Starring: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo
Director: George Clooney
Running Time: 122 mins
The Midnight Sky is an American film about a former scientist left alone in the Arctic after a global catastrophe, who fights to the end to stop a crew of astronauts unaware of conditions on the planet from returning to Earth.
A thoughtful sci-fi drama with a really great story, The Midnight Sky has all the ingredients of a genre classic, but it just doesn’t make the best of the incredible material it deals with. Based on a novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton, this is a gripping story about a post-apocalyptic near future, complete with stunning emotional depth and an unyielding approach to the grim potential of the years to come.
However, The Midnight Sky is a film that takes that gripping and challenging source material and waters it down just a little too much to really fulfil its potential. There’s no denying that the film is an engaging watch, but there’s an enormous discrepancy between its audacity, scale and ambition on a superficial level, and the depth that lies beneath.
Patiently paced throughout, this film sets out to deliver an interstellar story without travelling at breakneck speed. Coupled with a trimmed-down cast, relatively minimal dialogue and light exposition from the start, there’s no denying the audacity of The Midnight Sky in bringing something different and thought-provoking to the sci-fi genre.
However, while the film certainly deserves praise for its more measured, thoughtful approach to the genre, there are times when it takes that mentality a little too far. Above all, the way that The Midnight Sky aims to create mystery and intrigue from its start by being particularly light on explaining what led to the near future we find ourselves in is just a little much.
The film starts off with George Clooney isolated in the Arctic after some kind of global catastrophe, though the film doesn’t reveal what it was. At first, it’s an intriguing prospect, but the story gets moving far too soon without giving you enough time to really appreciate the gravity of its setting.
Couple that with beautiful and polished visuals that run in counter to the film’s attempt at creating an atmosphere of desolation and devastation after the apocalypse, and it’s difficult to really feel the dread and fear that the greatest post-apocalyptic films are able to deliver.
While the film does gradually bring a more effective portrait of a devastated Earth to the table, it’s a far cry from the soul-destroying and unforgettably bleak views of the world in films like The Road, and it’s an issue that carries through to the story’s emotional depth too.
I really didn’t feel the sense of devastation surrounding George Clooney’s isolated character, and as such the gravitas of his situation, as well as the importance of preventing a flight of astronauts from returning to a post-apocalyptic Earth really didn’t hit home for me.
The movie also neglects to deal with more challenging emotional themes of loss and grief, with a half-baked back story playing out through the movie that leads to an admittedly surprising but ultimately unsatisfying ending to the story.
Compared with some of the best outer space movies of recent years, The Midnight Sky finds itself in a frustrating middle ground. With its slow pace and thoughtful approach to sci-fi, it’s not the crowd-pleasing blockbuster that The Martian or Interstellar was, but its lack of real depth means that it also pales in comparison to more thought-provoking genre films like Ad Astra.
Saying that, however, there are still a heap of positives to take from The Midnight Sky. For one, the story’s focus shifts really effectively throughout between Clooney’s character on Earth and the astronauts in space, in a smooth fashion that really suits the scale of the plot.
Meanwhile, the visuals are undeniably gorgeous and, although that might not always to the film’s advantage, look incredible on the big screen – particularly the sequences set on Earth.
There’s clearly some real, challenging meat to this story, but it feels as if The Midnight Sky just doesn’t pick up on the strongest parts of its source material. It’s a captivating watch without a doubt, and certainly a different and refreshing entry in the modern sci-fi genre, but it lacks the depth to really back up its often bold style, making for an engaging but ultimately underwhelming watch. And that’s why I’m giving The Midnight Sky a 7.4 overall.