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7 out-of-this-world facts about the new sci-fi drama Ad Astra

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The new sci-fi movie Ad Astra opened at Cineworld cinemas last week, and has been getting rave reviews from those that have seen it. The film stars Brad Pitt as a daring astronaut who travels to Neptune to find his missing father, played by Tommy Lee Jones, and uncovers some powerful truths along the way. 

Speaking of powerful truths, we've uncovered a few nuggets of trivia about the film – check out this little lot... 

1. Director James Gray wanted to make the most realistic space film ever

James Gray has said that his intention with Ad Astra was to make "the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie". To help achieve this, the director and his crew studied real-life photographs taken on the Moon – something that a certain directing legend didn't have access to back in 1968.

"You know, [Stanley] Kubrick, when he did 2001, that doesn't look anything like the lunar surface," Gray told CNN Entertainment. "He got it quite wrong. Now, that's OK, he got virtually everything else right. We had the advantage of having the actual photographs. So the movie's not as good, but at least I have that on Mr Kubrick."


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2. It was inspired by a classic poem

Ad Astra may have been likened to Stanley Kubrik's sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it was actually another Odyssey that inspired James Gray's film: the ancient Greek poem written by Homer.

"The whole M.O. was the Odyssey from Telemachus's point of view," the director told CNN Entertainment. "His father, Odysseus, goes away for 20 years and disappears. He would have to reconcile with that."

3. That weird noise at the beginning of the film is Tommy Lee Jones's voice on loop

As well as starring as Brad Pitt's missing dad in the movie, Tommy Lee Jones was the source of the strange sound that can be heard at the start of the film. The actor mouthed the words "I love you, my son" before the recording was sped up, distorted and looped over and over.

Gray told National Public Radio: "We wanted it to be almost unconscious. It almost sounds like an ultrasound for an unborn baby. It's very weird."


4. Gray played real-life transmissions from space to get himself in the mood

When Martin Scorsese was shooting Goodfellas, he reportedly played Derek and the Dominos' Layla on the set to put himself in the right frame of mind (the track was eventually used in the scene where the dead bodies rack up following the Lufthansa heist). James Gray employed a similar tactic while filming Ad Astra, but swapped Derek and the Dominos for space sounds.

He told National Public Radio: "They can convert the electromagnetic waves that are emitted in space to some version of what you might call a sound wave, and it sounds very creepy.

"It helped me visualise, really, what we can't visualise – the void, the endless void, the infinite; the frightening aspect of that. Because we can't really understand the indifference of that void. And I just found that was very powerful to hear, the electromagnetic waves of the planets themselves. It helped me sort of get inside of that idea of the void, if you will."


5. The Moon Rover chase took three months to film

What with it being nigh-on impossible to shoot feature films in outer space, sometimes it's necessary to come up with alternative locations. And for Ad Astra's Moon Rover chase scene, the crew decamped to one of the world's hottest destinations.

Editor John Axelrad told Inverse: "In the trailer, you'll see this lunar action sequence. That takes place on the Moon, so we went to Death Valley to film it. They shot with infrared cameras, which helped give the sky this very dark colour that visual effects were able to enhance and make it look like the surface of the Moon.

"The challenge with that, not just being there in 120-degree heat in September, was the labour-intensive process. That scene alone took three months or more to really come together. It's important to be patient and have an open mind about how the scene evolves and changes, deviating away from the storyboarding." 

6. Brad Pitt wanted his crying scene edited

Being the top actor that he is, Brad Pitt decided to embellish the climactic scene a little by turning on the waterworks. But after he'd finished crying for the camera, it struck him that tears wouldn't run downwards in zero gravity. Pitt pointed this out to James Gray, but the director was so impressed with how the scene had gone, he refused to change it. "I said sorry, I'm keeping it," he later told Indiewire. "The acting's too good, buddy."

7. Gray thinks we're probably alone in the universe

Discussions about space typically throw up the age-old question: are we alone in the universe? And, despite his obvious interest in the subject, Gray thinks we probably are.

He told CNN Entertainment: "I don't think there's anything out there. If there is, it's far; so far, we'll never get there, or we can't communicate with it. Now, if we are by ourselves, is that a bad thing? Some people think it is. My own view is it's not so bad."

Ad Astra is showing at Cineworld cinemas now. Click here to book your tickets.