The Midnight Sky, 2020
Directed by George Clooney
Starring George Clooney, Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Caoilinn Springall, Sophie Rundle, and Ethan Peck
This post-apocalyptic tale follows Augustine, a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.
There are clichés as far as the eye can see into the stars within The Midnight Sky, which is directed by George Clooney and based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s book Good Morning, Midnight adapted for the screen by Mark L. Smith. They aren’t just limited to one half of the story either, as the narrative cuts back and forth between a scientist in the Arctic Circle on a now uninhabitable future Earth and the last remaining spaceship returning to said catastrophe from searching for a new home.
Before getting to George Clooney’s stereotypical genius scientist character, it should be said that it is somewhat forgivable for the space crew to be a little generic. Yes, these stories are meant to intersect in an important way and they do, but I don’t think anyone is going to be too bummed out that, even though they are notable names such as Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo, are secondary in terms of characterization to George Clooney and his mission. But it’s almost impressive how clichéd these characters are, from couples to those missing their families, to a pregnant character (to be fair, Felicity Jones was actually pregnant in real-life and the script was rewritten to accommodate). They are a boring bunch given little to do and rarely ever come alive.
Here’s the litmus test, though, for how unremarkable these characters are. At one point, their communications system is thrown offline forcing them to conduct a spacewalk and fix some wires. Admittedly, there is one charming set-piece involving the Neil Diamond tune Sweet Caroline and these explorers singing along. It’s all a reprieve from what is largely a fittingly dour narrative. Nevertheless, as the sequence transitions to a more serious tone, one of these characters die, except there won’t be any emotion felt. The only reaction is one of excitement due to how aesthetically creative the death is. That doesn’t stop the movie from spending an extra five minutes failing at milking sadness, which made the realization all the more clear that, putting it bluntly, these characters suck.
It only gets worse. George Clooney plays scientist Augustine Lofthoust (how is that for some word salad) who seems to not be evacuating with the rest of the crew in the Arctic Circle for reasons to do with blood transfusions and possibly a desire for loneliness. He’s also watching over spaceships incoming back to earth and must warn them that it’s no longer safe and to turn around. At the base, he stumbles across a left-behind child named Iris (newcomer Caoilinn Springall) who, and get ready for another aggravating cliché, is unable to speak.
What ensues is a survivalism journey across the Arctic Circle with Augustine trying to reach a working communications tower as the aforementioned spaceship is en route home and unaware of the doom that awaits. Even that, amounts to a series of clichés from coming across an injured man to temporary separation inside of a bitter storm. From a cinematography standpoint, it’s all visually appealing but never musters up any urgency or a real sense of peril. Stranger, The Midnight Sky is structured in an unwieldy fashion that sticks with the crew for the majority of the second hour.
There are also a series of flashbacks to a young Augustine (Ethan Peck, who either sounds almost exactly like George Clooney or had his voice dubbed over by George Clooney himself) prioritizing space exploration over his wife and family. His current situation of loneliness seems to be the cost of his previous decisions throughout life and the throughline of The Midnight Sky is assuredly about family. However, when all the cards are revealed it becomes difficult what to make of the story. The big reveal is yet another cliché, but it’s also handled with a minimalistic presentation that added a small amount of emotion.
Whether you find the surprise satisfying or not, The Midnight Sky is still a disappointment given that some outstanding CGI and practical special effects (the spaceship designs almost look like satellites with rotating attachments, making for something unique and dazzling to look at), beautiful music from Alexandre Desplat, and George Clooney in front of and behind the camera all went to this lackluster trophy sci-fi effort.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com