- Katie Bell
The Midnight Sky (2020)
Barbeau Observatory. The Arctic Circle. February, 2049. Augustine (George Clooney) is alone. We learn that Earth has been/is being destroyed by nuclear radiation. We then learn through a series of flashbacks, that whilst most people were evacuated from the observatory, the terminally ill Augustine remained behind, because he would not survive the journey. He is alone...for now...until Iris appears. Before I travel any further, is anyone familiar with season one of The 100? That whole plot around Jaha on the Ark? Yeah, that's this movie. I can see how it could be done well, but I can also see how it's well-suited to the CW (in saying that, I'm up to season 6, so I'm not one to shame the CW).
Augustine makes it his life's mission (for the little time that he has left), to communicate the dire state of the planet Earth, to any nearby spaceships, in the hopes that the human race might be preserved and lives may be saved. The only surviving spaceship within a communicable range is the Aether. Of course, there are complications along the way, but Augustine does his darnedest to sort through them and make contact before it's too late.
The preliminary issue with this film is that it is amazingly slow. So slow. I cannot describe how slow this film is. At first I thought it was a directorial choice. Perhaps Clooney wanted viewers to empathise with the characters, by experiencing the story at a rate that would be familiar to them. Imagine being in space, away from your family and friends, for two years? Imagine dying of a terminal illness? Perhaps both of these things feel like slow and painful processes? However, as the slow pace of the movie continued well into the second act, I began to sense that this judgement was incorrect and I began to endure the slow feeling one experiences when they fall from a great height and understand that injury is inevitable. In this case, my injury, was enduring this film. Had I not been reviewing it, I might have quit watching at the halfway mark, or at the very least distracted myself with some banal thing on my phone.
This slow pacing might have been alleviated if Augustine was able to build connections with the people aboard the Aether sooner. The way this film is shot, it's almost like you are watching two separate movies. You have the action on board the Aether and you have the action on the ground. Neither were engaging enough for me on their own. I wanted them to come together much sooner.
The slow pace aside, my biggest problem with this film is with the score. Overstated is the best descriptor to use here, I believe. When Augustine and Iris are playing, the score sounds almost like that of a music box. Then, when Augustine briefly loses Iris, the world's largest violin begins to play...to be fair I think it's a cello. Regardless, there is no subtlety. My other gripe with the music occurs aboard the Aether. Three crew members space walk to resolve an issue on the outside of the ship. It could be a thrilling moment. It could make the audience grip the edge of their seats... If the right music played... But instead we are treated to Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond and the crew sing it loudly, (as it should be sung, really). In all honesty, this is probably what you would want to happen if you were risking your life in space, but in terms of audience engagement, something else might have been more effective in building the tension here. Scary music! Scary music is the answer!
To this film's credit, it is pretty to look at. There are plenty of moments where I enjoyed the cinematography (even if it was a little disorienting in space). So yeah, if you are looking for a reason to view this film, the visuals are probably your best bet. Oh! And this line from the Clooney himself, in regards to wearing a mask: "You have to. So do I. Just take a deep breath. That's not so bad, right? Never take it off. No matter what." Very relevant, considering the current state of the world. And a message that I too can get behind. #wearamask