‘The Midnight Sky’ Review: A Sterile Saga of Global Apocalypse and Space Missions
You really can’t fault others for comparing The Midnight Sky with The Revenant (2015). With both penned by acclaimed screenwriter, Mark L. Smith, the connection between them is as legit as distant relatives who share a common bloodline. I would not go to the extent of labelling the depiction of freezing cold environment and the element of survival as something uniquely attributed to Smith, but both The Midnight Sky and The Revenant certainly share this similar trait. For the case of The Midnight Sky, the extreme temperatures are tied to the location of George Clooney’s character when the plot begins.
Clooney was certainly one busy man during the production of The Midnight Sky, having to lead and direct the filming while at the same time putting on a thick, orange coat to transform himself into Dr Augustine Lofthouse, the lead character of the film. In The Midnight Sky, Augustine (Clooney) is a renowned scientist who had discovered a habitable planet and opened the books for humanity’s space colonization. After certain events which have left him stranded in Barbeau Observatory, he is determined to make contact and warn spacecraft Aether — which is manned by Commander Adewole (David Oyelowo), Sully (Felicity Jones), Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) and two others — not to return to Earth, because humanity’s home planet is being consumed by an irreversible catastrophe which renders it inhabitable. While at it, Lofthouse needs to deal with a mysterious girl (Caoilinn Springall) who had fled evacuation efforts and became isolated in his observatory.
Why the Artic, though? The snowy backdrop was not purposely handpicked by Smith to showcase his work experience in depicting snowstorms. This film happens because Clooney has acquired the film adaptation rights for the novel that it is based on, Good Morning, Midnight, which has pretty much sealed the location of the story in the freezing landscape. It is definitely there to set the tone of the entire story, which plays out to be isolation.
Notwithstanding the message that Clooney is trying to convey in The Midnight Sky, isolation is perhaps the sole word which strongly describes the film as a whole. I am surprised and a little disturbed by how calm the film is — scenes are largely static by nature, that I mistakenly suspected that the opening credits sequence was a slideshow of photographs. Which turns out to be untrue, but it really begs the question of what if the remainder of the film is equally passive.
Getting stranded alone with George Clooney might be the most bizarre but popular wish that Santa had received from mature women last Christmas, but it does have its merits as watching an isolated Dr Lofthouse did not present any issues at first due to Clooney’s committed and natural performance. But similar to the fascinating introductory scenes in the almost alien-like Aether, the scenes get pale with time, even more so when it becomes noticeable that The Midnight Sky has been presenting you the same card over and over again.
As a space exploration slash science fiction film, it is bound to have a respectable degree of mystery, but even then, it is almost distressing to observe that no hard exploitation has been done to keep the viewers up on their toes when putting them up against the unknown of the film. Certain key information is released a tad too early, which takes away the thrills and build up that the movie is already severely lacking. Dr Lofthouse’s flashbacks are a great touch to set up and explain the plot, but as with the majority of the film, the scenes come and go nonchalantly, with almost no desire to be intense or dramatic.
The Midnight Sky’s ace-card comes in the form of devoted acts seen across almost the entire cast, which is not enormous to begin with, but certainly proved that quality trumps quantity. Ironically, the draggy screenplay had presented me ample opportunities to realize just how much emotion and fine details had gone into the acting chops, and had they shaved a few seconds off each of such scenes, the impact would have been multifold. In general, most of the stars emulate what Clooney had done for his role — emotional, sensitive and refined, though the repetitive scripted-lines oftentimes do them no favor.
Much of the savings from having a smaller group of cast members have been noticeably channeled into CGI and lighting, and The Midnight Sky definitely does not disappoint in these areas. The design of Aether does present a unique concept to sci-fi lovers. A little excessive, yes, but is definitely something that Elon Musk will personally look into. Even if the flexible fiber construction of Aether is not something that is technologically viable, the stunning interface design is surely something that can realistically make its way into Musk’s spacecrafts.
Now, if the film is all about the exploration of Aether and the spacecraft’s wonderful, strange, or even horrific encounters in space, I am all in for it, but we have to remind ourselves that it is not. This is perhaps where the film’s crisis deepens. The running time is equally shared between the events that take place on Earth, and the ones in space, but other than sharing that same 150 inches of space that your Netflix-dedicated projector occupies, they do not bond with each other. There is zero synergy between these two factions of scenes, and there is no motivation for each of them to succeed other than what you might have already learned from the synopsis — man tries to warn spacecraft from returning to inhabitable Earth.
Where The Midnight Sky has completely forgotten, is to capture the essence of time, or more specifically, how the complications of time can punctuate the events that unfold throughout the film. The film needs to have some sense of urgency, and no, those minuscule subplots simply don’t cut it. They are overshadowed by the abysmally slow pace of the main story, and are clearly there as irrelevant attempts to provide quick adrenaline shots to the viewers.
Ironically, it makes you lose hope, because you will constantly get a bad feeling that there is simply nothing significant that could happen to change the course of the story, and it will grow stronger on you as the film runs out of its screen time. The somewhat abrupt ending did put a swift end towards my agony, though it also forced me to quickly rethink of what’s actually being presented in The Midnight Sky — and surely, it was not a simple feat. While films like The Devil All the Time is a widespread canvas compressed into a two hour film, The Midnight Sky feels like Augustine one-page journal that gets inflated to fit into a pre-set, two-hour frame.
The Midnight Sky, while on paper seems to present itself as an exciting balance between the events of an apocalyptic Earth and a dangerous space mission, plays out to be a lethargic drama that undermined the thrills and complexities of both. The film floats in zero gravity with almost no desire to bring intensity, build up, or an adequate level of mystery to the audience, and with the absence of synergy between the two contrasting plot locations, even the committed performance by Clooney and co and the pleasant CGI could not pull the film away from the black hole that it is heading to. Ultimately, The Midnight Sky is a film with much to be anguished, and nothing to be remembered — The Film Addict
Originally published at https://www.thefilmaddict.com on January 27, 2021.