Released: 23rd December 2020
Seen: 8th April 2021
One of the weird things I have noticed since starting to review films is how some of them will stick around long after viewing, and some start moving out of my head the minute I’m finished. For example, one of the first films I watched as a reviewer was Get Out and I may have watched it once since reviewing it but I remember almost every single frame of that thing. Meanwhile, I saw Chaos Walking around a month ago and the only thing I remember from that film is Tom Holland’s in it… that’s it, that’s all I’ve got. Some films just refuse to be remembered… though, it’s a very rare film that makes me start forgetting I watched it while I’m still watching it, but The Midnight Sky did that.
The Midnight Sky is a post-apocalyptic tale that follows Augustine (George Clooney), a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully (Felicity Jones) and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe… at least, that’s what Netflix wrote on the IMDB page and I have to assume that’s the best description of the plot because I’ll be goddamned if I remember much of it.
Normally, The Midnight Sky is a film that would slip through the cracks, on its initial release it just didn’t get noticed in time before my cutoff for 2020 films hit and there’s nothing about this movie that seemed like it would warrant revisiting… except it somehow got an Oscar nomination for visual effects so it goes on the list of films I need to catch up on. So, let me address the thing that specifically caused me to watch this film which is the visual effects… they’re fine.
Nothing about the visual effects of this film is particularly outstanding, it’s a lot of CGI space work to try and create weightlessness or other planets and things we’ve seen before a lot of times. It almost feels like it’s nominated in this category because they needed five nominees and space films usually have good enough visual effects that it makes sense to nominate it but… yeah, nothing about them stands out.
Nothing about The Midnight Sky in general stands out, it just kind of exists harmlessly in the ether. The performances are generally fine, they hired some pretty great actors who are capable enough that you can like what they’re doing even when you can’t really understand why they’re doing it. Clooney is a really good director and you can tell that he put a lot into making this film, he knows how to get his actors to give what he needs and clearly knows who to get to build sets and help with shot composition.
The problem seems to be at a script level, it feels like nothing’s going on until suddenly everyone remembers that films require tension and something random just kind of happens. Disasters appear frequently, including one that is just the opening of Gravity. Those scenes do, admittedly, grab the attention right back and can be impressive to watch. When one of the characters gets injured in space and has to be brought back onto the ship but can’t be helped because they need to wait for the airlock to depressurise the room which takes 30 seconds it was a really intense sequence… and then the second it was over I kind of wanted to play Yahtzee on my phone to pass the time.
This isn’t to say The Midnight Sky is bad, it’s almost too well made to actually be a bad film. What it is is forgettable, even while watching it. It’s not good at holding attention or even really delivering an interesting story. Hell, I still don’t even fully know what the story was meant to be, it just didn’t click. I’m fully prepared to cop to it just being me and maybe I’m in the wrong frame of mind for this… but then I remember that I was able to recite the plot of Loqueesha without even breaking a sweat and it’s impossible to be in the right frame of mind for that film so maybe The Midnight Sky is just kinda dull.
The Midnight Sky is certainly trying to do something and no one involved gave anything less than their best but sometimes that just isn’t enough. It’s a fine piece of background noise with some exciting and interesting scenes but barely enough to justify the 2-hour runtime. I only had to talk about this one because it’s got an Oscar nomination. Something tells me I won’t have to be talking about it for much more, which is good because… wait, why am I writing this again? Did I watch a film?