See How 'Ad Astra' Director Filmed the Moon Rover Chase Scene

The Blu-Ray for the sci-fi film starring Brad Pitt is available on Tuesday

James Gray’s “Ad Astra” is a sobering, contemplative sci-fi about a man grappling with grief and living in his father’s shadow… and it also has a chase scene in rovers on the moon, while shooting it out with mutant, feral space baboons. You read that right. And although it was no easy feat it film, they’re now showing us how they did it.

So, yes, Gray and his team had a great technical challenge to tackle filming “Ad Astra” in addition to a narrative one. In this exclusive featurette for the film ahead of its Blu-Ray release on Tuesday, you can watch a behind-the-scenes look at how they filmed one of the more thrilling and inventive action sequences of the year.

“To the best of our knowledge, no one has ever shot a weapon on the surface of the moon,” Gray says in the clip. “We had to come up with what that might look like if you did.”

In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt plays an astronaut in the future who is tasked by the U.S. government to travel to the farthest reaches of space in an attempt to track down his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who went missing and was presumed dead after a mission gone wrong in the orbit of Neptune.

To get there, though, Pitt must first travel to the moon, which has now been colonized and even made commercial, save for certain regions on the far side of the moon where pirates often threaten travelers. In this standout scene, Pitt rides on a lunar rover and gets into a high-speed chase and firefight with attacking pirates.

The crew shot in over 100-degree heat in the desert and filmed stunt drivers racing in stock, Polaris RZRs, which are side-by-side dune buggies made for tough terrain. Picture car mechanic Nathan Moreno said the buggies were cut in half and customized to look like moon rovers, then were given specialized suspensions so they could handle the necessities of a high-speed chase.

“We’ve been jumping these things; it’s been a lot of fun,” stunt driver Nico Woulard says in the video. “They handle really well, they’re fast and they do everything we need them to do.”

Gray further explains that in the visual effects process, they had to account for how a laser or a rover might actually look or move faster while on the surface of a moon without traditional wind resistance or gravity.

The Blu-Ray for the 20th Century Fox film “Ad Astra” also has a pair of deleted scenes and commentary from Gray, as well as features about the artwork of the film and deeper insight into Pitt’s character Rory McBride.

Watch the special featurette above.

9 Movies About Sad People in Space, From 'Gravity' to 'Ad Astra' (Photos)

  • What is it about the awe-inspiring infinity of space that makes movie characters feel so sad? Seriously, there sure are a lot of films about moping-around-the-stars. Take for instance the space exploration drama “Ad Astra,” where Brad Pitt searches the solar system for his missing father while having an existential crisis. More like “SAD Astra.” Get it? “Sad” instead of “Ad”? You get it. Anyway, enjoy this breakdown of films that use the stars as a backdrop for stories about depression and grief.

  • “Ad Astra” (2019)

    The astronaut Brad Pitt plays in James Gray’s “Ad Astra” has to get a psychological exam each morning from a robotic prompter. He’s famous for never having a heart rate that rises above 90 beats per minute. He scoffs when he sees that there’s now a Subway on the moon. Who doesn’t like low-g sandwiches? Even a trip to Neptune of all places can’t help cure his serious daddy issues.

    20th Century Fox/Disney

  • “Gravity” (2013)

    In Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning film, Sandra Bullock’s astronaut hates pretty much everything about space, a feeling well justified when the Russians blow up one of their satellites, filling Earth’s orbit with debris that kills all of her crew members. Stranded in space and thinking about her recently-deceased daughter, she considers shutting off her oxygen supply and drifting into oblivion. Luckily, she hallucinates a pep talk from George Clooney’s very dead astronaut, and manages to crash somewhat safely to earth. 

    Warner Bros.

  • “Interstellar” (2014)

    Even the robots in this Christopher Nolan sci-fi tearjerker are sad! Well sort of. Robots TARS and CASE are programmed to be jokey snarkers, which helps them bond with their human crew members. But even TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) ends up depressed and lonely after being abandoned on a remote planet. (Luckily Matthew McConaughey comes back to rescue it and they presumably live happily ever after but still, very sad!)

    Paramount Pictures

  • “First Man” (2018)

    Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man” is notable for avoiding patriotic cliches in favor of the human reality — accidents, failures, tragedies and tireless hours — it took to finally send Apollo 11 to the moon. And part of that comes from Ryan Gosling’s performance which emphasizes Armstrong’s stoic grief over his young daughter’s death from brain cancer 7 years before the moon landing. 

    Universal

  • “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

    The weird as hell beginning and profound, yet ambiguous ending are what most people remember about Stanley Kubrick’s and Arthur C. Clarke’s groundbreaking masterpiece. But never forget that sandwiched between murderous apes and the Star Child is what amounts to a slasher movie in space, where an insane super computer slowly murders the crew of a scientific mission, then begs for mercy as he’s lobotomized.

    Warner Bros.

  • “Lucy in the Sky” (2019)

    In Noah Hawley’s upcoming drama “Lucy in the Sky,” Natalie Portman’s character loved being in space, but slowly loses her grip on reality as her personal life falls apart back on earth. Her story is loosely inspired by astronaut Lisa Nowak, about whom you can read about here.

    Fox Searchlight

  • “Solaris” (2002)

    The original Andrei Tarkovsky film on which Steven Soderbergh’s “Solaris” is based is no barrel of laughs either, but George Clooney’s character in “Solaris” is already messed up and depressed before he starts hallucinating and going crazy aboard the isolated, remote space station.

    20th Century Fox

  • “Moon” (2009)

    Sam Rockwell plays a man who mining helium 3 on the moon, his only companion a robot voiced by Kevin Spacey, whose two-year contract is about to end and he can finally return home. But then he learns the horrible truth: he’s not “himself,” he a clone illegally created by the mining company; instead of being sent home, he’s going to be murdered and replaced by a brand new clone; and it’s happened dozens of times before. Bummer!

    Sony Pictures Classics

  • “Aniara” (2018)

    In this underrated Swedish-Danish drama a massive ship full of people fleeing a ruined Earth find themselves adrift and watching their resources slowly deteriorate. It’s an uplifting a heartwarming environmental parable about the inevitability that humanity will destroy whatever home they’re stuck on.

    Magnolia Pictures

There’s a long tradition of depressing sci-fi in films like “Moon,” “Interstellar” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”

What is it about the awe-inspiring infinity of space that makes movie characters feel so sad? Seriously, there sure are a lot of films about moping-around-the-stars. Take for instance the space exploration drama “Ad Astra,” where Brad Pitt searches the solar system for his missing father while having an existential crisis. More like “SAD Astra.” Get it? “Sad” instead of “Ad”? You get it. Anyway, enjoy this breakdown of films that use the stars as a backdrop for stories about depression and grief.

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