The Midnight Sky (2020)
The Midnight Sky (2020)

Genre: Sci-Fi Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Release Date: December 23rd, 2020 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: George Clooney Actors: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Caoilinn Springall, Tiffany Boone, Sophie Rundle

 


 

A

t the Barbeau Observatory in the Arctic Circle, Dr. Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) sits alone in the massive, abandoned facility, spying the icy view outside a wall of windows. The year is 2049 in February, just three weeks after an unspecified event involving catastrophic levels of radiation has devastated the populace. The entire hemisphere – perhaps even the whole world – has been evacuated. Augustine is also suffering from an inoperable disease (most likely a late-stage cancer), and has chosen to stay behind, reminiscing about his former life – including his girlfriend (Sophie Rundle) and their relationship, and the book he wrote about his extensive research on K-23, one of Jupiter’s potentially habitable moons.

Meanwhile, on the Aether Spacecraft, which is returning from its 2-year trip to Jupiter, the crew concerns themselves with a communications blackout that has cut them off completely from NASA for several weeks. Commander Gordon Adewole (David Oyelowo) and Captain Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), along with specialists Sanchez (Demian Bichir), Maya Lawrence (Tiffany Boone), and “Sully” Sullivan (Felicity Jones) keep up their routines and their spirits, though it’s difficult to remain unconcerned about the causes of their inability to receive outside messages or to contact the K-23 colony flight. As it turns out, one of Augustine’s primary reasons for staying behind at the observatory is to warn Aether about the disaster on Earth, but the satellite system there is simply not strong enough to accomplish the task.

As if merging a separate story – or movie – altogether, a stowaway mute child named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) becomes Augustine’s sole companion, with the two bonding in a saccharine manner, before undertaking an environmentally formidable journey to a safer location with a powerful antenna. It’s a simple yet sweet subplot that injects a hint of father/daughter humanity into what would otherwise be a sci-fi (or sensibly futuristic) thriller of sorts – particularly when Aether deviates from its course and must travel through uncharted territory to get home. With that meatier premise comes promises of excitement as the astronauts brave meteors, malfunctions, and other spacefaring hazards.

Problematically, the pacing is incredibly slow. Things happen, but they present minimal gravity, oftentimes failing to affect the characters or emotionally escalate their dilemmas. Even when a sudden, shocking, noisy predicament occurs, it feels as if included only to break up the monotony of general placidity (one of the pitfalls of fellow sci-fi drama “Ad Astra”). The progression of the plot is painfully, obviously fictional; it rarely seems as if this is an organic tale, instead manufactured with intentional impasses to complicate a straightforward, unremarkable mission.

Additionally, the two disparate yarns remain distinctly detached. Two entirely different movies play out, switching back and forth when too big of a lull has transpired, or when the melancholy string instruments of the soundtrack need to transition into anxious melodies for a disappointingly convenient scene of action. One of the most contrived ideas involves a long-awaited transmission getting interrupted by an astronomical episode that knocks out a radar (what are the odds!) – an eye-rolling circumstance that stretches out the running time for no other reason than to pad a meager plot (one that doesn’t bother to spell out what exactly happened to the planet, let alone the survivors). Ultimately, “The Midnight Sky” could have been a cautionary tale about mankind destroying Earth, or even just a visual spectacle to take in the wonders of an alien planet or a tranquil spacewalk, but instead it’s a meandering, ineffectively existential, terrible bore. Sci-fi dramas in this era are rare for a reason: audiences aren’t usually accustomed to speculative fiction that dwells on such limited, intimate, yet inconsequential interactions – as opposed to action-packed space operas or alien invasions.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10