Review by Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions
It’s 2049, just after the world as we know it has ended. Augustine, a renowned astronomer (Geoge Clooney) is alone in his observatory at the North Pole after everyone else has been evacuated. He’s dying from an unknown ailment and is determined to do what he can while he’s still able.
On the other side of the solar system, a group of astronauts on the spaceship Ether are headed back to earth after discovering an inhabitable planet that may be humankind’s last hope. Unbeknownst to them is the state of the world they’re returning to and how little there is left for them.
Augustine is unable to reach Ether from his observatory to warn them, so he sets out to a weather station in the arctic with a much better reach having to drag his weary body across the ice and snow. Before he can make his journey, however, he discovers a stowaway in the observatory, a seven year old girl who cannot speak named Iris (Caoilinn Springall). Will he and Iris be able to successfully make it to the weather station safely? Will he live long enough to contact Ether? What will happen to Iris after Augustine’s inevitable demise? And what of the Ether, will they be able to make it back to Earth? What will happen when they arrive? What’s happened to their loved ones while they were gone? All these questions are raised by the story, and not all of them are answered.
The Midnight Sky is the seventh feature film by director George Clooney, and it’s quite an achievement. It successfully manages to balance three stories: Augustine’s journey across the arctic, the journey of the astronauts back to Earth, and a flashback story of young Augustine, his rise to prominence in the scientific community and his relationship with a young woman who struggles to reach him as he gets deeper into his work.
The film is incredibly strong on a technical level. Jim Bissell who has worked with Clooney as Production Designer since the director’s first film, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, delivers spectacularly innovative designs from Augustine’s observatory and the interior of the Ether to world’s beyond. The production design combined with the outstanding special effects captured by the cinematographer Martin Ruhe make for some truly gobsmacking visuals. It’s a shame most audiences will only be able to watch via Netflix as it is certainly worthy of the big screen.
The Midnight Sky has an excellent ensemble cast. Clooney and Springall have great chemistry and play well off each other. The crew of the Ether lead by Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo have a real camaraderie and give us the feeling they’ve become a family who has bonded with one another through the unique experience of discovery and exploration. As George Lucas once said “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing,” and it’s the characters of this film that keep it from being more than just a stunning array of visuals without any real meaning. Clooney has proven himself to be an actor’s director, and that is evident here.
The story is grounded in a reality that seems believable. It’s much closer to Close Encounters of the Third Kind than it is to Star Trek. There are some moments that are truly harrowing and suspenseful, but aren’t over the-top. The story of Augustine’s journey and the Ether’s journey parallel one another, and the cross-cutting between the two is extremely well done. It’s good old fashioned storytelling at its finest, and it’s extremely effective. If you’re a savvy filmgoer, you may be able to predict bits of the movie’s conclusion, but you’re likely to find it to be a satisfying one.
The Midnight Sky is beautiful, moving, and awe-inspiring both in its visuals and its message. George Clooney has always had a strong presence on screen, but he’s one of the most underrated directors working today, and this film is proof of that yet again. As an actor, Clooney isn’t playing the typical Clooney character. It’s a far cry from Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven or Matt Kowalski in Gravity, so if you’re looking for the handsome, confident leading man Clooney is known for portraying, this isn’t that.
If you’re into sci-fi, space exploration, and enjoy film’s with a slow build, you’ll love The Midnight Sky. It’s solid science fiction with some strong action, thrills, and sensational visuals. If you’re a fan of George Clooney as a director, I would also recommend Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck.