2020 might have shut down movie theaters and in doing so, gave us a momentary respite from big budget superhero films, but we still got our obligatory space movie this year in George Clooney’s “The Midnight Sky,” which he serves as director/lead actor of.
The film focuses on scientist Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney) who lives alone in a base in the Arctic where he undergoes dialysis for a terminal illness. The rest of the base’s inhabitants have evacuated, as Earth went through a cataclysmic war that resulted in most of the world being nuked. Lofthouse made it his life’s mission to find habitable worlds humanity could live in, and the film’s plot involves him braving the Arctic tundra to contact the space craft Æther, who recently visited a habitable moon on Jupiter called K-23. Knowing it’s not safe for them to return to Earth, Lofthouse aims to warn them about the danger, and to turn around and start a new life on K-23.
As such, “The Midnight Sky” is part arctic survival tale, part space film, with just about all the clichés you’d expect. We have a lighthearted cast about the Æther in Sully (Felicity Jones), Adewole (David Oyelowo), Maya (Tiffany Boone), Sanchez (Demián Bichir) and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler). Because it would be a brief film otherwise, for most of the film, Lofthouse can’t communicate with the ship, first because the antenna on his base is not powerful enough, then because the ship goes through a meteor storm and damages their tech, which of course the crew needs to fix, and of course results in a casualty, because drama needs to come from somewhere. Lofthouse is also accompanied by a little girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall), which gives him something to protect and humanizes him a bit, but she never talks and adds little to the film.
If you’ve seen any major space movie in the last 10 years, you’ve pretty much seen the highlights of this film. Other than its arctic scenes, which range from emotionally-packed to almost cartoonish in their impracticability, and its premise, this film offers nothing we haven’t seen before.
There are several small, tender moments that I absolutely love in this film — Clooney’s direction is at its best when he focuses on relatable issues and nuanced performances from his actors — but the film as a whole is a bit “meh.” The execution is mostly consistent throughout the film, though its technical elements hold no water when compared to better films in this genre, like “Gravity.” “The Midnight Sky” has strong themes and interesting ideas, but it shies away from them to show tried-and-true space drama we’ve already seen a million times
It’s a bit frustrating, because I feel like this could have been a strong space film, had Clooney chose to focus more on the human drama aboard the Æther and fleshed out each of those characters, focused less on Lofthouse’s forgettable arctic struggles, told us more about the world, and had more fun with the cinematography.
“The Midnight Sky” is a competent film, but it’s very forgettable, and it really feels like Clooney did not get the most out of his $100 million budget.
“The Midnight Sky” gets a 6/10