The Midnight Sky, directed by George Clooney and written by Mark L. Smith, tells two stories that are happening simultaneously. One is that of Augustine (Clooney) who is making a Hail Mary attempt to establish contact with a space station in order to apparently save a kid and the other is that of a space station that is charting its way back to Earth. And although both of these narratives are interesting on paper, their on-screen execution is dreary, unnecessarily slow-paced, oddly structured, and frankly speaking, in the wrong genre.
There are good movies. There are bad movies. There are average movies. I have a lot of fun writing about bad movies and I also have fun watching them, to be honest, because they’re unintentionally hilarious. I don’t give it any points for that but I do derive a sense of pleasure from nitpicking them. Good movies are, well, good and I enjoy watching them, talking about them, and going into insane detail about the subtext, its relevance, and whatnot. But when it comes to average movies, I don’t know what to do about them. Most of them have good stars so the acting is alright, they have a decent budget so the overall look of the film is okay, and even some of the storytelling is bearable. However, when you look at it from a macro perspective, it just feels like shit. The Midnight Sky is one such movie.
The Midnight Sky is directed by George Clooney. The screenplay is by Mark L. Smith and is based on the book Good Mornign, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. The music is by Alexandre Desplat, cinematography by Martin Ruhe, editing by Stephen Mirrione, casting by Lucy Rands and Rachel Tenner, production design by Jim Bissell, art direction by Tim Browning, Claire Fleming, Jonathan Opgenhaffen, and Nic Pallace, set decoration by Maudie Andrews and John Bush, costume design by Jenny Eagan, hair and makeup design by by Jan Sewell, sound design by Randy Thom, and visual effects by Framestore, ILM, Nviz, and One of Us. It features George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Coilinn Springall, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone, Sophie Rundle, and Ethan Peck. The story revolves between Augustine’s (Clooney) attempts to contact anything that’ll help him apparently save Iris and Sully (Jones) and her team’s attempt to return to Earth.
The Midnight Sky is so busy reaching its twisty end that it forgets to build up the characters and their relationships.
I get it. These are two stories about survival that are happening simultaneously and are somehow going to converge. One is grounded and the other is cosmic. Cool. But what about the characters in them? Why the hell should I care about any of them? Augustine is really similar to Robert from I Am Legend. He’s the sole survivor on Earth and he’s doing scientific shit for the sake of survival. However, where Robert gets these heart-wrenching monologues and gut-punching moments of inhumanity, Augustine gets nothing. For a major chunk of the first act, he hobbles around, in the second act, he hobbles around some more, and in the third act just guess what he does? He hobbles some more. He is supposed to be in this redemptive arc but he never feels like a person worthy of it. Just because the situation he’s in is miserable, doesn’t mean the person can or should be redeemed.
Same goes for the space crew. There’s nothing relatable, likeale, or hate-worthy about them. They’re just dry people with no charisma, no charm, no smartness, nothing. There’s one science-y bit where they feel like genuine astronauts trying to figure out a catastrophic problem. The dialogue-writing is good. The to-and-fro between all of them has some flavour. And then again they go back to doing stupid-ass stuff. Don’t get me started about the non-scientific conversations because they’re truly unbearable. There’s an ongoing conversation about what’s going to be Sully’s daughter’s name. I am aware that it was a last moment thing and was retrofitted into the script because Felicity was pregnant, for real, and that’s sweet. But you can see how last moment of a decision it must’ve been because it just doesn’t fit in with the direness of the situation they’re in at all. All it does is waste precious time which could’ve been used to develop any of the characters.
The Midnight Sky is a spiritual Solaris sequel that should’ve been The Grey meets Interstellar. Instead it’s just boring.
The potential in this film was astronomical. From the get-go, it feels like a spiritual sequel to Clooney’s Solaris as he’s all alone and slowly losing his mind throughout the course of the movie. But unlike Solaris, that psychological horror is turned into some soft, introspective drama that does no good. And the surprising thing is that even that is thrown away and the movie becomes a survival story in an icey landscape with wolves circling around, just like Liam Neeson’s The Grey. However, even that is thrown away because, spoiler alert, he survives it all pretty easily. Why? I have no clue. Like the ingredients are there spread in front of Clooney and he just doesn’t see it. I think he was a little too busy pulling off the cosmic, space-walking related stuff, which he does very well, but just like the Earth related story, it doesn’t have any sense of tension.
In this movie, there’s global warming, cancer, meteor attacks in space, and a pregnant woman. And if you still can’t create tension, then that says a lot about your ability to direct. A lot of it is visually striking, yes, but that’s because ILM is involved in it. What else does it have to offer? The answer is sleep. There are a few loud bangs here and there. Apart from that, The Midnight Sky is so dull that it is soothing (Kudos to Desplat’s score, I guess). You can just put this shit and find yourself dozing off despite all the pent-up anxiety inside you due to 2020. Jokes apart, it’s structured so poorly. None of the events, on Earth and in space, line up in a way to complement each other. They just happen in isolation and that’s it. But the production design and set design are good. It won’t improve your viewing experience but I can appreciate the work that’s gone into it.
Everyone from George Clooney to Felicity Jones are great but their talents are horribly wasted due to the lacklustre direction and writing.
How can you bring in Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone, and put yourself in the movie and make it suck, George Clooney? It’s just sad. Yeah, they all say their lines properly, they shed tears on cue, they look like they’re struggling when their characters are struggling, they look like they’re in trouble when their characters are in trouble, and that’s about it. That’s good acting. But it doesn’t hit you on an emotional level because the characters and the premise are so hollow. I don’t blame them for doing these roles. I am sure it must’ve seemed like a good film to do. I blame the director and the writer for putting them through this without realising how they’re wasting their time. Here’s to hoping that they got a fat cheque at the end of this ordeal and some clarity about choosing their scripts.
Usually I don’t say much about casting decisions about who in their right minds thought that casting Ethan Peck as a young George Clooney was a good idea. Kaunse angle se woh banda George Clooney lagta hai bhai? If they had shaved Clooney and dyed all his black or brown, it would’ve worked, to be honest. But no, cast someone who neither acts nor looks like Clooney to be his younger version. Great. Fantastic job peeps!
There’s no reason to watch Netflix’s The Midnight Sky unless you’ve been having sleepless nights. Put it on and you’ll undoubtedly go to sleep. But if you want to stay awake and consume quality stuff, then steer away from this and try other Netflix properties like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom or Sweet Home or Ariana Grande: Excuse Me, I Love You or AK vs AK. You’re welcome.
Cover artwork by Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India