Clooney directs and stars in this Sci Fi thriller about humanity’s escape from a doomed earth
The Midnight Sky is George Clooney’s seventh feature film as director, based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton and distributed by Netflix it attempts to turn lofty sci fi concepts into crowd pleasing fare. Clooney stars as Dr. Augustine Lofthouse, a scientist with terminal cancer living at a remote research base in the Arctic circle. In the opening scenes of the film we learn that some cataclysmic event has befallen Earth (whether this is nuclear, biological or chemical is never explained) and the planet is no longer liveable. Humanity’s last survivors leave on a ship to colonise a newly settled world whilst Augustine elects to stay behind alone – though he grudgingly ends up with a lost child for company. Augustine is desperate to warn a returning unknowing spacecraft that it is not safe for them to land on earth, but technological problems force him and the child to set off across the Arctic wilderness to another research station in order to make contact.
Clooney has described The Midnight Sky as a mash up of Gravity and The Revenant, it follows two different intermixed storylines as we see both Augustine battling against the environment as he tries as he tries to cross the polar environment to the research station, and the crew of the spaceship Aether who must overcome a series of disasters as they obliviously try to get back to Earth. The similarities to these two films aren’t just narrative. Clooney wears his influences on his sleeve borrowing Alfonso Cuarón’s zero-gravity camera techniques plus Alejandro Iñárritu’s Revenant scriptwriter Mark L. Smith to adapt the story.
It’s an excellent cast turning in decent, understated performances. Clooney lost 25lbs and gave himself pancreatitis prepping for the role of a terminally ill man, and his commitment to suffering filming in realistically horrific snow conditions paid off in some very effective storm sequences. Rounding out the cast amongst the crew of the spaceship Aether are British multi-award winning actors Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo who remain stoic in the face of ever increasing catastrophe. The production design is beautiful with the spacecraft set having a vibe of ‘3D printers gone wild’ meets Ikea home furnishing. Another notable standout is the lovely piano led orchestral score from the ever brilliant composer Alexandre Desplat.
Unfortunately, the best efforts of its cast are not enough to help The Midnight Sky leave its mark and it suffers from a real lack of originality. It is strongly reminiscent of a number of recent sci fi epics including the aforementioned Gravity, as well as Interstellar, The Martian and Arrival and where there might be an interesting plot development or scene you find yourself realising you have seen it done before and done better. Tonally its all over the place, the film makes a conscious effort to drive home a sense of post-apocalyptic dread as the characters are thrown from one (highly predictable) disaster to the next, yet it is oddly devoid of tension and I found myself checking the remaining running time more than once. Without delving too deeply into spoilers, I also struggled to suspend belief for some plot points of the film, particularly the manner in which one character dies and another survives in impossible conditions, and the hugely telegraphed ‘reveal’ ending in which the two plot lines come together.
The Midnight Sky is aesthetically pleasing with some well-crafted set pieces and admirable ideas so I wouldn’t say it’s entirely a waste of two hours – but if you’re looking for the next great epic to join the pantheon of modern sci fi greats then unfortunately, this ain’t it.
The Midnight Sky is released worldwide on Netflix on 23rd December 2020