The Midnight Sky: Old-fashioned sci-fi from Gorgeous George
3.5 out of 5
The Midnight Sky is the latest "blockbuster" streaming on Netflix since just before Christmas. It's based on the 2016 novel "Good Morning, Midnight" by Lily Brooks-Dalton and, like the book, has a generally melancholy tone and deals with the destruction of earth and humanity as well as the deaths of individual characters.
In THE MIDNIGHT SKY, Augustine (George Clooney) is a dying scientist who opts to remain alone at an Arctic Circle observatory when an incident leaves earth uninhabitable and humans must flee below ground. It's the year 2049. Augustine discovers a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) hiding in the observatory with him. Together, they set out across the inhospitable and dangerous terrain to reach a satellite to try to communicate with a spaceship returning to earth. Augustine wants to warn the crew that they cannot return to earth and should instead turn around. The ship is returning from a planet known as K-23, which they have discovered, thanks to original research by Augustine, can sustain human life. The future of humanity could be up to the members of the crew, which includes couple Sully (Felicity Jones) and Adewole (David Oyelowo), as well as the young Maya (Tiffany Boone) and the more veteran Sanchez (Damian Bichir) and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler).
The Midnight Sky is a film that tries to be epic but doesn't quite spend enough time with any of its characters to generate sufficient emotion. The two parallel storylines do have some interest. In one, a dying, grey-bearded Clooney evokes a combination of human frailty and save-the-species determination. His weary face and physical motions reflect the potential futility of the near-impossible journey he's set out on. It's unusual to see the leading man look so infirm, and this alone creates some intrigue to keep the otherwise slow opening scenes of Clooney shuffling around alone at an Arctic Circle observatory interesting. Ethan Peck also looks and sounds a lot like Clooney as the younger Augustine.
In the parallel story, a group of astronauts steer their spaceship through unchartered space regions to get back to Earth. We're meant to connect with each member of the crew through their relationships with each other and their individualised holograms of family life back home. But it's not quite enough to generate the emotion desired when the crew members suffer accidents or put themselves in harm's way. What films like this do have (and is likely better enjoyed on a big screen) is the creative and often quite beautiful invention of other worlds, or our own world made other.
What I like about it is that the film doesn't answer any of the questions it poses. We never find out what the disaster on Earth is. It never ties up the story in a neat bow and like the best science fiction, lets the reader, or in this case the viewer, ponder these issues themselves. That's not to say the film is unique, far from it. Elements of the story are tried and tested tropes, be they science fiction or wilderness survival.
The Midnight Sky has one other major facet to it, which is a prominent musical score by Alexandre Desplat that goes way beyond indicating moods and aims to inspire emotion all on its own.
In all it had echoes of another George Clooney space epic, Stephen Soderbergh's remake of Solaris. If you liked that, then you might just like this.