Are you in desperate need for a yearly fix of sad space dad movies? Because luckily you can get that fix with director-actor George Clooney's The Midnight Sky which takes you to the Arctic, where his character Lofthouse has stayed behind at a research facility, after a catastrophe caused people around the world to evacuate to safety. Meanwhile a five person space crew is trying to get back to Earth from Jupiter, having been in radio silence for a while so they don’t know about the catastrophe or what may have happened to their loved ones. Lofthouse knows how to operate the radio equipment so he tries to signal to the crew that a return isn’t perhaps safe, as he also finds a little girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) seemingly left behind at the facility.
Now that seems like a lot, right? Clooney and writer Mark L. Smith have trouble keeping all the balls in the air as they juggle when telling a convincing story but visually everything is told to maximum effect, just enough to keep the film engaging.
There is possibly year’s best use of visual effects surrounding you at nearly all times, transporting you to both futuristic north and deadly silent space. Seamless would be the word to describe it, peaking at two action sequences—one where Lofthouse and Iris go on a journey to another facility where they are hammered by the tundra, and one in the space featuring blood droplets (more detailed would be a spoiler). Visual effects are great when standing on their own but whenever they’re created alongside the production design (Jim Bissell), they can be outstanding. The super modern spaceship and just bleakness of the research facility contrast each other well, keeping you in the setting after the VFX pulled you in.
The score by Alexandre Desplat is a mix of amazing (end credits cue) and out-of-place (around half an hour in) choices but when it finally loosens its grip, there is some wonderful sound work to be discovered. Once again the journey across the facilities showcases some neat editing when it comes to sound specifically.
Nothing in the movie itself screams catastrophe but Clooney definitely performs better as an actor than a director, he does get a great kid performance from Springall which is always difficult. A few flashbacks that we get seem a bit dumb, a couple plot holes are just rushed through and most importantly we just don’t get invested enough on one side of the story which is the space crew. Felicity Jones (as Sully) and Demián Bichir (Sanchez) lead the crew just fine acting-wise but I didn’t feel scared or for any of the characters at any point, mostly because they were just astronauts and nothing more. The Midnight Sky excels when it is a survival thriller on the Earth, competes when it’s survival sci-fi in space but struggles massively as a drama, highlighted by an ending which isn’t very affecting or moving while it tries to be exactly that. As a film, it merely survives but at least it looks great.
Smileys: VFX, production design, sound editing
Frowneys: Pacing, story
What I need desperately is more snowmobile action in movies, it’s kind of awesome here.