Netflix film “The Midnight Sky”, which was released in theaters in here and US a few weeks ago and then is released on Netflix today, is a disappointment without much wonder and pizazz. While it starts with an interesting story premise, the movie does not juggle well its several different elements and story ideas, and the overall result often feels half-baked and scattershot without generating enough interest or narrative momentum for holding our attention during its tedious 2-hour running time.
In the beginning, the movie, which is set in the middle of the 21st century, puts us right into the increasingly gloomy circumstance of Dr. Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney), a middle-aged scientist who has been stuck alone in an observatory station somewhere in the middle of the Arctic Circle. Three weeks ago, something quite catastrophic happened almost all over the Earth, and other people in the observatory station besides Augustine hurriedly left to somewhere, but he chose to stay in the observatory station although he does not have many days to live due to his terminal illness.
Anyway, it looks like he made a right choice for now. That global catastrophe, which is simply called “the Event” in the movie, seems to have nearly wiped out the entire population of the human race and all other living species on the Earth, and Augustine becomes more depressed as often being reminded of the fact that he may be the last human being on the Earth at present.
However, despite that grim fact and his imminent death, there is something Augustine has tried to do as much as he can during last three weeks. As shown from one flashback scene set, he found a new moon of Jupiter several decades ago, and there was a strong possibility that this new moon of Jupiter can be a habitable colony for humanity. As a matter of fact, a big spaceship named Æther was sent to Jupiter a few years ago for confirming whether its new moon is really habitable, and Augustine hopes that he will be able to contact with Æther and then inform its crew on the dire condition of the Earth before it eventually arrives at the Earth.
While his efforts for contacting with Æther continue to be futile, Augustine comes to notice a small but strange thing on one day. It looks like there is someone else inside the observatory station besides him, and, what do you know, he soon comes to encounter a little girl. Although she is not that communicative, Augustine takes care of her anyway, and he and she slowly come to make some connection between them even though she remains mostly silent as before.
In the meantime, the movie also pays attention to what is going on inside Æther. Its crew members, who incidentally found that the new moon of Jupiter is indeed habitable in addition to being full of life (Please don’t ask me how the hell that is possible even though it seems to be quite close to Jupiter as shown from one brief scene), still have no idea on what happened to the Earth even while baffled by the continuing communication disconnection between them and the Earth, and then this communication problem leads to a series of problems in the middle of their return route to the Earth.
Of course, the movie accordingly throws a couple of long sequences unfolded in the space as the crew members of Æther try to fix these problems, but these sequences are not particularly thrilling or compelling as merely reminiscent of what we already saw from other recent space movies ranging from “Gravity” (2013) to “Ad Astra” (2019). Furthermore, the crew members of Æther are mostly broad archetypes without enough depth and personality, and the performers playing these characters are unfortunately under-utilized while only demanded to fill their respective spot as much as they can. While Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo are rather flat as two crew members who have been quite intimate to each other, Kyle Chandler, Tiffany Boone, and Demián Bichir manage to leave some impression despite their bland characters.
The screenplay by Mark L. Smith, which is based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel “Good Morning, Midnight”, also falters in the part associated with Augustine’s continuing efforts for contacting with Æther. Once discerning that he needs to go to some other observatory station with a better antenna, Augustine promptly embarks on a very risky journey across that harsh Arctic plain along with the little girl, but the movie simply plods along with its two main characters without generating much urgency, and we can only admire how hard Clooney, who also directed and co-produced the film, tries to carry his part. In case of young actress Caoilinn Springall, she holds her own small place fairly well besides Clooney, but her character remains to be more or less than a plot element, and her scenes with Clooney does not generate enough drama to engage us.
Although it is not a total bore thanks to its competent technical aspects including the cinematography by Martin Ruhe and the score by Alexandre Desplat, “The Midnight Sky” ultimately underwhelms us while looking quite insubstantial compared to similar but better space drama films out there. It does not have the captivating awe and excitement of “Gravity” and “The Martian” (2015), and it also does not have the sheer ambition of “Interstellar” (2014) and “Ad Astra”, and it even does not have the colorful creativity of “Europa Report” (2013) and “High Life” (2018). Believe me, you will have a better time with any of these aforementioned films.
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