The Midnight Sky Evaluation: George Clooney waits for the final days of the earth in a bleak however good Netflix science fiction movie
In The Midnight Sky, timing is everything. Will George Clooney, who plays a very important scientist named Augustine Lofthouse, overcome outrageous obstacles in order to contact distant astronauts in a timely manner? Will said astronauts survive a daring mission to restore damaged communications equipment in time? Will our main characters experience the emotional awakening they so desperately need?
So it’s striking to consider the timing of this film. Any other year, the December arc on Netflix would be counter-programming for holidays. However, in 2020 it leans into skid.
Provided you’re not just completely put off by the premise (a reasonable reaction!), The Midnight Sky is sort of a roundup for a planet in trouble and a population trying to connect if they go outside could be dangerous.
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Not only is Clooney the star, he’s the director too. It is based on the popular novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton with a script adaptation by Mark L. Smith. His previous work on The Revenant is a clue to the mood here. Things are bleak.
In 30 years one “incident” has destroyed the earth. The details are vague, but the poison is coming. Lofthouse is at a science station in the Arctic Circle, and when everyone else goes on helicopters with the intention of going home, he decides to stay. He has a terminal illness (and has to give himself transfusions) anyway, but creeping death could still hit him first.
At first glance, he seems to be opting for loneliness from defeat – he looks gaunt, has a wild beard and a permanent expression of sadness. Also, he occasionally has flashbacks to his youth with the very handsome Ethan Peck who makes such a good Clooney impression. I wonder if his voice got synced. These scenes deal with the time he chose work versus relationships, but it is actually this work that has held him back and given meaning to his final days.
There are many space voyages taking place during this time of desolation, and all ships have returned home. One thing, however, a ship called Aether, was out of communication range and Lofthouse is now being driven to contact them to warn them of problems on Earth.
There are complications. For starters, there’s a little girl on the base who got lost during the bug-out. Then there is the fact that the station’s satellite is not powerful enough to reach the airwaves, so they have to travel through the terrible weather (plus the dangerous air – mask on !!) to find another. Lofthouse also has to carry a bulky suitcase of medical equipment if he wants to keep his transfusions on long enough to make the hike.
Then there’s the airwaves, where communications specialist Felicity Jones (as Sully, a name you’d want to take with you on a dangerous mission!) Is on the other end. Also on board are David Oyelowo, Demián Bichir, Kyle Chandler and Tiffany Boone. They are on their way back from an exoplanet called K-23, which they can attest can promote human life and, as we will learn, was Lofthouse’s discovery. However, upon return, they encounter some problems.
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George Clooney’s directorial work, as is often the case with actors and directors, wasn’t one that focused on design or cinematography. (I mean, the suits in Good Night and Good Luck are great, I’ll give you that.) However, the Aether spaceship deserves inclusion on the list of all-time great movie spaceships. The interconnected outer and inner structure, the many chambers, the flaky radiation shielding and the rotating gravity columns are just beautiful. It is also equipped with some sleek shuttle vehicles attached to the fuselage.
Art Direction doesn’t drive drama, but the specificity and novelty of this physical space instantly creates layers of backstory on an unconscious level. There’s also a stab in a Star Trek-like “holodeck” that seems far more accessible than the one we’ve seen on TV before.
In short, we have problems in the snow and other problems in the vacuum of space. I can’t stress this enough, this film is basically a downer. It’s enough to make you give up, especially since we know there can’t be a traditional “happy ending”. But the third act is based on a best-of-a-bad situation that is very human and, despite all the distant science fiction, also realistic.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
The Midnight Sky premieres on Netflix on Friday, December 23rd.