Just how accurate do space movies have to be when it comes to science? Following the release of James Gray’s “Ad Astra” last fall, the film came under fire by the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson for containing numerous scientific inaccuracies. NBC News published an essay titled “What ‘Ad Astra’ and Brad Pitt Get Wrong About Space Travel,” while Esquire magazine fact checked the film and called out the impossibility of an astronaut space-walking through the rings of Neptune. For Gray, these scientific criticisms are as bogus as they are silly.
During a recent Instagram live interview with his producer Rodrigo Teixeira (see the video below), Gray admitted all of the talk that centered on the scientific inaccuracies in “Ad Astra” troubled him because they were missing the point about the kind of story he was telling in his space epic. “Ad Astra” stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut who sets out on a mission across the solar system to find out what happened to his disappeared father.
“We were trying to do a kind of fable or a myth in space,” Gray said of the film. “There are people who criticize your films, and a lot of times to my face they say things. It’s pretty funny. The assumption is you are a director and everybody lies to you. That’s not true in my case. Everyone comes up to me and is like, ‘You know what I hate about your movie is…’ A lot of the times they make a good point, but one of the things that troubled me about ‘Ad Astra’ was when people said, ‘Well, in the actual science his hair would be floating in zero G or he wouldn’t be able to sail through the rings of a planet.'”
“To me, it’s a very fatuous level of critique,” Gray continued, “You don’t read the myth of Icarus and say, ‘Wax on feathers wouldn’t allow you to fly.’ Of course that’s true, but it’s all about metaphor essentially. I felt that we were trying to get at, and [cinematographer] Hoyte van Hoytema understood, something mythic, almost like a fable. He lit the film in that way. It’s a visually arresting movie. I’ve had people tell me they don’t like the movie but they remember how it looks completely. It’s a lot due to Hoyte’s boldness.”
The story of “Ad Astra” was so much more important than the science for Gray that he openly messed with science in order to sustain the emotional beats of the narrative. When Brad Pitt’s character cries during a climactic emotional breakthrough, his tear rolls down his cheek when in reality it would begin floating in zero gravity. Gray revealed last year that Pitt pushed for the scene to remain scientifically accurate, but Grey told his actor, “Sorry, I’m keeping it. The acting’s too good, buddy.”
Next up for Gray is the family drama “Armageddon Time,” which is set to star Cate Blanchett, Oscar Isaac, Robert De Niro, and Anne Hathaway. Watch Gray’s full interview with Rodrigo Teixeira in the video below.
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