The Midnight Sky (2020)

midnightskyclooneyGeorge Clooney stars in and directs this $100 million film for Netflix, which also features Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo and Kyle Chandler. Clooney has described the film as Gravity meets The Revenant, and while that does sound rather enticing, The Midnight Sky utterly fails to reach the heights of either of those two films, and any comparison does this film no favours at all. Clooney acts in this film as if he can carry it by the sheer force of will in his performance alone (he’s really pretty good) but of course he can’t, which is a shame. The curious thing is that he’s not only acting like he’s in some other (better) movie, but he’s also directing it too. I often thought when watching the film, did George really read the script?

The Midnight Sky is a soft-focus Apocalypse, its an End of the World thats pleasantly cosy, without all the death or the misery or even any explanation of what the nature of The End of All Things was. It all happens off-screen, referred to in a piece of opening text as ‘Three weeks after the Event’ which has left George Clooney all alone in an Arctic Research Facility. Even when he is asked by astronauts travelling back to Earth  regards what happened, he replies “I’m afraid we didn’t do a very good job of looking after the place while you were away” which is just so vague its doubly infuriating that the astronauts don’t press him on it. As if bad house-keeping is sufficient excuse for destroying the planet. Was it Nuclear War, or plague, or some environnmental disaster?

Clooney has decided upon a ‘Show Don’t Tell’ approach to this film, intending ‘The Event’ to be something vague and mysterious, and this approach runs throughout the film in all kinds of ways, such as his character’s illness that requires frequent transfusions and medication- unfortunately the source material isn’t strong enough to support that approach. Its a brave decision on Cooney’s part undermined by the material he has to work with. The film is actually based upon a novel, Good Morning, Midnight written by Lily Brooks-Dalton and adapted here by Mark L Smith: I have no idea how many of the films issues were down to the book or Smith’s screenplay.

I think the film would have been far better served had it been supported by narration, something along the lines of “It was three weeks after The Event, after everyone had left: they are probably all dead now. Up here we always felt isolated, like we were the last people alive in all the world. I guess that might be true now. The radios are dead, the silence total, there’s no-one out there. I’m all alone.” Perhaps thats too on-the-nose, but I only wrote that example just, on the fly, but it sort of sets things up better than the film does, and I think narration would have better served the plot than flash-backs that are so awkward, they only give away the films ‘twists’ too early.  Those twists themselves, by the way,  stretch credibility beyond breaking point, but by the time they get revealed there’s little doubt the audience is beyond caring.

The Midnight Sky is ultimately undermined by its lack of internal logic and cohesive thought: a pregnant astronaut is allowed to do a deep-space EVA, when her foetus would be at the mercy of cosmic radiation. We are expected to believe that when ‘The Event’ occured, no-one at NASA had sufficient duty of care to send a message to a deep-space mission returning to Earth to warn the crew of the disaster. We are expected to believe that a moon is discovered orbiting Jupiter that is fit for human colonization (take a look in books for how much space radiation is blasting around the Jovian system). We are expected to believe that not just five astronauts can fly a space mission to and from the Jovian system, but that two alone can do it just as fine too. That they might have sufficient supplies to return to that moon and survive on it.

Its really very disappointing – because maybe not all of those problems could have been addressed with a good script rewrite, but some of them could and moreover should have, and surely there’s little excuse for so many issues (and more I haven’t raised) to have slipped through the screenplay stage prior to photography. This is one of those films that on paper seems such a candidate for success, featuring a good cast and high production values (visual effects from ILM, no less) and yet has such a problematic, fundamentally broken script that it all feels a waste of time, effort and talent. I’m probably hopelessly naïve about how they make movies, but I cannot understand how anyone thought the script worked in any way at all, or how anyone could decide it was ready to go into production. Maybe they thought they could fix it in the edit, but no edit no matter how inspired or brilliant could fix such a broken script as this has.

3 thoughts on “The Midnight Sky (2020)

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    It was so… so… boring; it took me two attempts to get through it. Between this and the excruciating ‘Away’, when did SF get so dull? I blame Alex Garland.

    I really hope Clooney’s immense wealth hasn’t ruined his eye for decent material.

    1. Yeah it was really pretty bad, its strange that they could get someone of Clooney’s stature involved, its hardly as if the guy needs the money, surely. I just couldn’t figure how it ever got past the script stage, or what anyone thought was worthwhile in the source novel. Are they so desperate for ideas away from comicbooks? All this film really did was make me want to rewatch Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, a far superior picture.

      I haven’t gotten around to trying ‘Away’ yet. Excrutiating? Well, thats my expectations lowered further.

  2. Pingback: The 2021 List: January – the ghost of 82

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