Director James Gray gave us an ambitious sci-fi film with the Brad Pitt-led “Ad Astra, “making his off-world version of Joseph Conrad’s classic novel “Heart of Darkness.” The novel helped previously influence Francis Ford Coppola’s nightmare-esque vision of the Vietnam War film “Apocalypse Now,” and Gray seemed to borrow ideas from the book and the film. While both those movies feature a voiceover from the main protagonist on a difficult mission—the “Ad Astra” narration seemingly inspired by “Apocalypse Now”— it sounds like Gray wasn’t too thrilled with any of it, suggesting it was imposed upon him by the studio.
The filmmaker, who is promoting his latest film “Armageddon Time” spoke with Vulture, and Gray revealed that due to the merger between 20th Century Fox/Disney, he didn’t have the final cut on “Ad Astra,” leading to Brad Pitt’s “stupid voiceover” being used in the final version. Gray says he didn’t have control over certain things because Disney was making those decisions and distanced himself from that choice by citing studio interference.
“It was kind of a perfect storm,” Gray told Vulture in a recent interview. “The birthing of it was so screwed up for reasons that had nothing to do with the movie. New Regency made the film, and they were trying to get it through Fox, and we were talking to Fox people, and then Fox got sold to Disney and folded up, basically. That was a proud studio at 20th Century Fox, and it’s gone. And then you have the Disney group, and that’s a very different M.O., So it was completely screwed up on a corporate level. Also, with a film that is quite personal, people sometimes see themselves in it and will argue that other things are better. I did not have final cut, so I could not say, ‘I don’t like it. That’s the way it is.’”
While Gray didn’t say anything at the time, it sounds like his contract didn’t allow him to disavow the film either, and he did do press for the film (including talking to us about it at the time). The filmmaker says he grew very “petulant” at the film being taken out of his control and recounted how agitated he was at the time.
“Now, I was very upset about it because, as the writer-director, I felt that my view should win the day,” he continued. “And when people start coming up to you and saying, ‘Why’d you do all that stupid voiceover?’ and you didn’t do it, that’s a very frustrating experience. But it’s not like I want people to hate the movie. The way I feel about it is — by the way, I’m not saying it’s as good — you hope it’s your own ‘Blade Runner,’ where there are things in it that are clearly you that you love, and there are other things that were put into the film that aren’t you. There’s a lot I’m very proud of in the movie. But until then, I…