown.. but do we necessarily want to experience something similar six years later with Brad Pitt? Every ad I’ve seen is promoting Ad Astra just like Gravity, and I can’t care enough for someone like Brad Pitt stranded in outer space as I was able to care for Sandra Bullock.
I don’t know if studios have more original dramatic thrillers set in space scheduled to come out in 2020, 2021, and beyond, but unfortunately these kinds of films are starting to become just as tired as every other overdone genre, sequel, or remake. Maybe it’s time to give these space movies a rest for a while. Maybe it’s time for some blockbuster original stories to be set, once again, on planet Earth.