What does Hollywood have by 2049?
It is 2049, and three weeks after this so-called event, mankind is threatened with extinction, with the exception of the extravagant Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney), who remains at her post in a further deserted Arctic research base. Lofthouse is terminally ill and ready to spend his last days in seclusion when he learns of the existence of the mysterious Iris (Caoilinn Springall), a child accidentally left behind after he was evacuated from the base.
Augustine notes that a spaceship that plans to colonize the galaxy returns to Earth without the crew knowing that Earth has collapsed in their absence. Unfortunately, the communication equipment is not powerful enough to warn the astronauts in time. So he and Iris have to make the difficult journey to a second transmitter with a more powerful one.
A group of great actors meet each other on Aether, the spaceship where mankind has his last great hope. Future parents Felicity Jones and David Oyevolo fly with their family Kyle Chandler, junior crew member Tiffany Boone and astronaut father Demian Bichir. Usually they have no idea what’s going on, so their plot is a trip to space and the visuals are beautifully done. A solid but intricately designed ship, gliding through the stellar void, accompanies the story of Alexander Desplat in a pleasant way.
It is clear that Clooney has learned a lot from his experience with gravity, which is a problem, if any. Gravity was nominated for an Oscar with Sandra Bullock to set the scene and bring a little emotion into the process. The air waves here are sterile and cold, and his team, apart from Neil Diamond’s singing, has the same problems. Attempts to humanize astronauts through virtual reality messages from their families seem forced. Look, he’s got kids, so you better take care of them. (Although, to be honest, Miriam Shore is excellent in her short scene as Chandler’s wife).
Show and tell
There’s an old movie saying: Shaw, don’t say anything. But sometimes you have to explain things to the public. Especially if it’s a science fiction concept. The problem with Midnight Sky is that you never know which parts to explain and which parts not. You want to be an explorer, Augustine. To discover new worlds, to give hope to life. But while you’re doing all this, your own life is slipping away from you – it’s too risky to be passed on as a dialogue. Have a little faith in the audience.
The event, on the other hand, is so vague that you have no idea whether the reaction to it is realistic. It sometimes seems strange that Augustine’s colleagues leave the base when things are so bad elsewhere on earth. Yeah, you want to be with your family, but if you’re not, they’re dead. What’s possible? What’s everything? From… anything?
A story of two riddles
The parcels of George Clooney crossing the North Pole and the spaceship returning to Earth are largely unrelated, and of the two the problems of Aether are by far the best thread. There is both spectacle and danger in the space scenes, which strangely enough are missing in the polar scenes. It never seems really cold for the Arctic, and in a certain order of action the leopard seal jumps and puts Clooney in a position that would have been totally unrecoverable in real life, without really suffering the disastrous consequences.
Yet these two head movements are much better than the clumsy flashbacks on Augustine that kill the driving force of the cinematic stoner. Luckily, there aren’t many.
At the end you remember other, better shots in the whole movie. The above gravity, Ad Astra. Survival of the Snow Revenge. Man and Child vs. Apocalypse Road… are all subjects that come to mind and are probably the best use of your time if you haven’t seen them yet. It’s not bad in itself, but it often doesn’t seem to meet the intended purpose.
A starcast with David Oyelowo, an imperial spaceship, a Netflix…. version and an average IMDb score of 5 and a half. Midnight Sky isn’t as bad as Cloverfield Paradox, but it’s by no means the best work of director/star George Clooney.
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