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.