REVIEW: The Midnight Sky (2020)

The Midnight Sky, Still Image
‘The Midnight Sky,’ Still Image — Photo: Philippe Antonello / Netflix.

Directed by George Clooney — Screenplay by Mark L. Smith.

I don’t think I have a favorite genre, per se, but, it is true that I usually am a sucker for science-fiction. It is probably the genre that I find the most interesting, and, whenever a new film is on its way, I do get excited about what new ambitious story is about to be told. George Clooney is no stranger to science-fiction and space films since he has appeared in films such as Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris, Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, and, possibly most memorably, Alfonso Cuarón’s incredible Gravity. Due to Clooney’s own experience with the genre, I was very interested in seeing what kind of story he had planned to tell with The Midnight Sky, which he both starred in and directed. Unfortunately, it ended up being a bit of a disappointment, for me.

George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky, which is based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel Good Morning, Midnight, takes place in 2049 and follows a scientist with a serious illness. His name is Augustine Lofthouse (played by George Clooney) and, after a cataclysmic event, he is now one of the last human beings alive on the face of the earth, if not the only one. Now on his own in the Arctic, he is trying his hardest to inform any spacecrafts about what has happened on Earth.

Meanwhile, the Aether, a spacecraft, and its crew are on their way back to Earth, but they are, at the start of the film, unable to communicate with anyone. One day, Augustine’s plans for his final days alive change drastically when he finds out that a little girl, Iris (played by Caoilinn Springall), is still alive and on her own in the very same base that Augustine is at. Augustine decides that he and Iris must travel in the freezing cold of the North Pole, in an attempt to communicate with the Aether from another base nearby.

Honestly, The Midnight Sky really could’ve worked for me, but what frustrated me about its dual narrative was that it was, again, overly busy and that it felt uneven throughout the film. It also never felt original, but more like a mishmash of other great films. There are several flashback scenes that don’t feel necessary at all (they only serve the purpose of making the film’s final revelation even more obvious), and, to me, the scenes on the Aether felt like a completely different movie than the one Clooney’s character was in. The Midnight Sky is essentially a mash-up of Cuarón’s Gravity and Joe Penna’s underseen debut feature film, Arctic, starring Mads Mikkelsen.

I would’ve been much more interested in this film if Clooney had focused entirely on one of the two stories and left superfluous scenes on the cutting room floor. Balancing the two dual narratives is not easy and this juggling act ends up being too difficult for Clooney’s film to overcome, as, for example, the film seems to forget about Augustine for a sizable portion of the second half of the film. Augustine’s narrative is clearly the most thematically interesting of the two, whereas the Aether story is probably the most entertaining. The problem with Augustine’s story is that I don’t think Clooney manages to actually shoot and communicate the scientist’s harrowing journey across the arctic as well as was necessary. His action-heavy scenes are either way too dark (so you can’t really see what’s going on) or set in the middle of an arctic storm (again, likely in an attempt to cover up underwhelming visuals).

I know that this has been touted as an awards contender by some analysts, but I just have a difficult time seeing how it can become that. Alexandre Desplat’s score is decent but unremarkable, and I think the same can be said for its visual effects. However, I will say that the production design is stellar, and one scene involving a lot of blood, which probably relied heavily on visual effects,  was probably the tensest, most terrifying, and most gripping sequence in this otherwise fairly dull science fiction flick.

The Midnight Sky is the kind of film that I would normally really like. There are a lot of things here that, on the face of it, should appeal to me. But I have to say that I think George Clooney’s first science-fiction film as a director feels too much like an unflattering mishmash of dozens of better films in the genre. Frankly, I think that The Midnight Sky is not just uneven and unfocused but also relatively dull. Clooney’s latest film just didn’t live up to its potential.

5.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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