Some of the summer’s most intriguing movies remain a mystery

With less than a month until the film’s release, the lack of promotion for “Ad Astra” is unheard of for a Disney movie.

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Last week, the lineup for the annual Cannes Film Festival was announced, with two titles notably absent: Quentin Tarantino’s hotly-anticipated “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and James Gray’s space epic “Ad Astra.” The festival, which runs May 14 through May 25, features numerous films from around the world each year and is opening with Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy, “The Dead Don’t Die.”

With Tarantino’s film, the reasoning is simple — the director is a devotee of filming in 35mm, which results in a longer editing process. However, beneath the absence of “Ad Astra” lies a stranger story. The film was originally scheduled for Jan. 11, 2019, with some speculating that it would be put in limited release at the end of 2018 for an awards-qualifying run.

However, last October, it was pushed back to May 24, the same day as Disney’s “Aladdin” remake (Both films are being released by the same studio following the Disney-Fox Merger.) Director Gray confirmed the reason for the delays in an interview with Indiewire last December – it just isn’t ready yet.

“You know usually when you see a science-fiction movie there are a number of shots that don’t look very good,” Gray said of the film’s demanding post-production process, “I did not want to be up against a release date and have stuff looking really bad. I’m hoping we can make May.”

That rigorous process, however, doesn’t explain the complete lack of promotional material for the film. Tarantino’s film, scheduled to release in July, already has a trailer and a few character posters, but beyond that there have been countless articles reporting on the film’s various controversies throughout its production process. There is almost nothing of the like to suggest “Ad Astra” actually exists.

With less than a month until its release, there’s still no trailer or even a poster for the film, and outside of a brief reported sneak preview at CineEurope last summer, seemingly no one has actually seen it.

In a February interview, Gray’s confidence in the film’s release was less than reassuring – regarding the release date, he said, “by the way, I don't know anything about that, I'm just positing a guess. Who knows what will happen?”

All of this information would suggest that the film is due for yet another delay, but its studio doesn’t seem to think so. At CinemaCon earlier in April, Disney announced its full slate of films for 2019 and their release dates, doubling down on the May 24 release date for “Ad Astra.” Disney also confirmed “The New Mutants” – a movie that’s been delayed and faced reshoots so many times that even its star has no idea when it will see the light of day – for an August release date.

Delays are seen all the time in the world of independent film, where limited releases result in films never showing in certain markets. Major studio products are no stranger to tumultuous productions – remember “Solo”? – but it’s almost unheard of for a movie, especially a Disney movie starring Brad Pitt, to completely fly under the radar like “Ad Astra” has.

The crowded May box office also provides another hazard. “Avengers: Endgame” is on pace to break box office records at the end of April, with likely smash hits “Detective Pikachu” and “John Wick: Chapter 3” following soon after in May. Between those almost certified box office draws and the fact that James Gray’s last film, 2017’s “The Lost City of Z” underperformed financially, it’s curious as to why Disney would stick to the summer release date.

Gray has compared the film’s premise – an astronaut goes on an interstellar voyage in search of his missing father – to that of “Apocalypse Now.” It’s a fitting comparison, both thematically and given the troubled production history of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic. We’ll see whether the comparison is justified on May 24, or at an unspecified later date.

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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