As far as blatant rip-offs go, I’ve seen worse than this.
“The Midnight Sky” is the latest directorial effort from George Clooney, based on the novel “Good Morning, Midnight.” The film follows a lone scientist in the Arctic (Clooney) who must journey to a radio tower to warn off a returning spaceship (containing Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, and Kyle Chandler) after a global catastrophe on Earth.
George Clooney is a very interesting director. When he hits, he hits, with serious dramas like “The Ides of March” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” However he has recently fallen into a bit of a rough spell, with missed opportunities like “Monuments Men” and the awful “Suburbicon.” His latest (and most ambitious) effort, “The Midnight Sky,” is his first attempt at both a blockbuster and at taking part in the Netflix machine, and while the results are mixed, I think there is enough here to be worth checking out from your couch.
As far as his direction here goes, I appreciated Clooney’s humanistic approach. He had to take a “crash course” on visual effects (more on that in a second), but as far as his handling of the actors go, I think he did a good job getting personal performances from his cast. As far as the story goes, it’s a bit more mixed, because while Clooney’s personal “Revenant” journey through the Arctic with a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) is intense and emotional, the sequences aboard the spaceship belong in a completely different movie (and that movie is “The Martian”).
Half of the special effects are solid here, but in 2020 it takes a lot to wow an audience (especially without seeing them on a big screen). Some of the greenscreen moments are a bit wonky, but Clooney does manage to take a page out of his “Gravity” playbook and create a few “wow” moments when he pans back to reveal the full scope of the universe. In a year where “Birds of Prey” is going to end up as the highest-grossing superhero movie, I could see “Midnight Sky” slipping into the awards talk for its production value, but in a normal year this wouldn’t earn any additional talk for its VFX.
The familiarity of the film certainly hinders it, and for some viewers may even ruin things. However I found myself enjoying a fair amount, whether it was with the film (an exciting snowstorm sequence shot in real-life 50 mph winds at 40-below) or at its expense (the astronauts break out into a carpool karaoke of “Sweet Caroline” like its the 7th inning at Fenway; dumb). Alexandre Desplat’s score, while on-the-nose at points, is also very good, and is one of my favorites of the year.
“The Midnight Sky” thinks it is being slick trying to be a half-dozen better films rolled into one, but given our limited amount of big-budget fair in 2020 I think this latest attempt by Netflix to break into the blockbuster game is admirable-enough to warrant checking. Sure, you could watch “The Revenant” or “Interstellar” or “Ad Astra” instead (and likely should), but for those who demand little and want something “new” (used in the loosest of terms), I think this works.
Critics Rating: 6/10