The Midnight Sky, 2020

Netflix | PG-13 | 1 hour 58 minutes | Review

Originally published 01/06/2020

The Midnight Sky, with its near Christmas Eve release, earns actor/director George Clooney the award for ‘Best Santa Claus Beard’.  The timing of the beard and the movie couldn’t be better.  After a year of streaming everything in sight, we are all on a cosmic search for great content and TMS is a great find.  Other critics, like Rex Reed of the Observer, were mean spirited about TMS but without cause to be.   I have some criticisms, of course, but I enjoyed this movie.

Clooney’s character, astrophysicist Augustine Lofthouse, stays behind at the far northern Barbeau Observatory after a mysterious global disaster causes all the other inhabitants to head home to die with their loved ones.  The mysterious cause never gets explained, which is one of my criticisms of the movie.  Augustine remains by himself when he discovers a child the others left behind in their haste to escape into death.  That’s the opposite of human nature and our will to survive.

Augustine, in his youth, discovered an Earth-like planet or moon named K-23.  Some years later a multi-year mission is sent to determine suitability for human life on K-23, and those explorers have not quite reached Earth as the disaster happened.  There is nobody left to tell them of Earth’s demise except Augustine, and his efforts to communicate with the extraterrestrial mission fail because the Barbeau Observatory’s link to space is too weak to reach them.  He must take the child on a treacherous journey in extreme polar conditions to another observatory with greater reach into space. 

Along the way we see the effects of extreme physical hardship and mental fragility that isolation and severe conditions can cause.  The BEST moment of the film is also the most intense.  Augustine and his snowmobile fall through the ice with his life sustaining equipment.  As his gear continues to sink deeper beyond his reach you can feel the finality of his struggle.  The WORST moment in the movie is the immediate scene that follows.  Augustine is soaked to the bone and yet he does not freeze to death.  While we follow Augustine on his journey, the explorers on the spaceship Aether are facing their own challenges in extreme conditions on their return to Earth.  The crew have been away from Earth for years and now must deal with the emotional news that there is no longer a home to return to.  Their mission was to determine if life could exist on K-23 and will they be able to return now that Earth is not an option?

The events happening in space are what make this film science fiction and they are completed in a plausible manner.  But the story itself, beginning with Earth’s unexplained devastation, doesn’t ring true, even in a time when COVID illustrates how a disaster can affect the whole planet.  Augustine’s fall through the ice in the extreme north is unlikely, and his survival afterwards is accomplished only by artist’s license.  So, The Midnight Sky is NOT very CONVINCING.  It is, however, an extremely enjoyable movie to watch.  The writing, the adventure, and the performances are all very good.  The technology and effects let us glimpse into the future of what long duration space flight might become.  It certainly made me want to go.  I SCORE The Midnight Sky an 8 out of 10.  The weaker parts of the story are insignificant to the emotional ride Clooney has taken us on.  Emotion almost always wins over technicality.  Stream away!

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