Why Did It Take ‘Ad Astra’ So Long to Make It to Theaters?

Creating a new space epic sounds like a crazy idea in today’s time when it seems movies have already created a final frontier there. If everything made after the late 1970s was considered a bit of a derivative of either 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars, at least some filmmakers have managed to find interesting new places to go in just recent years.

After Interstellar came out in 2016, it seemed there was no place else to explore in the realm of the universe we know exists outside earth’s reality. Little did we know other things were brewing, like Ad Astra, which found more of a human element in space.

If you think it should have been in theaters sooner, writer-director James Gray recently explained what took so long. It turns out waiting so long might have ended any further chance for more cerebral space dramas.

‘Ad Astra’ ultimately turned into our era’s anti-space movie

James Gray at the Ad Astra photocall
James Gray | Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images

Those of you who’ve seen Ad Astra and expected something enlightening about space found out it’s very much pro-human exploration more than adventuring in space. Not that it’s necessarily against going to space to expand our horizons and to place our purpose in the universe into a more astute perspective.

In Ad Astra, we see astronaut Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) search out his father (Tommy Lee Jones) who headed a mysterious project to find intelligent life deep into our solar system. Without giving away details, we ultimately find out some surprising things about humanity rather than alien life.

A vision like this might sound sacrilege to those who expect a space movie to include intelligent civilizations. At the heart of the film is more adventure and realism, something James Gray wanted to accomplish with the proper research and special effects.

According to Gray in a recent interview for Vulture, there were delays because of the immense research involved, the special effects accomplished, plus some unfortunate business merges with the studio involved.

Gray did a good job in his direction, but it didn’t test well initially

All of the research Gray put into Ad Astra was overwhelming, which required interviews with real astronauts and scientists to ensure his vision of space travel was accurate. His goal was to create the most realistic depiction of space travel ever made.

Maybe some will say Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar already accomplished the most recent realistic depiction of space travel, including real visions of what the farthest reaches of space would look like.

When answering the question of why Gray took so long to get Ad Astra into theaters, he cited the extra time needed to edit the film, plus the transition of Disney buying 20th Century Fox.

While Gray says this, there’s also evidence the film didn’t test well when first played to audiences. Reshoots were done as a result, inflating the budget tenfold.

As for the final result, most critics liked it, outside of being a box office disappointment compared to other space epics (like that little franchise called Star Wars). What this means for future space epics forcing you to think probably isn’t good.

Future space movies may stay relegated to ‘Star Wars’ and Marvel

It’s kind of a shame Ad Astra failed at the box office after all the work put in and its intention to bring a positive message about human civilization. One could argue it didn’t do well simply because too many have been conditioned to see an action-based space film in the vein of Star Wars. Also, the 2001 comparisons can’t be ignored, a film continuing to speak for where we are now.

Let’s hope someone still tries to bring something different to space like Gray admirably did. In the immediate future, it might have to be comedy as Netflix’s upcoming Space Force reminds us not everything is so serious in the known universe surrounding earth.