Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the stability of our planet. Ralph Potts reviews the Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Ad Astra from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Film:
Extras:
Audio/UHD Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )

95
Details:

Studio and Year: 20th Century Fox - 2019
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Feature running time: 123 minutes
Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama

Disc Format: BD-66
Encoding: HEVC
Video Aspect: 2.39:1
Resolution: 2160p/24

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atoms/TrueHD 7.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland
Directed by: James Gray
Music by: Max Richter
Written by: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Region Code: A


Release Date: December 17, 2019
"The Answers We Seek Are Just Outside Our Reach"
Synopsis:

“Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.” – 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment


My Take:

Thirty years ago, Clifford McBride led a voyage into deep space, in the hopes of discovering extraterrestrial life but, contact was eventually lost with the ship and crew, until a series of mysterious and global threatening power surges have emerged from their last known location near the planet Neptune. Now his son -- a seasoned astronaut -- must embark on a daring mission to Neptune to uncover the truth about his missing father and hopefully stop the power surges before they cause cataclysmic destruction to Earth.

It's strange but, after viewing the teaser trailer for Ad Astra I really had very little idea what the plot was about. I am pretty sure that’s the only trailer I saw so my knowledge of it was limited but, that didn’t keep me from wanting to see it when it came to home video. I am a fan of the genre and like star Brad Pitt so it was pretty much a no-brainer.

Ad Astra is rather interesting as its equal parts science fiction and human drama. Sort of like “Interstellar” in that at its heart its about the relationship between a parent and child. In addition to that we get a pretty solid futuristic sci-fi story that comes complete with excellent visuals, more action than you might expect and a terrific lead performance from Brad Pitt. The Narrative seems rather surface at the onset, until you begin to understand the relationship between Roy and Clifford and how the void left by Cliff’s leaving impacted Roy’s life and outlook. As the film plays out this will become the centerpiece of the story.

This may come as a disappointment to those expecting a film about a space adventure however, that isn’t something that should be held against the film. Initially there is no question that the plot leans in one direction and, that part of the film is quite entertaining, in terms of the whole space adventure feel. Later as the tonal shift takes hold, things noticeably slow down, perhaps a bit too much but, at that point you’re quite invested in Roy and the hope that the answers he seeks await him at the end of his journey. For me, this was the crux of what I liked most about Ad Astra.

I suspect that this film will appeal to some while leaving others scratching their heads. I suppose in that regard it’s a success as a creative work and is worth a look for film fans that enjoy a bit of genre bending.


Replay Value:
Parental Guide:

The rating is for some violence and bloody images, and brief strong language.


AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**


UHD Presentation: 94
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)



  • HDR: Dark Highlights: 
  • HDR: Bright Highlights: 
  • HDR: Expanded Color: 
  • Resolution: 
  • Visual Impact: 



Dolby Atmos Rating: 96
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)



  • Level of immersion: 
  • Soundstage integration: 
  • Audio object placement: 
  • Effectiveness of Atmos platform: 
  • Entertainment factor: 



Ad Astra comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment featuring 2160pHEVC encoded video and lossless Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 channel sound.

For its presentation in Ultra HD Ad Astra was rendered from 3.4K Digital/35 MM film sources and finished on a 4K DI.

The 1080p transfer looks solid and this Ultra HD rendering takes it up a notch with a discernible increase in detail, color depth, and emboldened highlights, both light and dark. The film has a series of explosive liftoffs, streaming/cascading light and mixed visual elements, that look terrific. This is primarily a dark film and its low-level sequences had excellent depth and dimension. Blacks are rich, and defining, and the rendering of shadow detail in most respects, is excellent. The sequences that incorporate elements of brilliant light, like the nuclear explosion in the finale were bright enough that I found myself blinking in response. The use of shadows mixed with light, like those that took place in the moon looked very natural as well.

The film utilizes varying chromatic schemes, incorporating splashes of vivid color, that appears faithfully reproduced in Ultra HD. I noticed an uneven quality when it came to resolution however, this is attributable to stylistic intent as well as the use of film and digital captures. In most respects images onscreen looked excellent. Close ups revealed plenty of fine detail and textures that at times, imparted a reach out and touch aesthetic.

The use of sepia is beautifully reproduced, while whites and grays appear gradational and vibrant. The wide-angle shots of the Roy’s spacecraft as it approaches Neptune and, the Lima Project’s vessel, look terrific, as the deep, interstitial blacks and various stages of light show off the spot-on application of HDR. The wide color gamut and crisp, bright, imagery, enrich the sense of realism when looking at the film’s differing environs, whether lit by natural or artificial lighting.

Looking at the presentation as a whole I would say that it makes for a distinct improvement when compared to the 1080p Blu-ray rendering.


Dolby Atmos:

In listening to the Dolby Atmos mix I found it to be of the active variety that made steady use of the platform. Its use of sounds placed above is a mix of atmospherics, music, and discrete effects. This is done well and creates a tangible level of immersion that coincides with the onscreen events nicely. Over the course of the film there are various sequences (such as the opening scene that takes place on the antenna, after its struck by the power surge) where environmental sounds, and discrete objects are mixed to differing locations in the sound field, adding a head turning element to the viewing experience.

The large set piece involving the chase on the moon, lights up the room as flying debris, ambient effects, and near field objects rotate, and revolve around the soundstage from both above and at ear level. As an aside, I noticed that low frequency affects had a bit more weight to them, when compared to the DTS-HD 7.1 mix on the Blu-ray. This is an involving immersive sound mix, that complimented the source material.


For those not familiar with the details regarding Ultra HD Blu-ray you can refer to my article that includes some pertinent data on the subject. Here is the link:

Ultra HD Blu-ray Has Come to AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews


Blu-ray Video:


Video: 92
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)



  • Resolution/Clarity: 
  • Black Level/Shadow Detail: 
  • Color Reproduction: 
  • Fleshtones:
  • Compression: 



Audio: 100
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)


  • Dynamics: 
  • Low frequency effects: 
  • Surround Sound presentation: 
  • Clarity/Detail: 
  • Dialog Reproduction: 
  • DSU/DTS Neural:X Rating * (non-rated element): NA


Ad Astra comes to Blu-ray Disc from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment featuring 1080p AVC encoded video and lossless DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio sound.

This film utilizes a stylized visual design that has a limited color scheme that works aesthetically well for the subject matter. The color range is limited to shades of dark blue, gray and black with splashes of crimson red, and sepia tones. Warm golden accents are used to break up the film’s monochromatic essence. Uneven light and shading are prevalent. Fleshtones are on the bronzy side however, this appears to fall in line with the film’s visual aesthetic. Contrast is spot on which empowers whites and grays without washing away detail. Whites are snappy and crisp and grays are multi-staged and layered.

Blacks are dynamic and gradationally revealing, and shadow detail is excellent. The use of CGI softened some of the background elements during wide-angle pans, but I never found it to be excessive or distracting. Overall, I found the quality of the video to be solid. It wasn’t always razor sharp, but it was cleanly rendered with plenty of subtle refinement that increased the perception of fine detail.

As with all of Fox’s Ultra HD Blu-ray releases, the bundled Blu-ray version of Ad Astra contains a 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, rather than a Dolby Atmos mix, which is found only on the UHD version, leaving those without an Ultra HD capable set up, but with immersive sound capabilities, out in the cold. It would be nice to see future Ultra HD Combo Packs that combine the two. Be that as it may, I found much to enjoy with the soundtrack. This lossless soundtrack is excellent and features wide dynamic range, superlative clarity, and high-level detail. Dialog is cleanly rendered, sounding sibilant free, and well balanced within the soundstage. Front and rear channel imaging is excellent. This draws out both large and small sound elements and allows their directional correlation based upon the onscreen events to be definable.

The music score, coupled with the integration of discrete, and atmospheric surround sound effects, plays an intricate role in the surround mix. The detection of subtle background sounds, off camera cues, and spatial dimension within the room’s acoustic environment is spot on. The atmospheric effects associated with the various acoustic environments portrayed in the story sound engagingly real. Low frequency effects are applied authoritatively and underscore the audio presentation with aplomb. Its palpable presence is never in question as it renders refined bass quality that kicks nicely, extends deep enough to engage the room and, on occasion, wake the neighbors.



Bonus Features:
  • Disc 1: Ad Astra Ultra HD Blu-ray
  • Disc 2: Ad Astra Blu-ray
    • Deleted Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary by James Gray
    o “The Void”
    o “Epilogue”
    • To the Stars
    • A Man Named Roy
    • The Crew of the Cepheus
    • The Art of Ad Astra
    • Reach for the Stars
    • Audio Commentary by Director James Gray*
    • Space Age: The VFX**
  • Digital Code
Final Thoughts:

Ad Astra is a sci-fi adventure drama with a narrative that incorporates thematic elements that blend tonal shifts which underscore its somber and engaging personal story. It comes to Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment featuring excellent Ultra HD video, terrific lossless surround sound, including an engaging Dolby Atmos immersive mix, and a middling supplemental set. Ad Astra is easily worth the price of a rental on Blu-ray, but for those with an Ultra HD capable system, and a taste for what the film has to offer, it might just be worth picking up.
 
Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews


Reference Review System:
JVC DLA-RS2000 4K Ultra High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6-HDR Meter from  Spectracal )
Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16x9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Electronic Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV7704 Audio/Video Processor
Emotiva XPA-7 Gen 3 Seven Channel Amplifier
Emotiva XPA-11 Gen 3 Amplifier
Panasonic DP-UB820 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton "Ergo" and Canton In-Ceiling Series Speakers
SVS Ultra Surrounds (Gloss Finish in Bipolar Configuration)
Dual SVS PC4000 Cylinder Subwoofers
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
AC Infinity Aircom T8 Component Cooling Systems