Netflix’s “The Midnight Sky” (2020) offers bleak escapism but with seeds of hope…


Netflix’s new sci-fi drama “The Midnight Sky” is a bleak tale of a sickly researcher struggling to warn a returning manned spacecraft away from returning to a dying Earth. While that may not sound like a great night of home-viewing during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the film makes for accessible message-heavy entertainment with a strong cast and able direction by star George Clooney.

Actor/director George Clooney embraces the value of de-glamming in “The Midnight Sky.”

For fans of nihilistic ecology sci-fi films such as “Soylent Green” or “Silent Running”, the movie offers an alternative to the frothier fantasy films of superheroes or Star Wars. Despite an obvious, M. Night Shyamalan-style twist reveal that is virtually telegraphed to the audience ahead of time, there are still a few intriguing enough elements to recommend with this grim, sober story, based on the book “Good Morning, Midnight,” by Lily Brooks-Dalton. While the science of this science-fiction is admittedly dodgy at times, it’s the message and mood that matter most in “The Midnight Sky.”

“The Midnight Sky.”

The film opens in the year 2049, three weeks after a mysterious “event” renders the world largely uninhabitable, save for rapidly dwindling safe zones in the polar regions. Dr. Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) has been a leading researcher in the quest for habitable planets beyond Earth. His career has exacted a high cost in his personal life, namely his long-divorced ex-wife Jean (Sophie Rundle) and a young daughter whom he never chose to know. Lofthouse is the textbook example of the obsessed researcher, who saw a personal life as little more than a superfluous distraction.

Transport choppers evacuate Beaumont base in the North Pole, leaving behind a stubborn sickly scientist to fend for himself.

Now, as the event’s deadly effects threaten even his North Polar Beaumont base, he is choosing to stay behind over the objections of his colleagues. Augustine is a very sick man, requiring daily transfusions for an unspecific illness which superficially resembles cancer; he figures with his own life ending, he will spend his remaining days continuing attempts to contact the manned spacecraft Aether (named after the skies over Olympus in Greek mythology). The Aether is returning from a wildly successful manned survey of K-23, a habitable moon of the planet Jupiter, which a much younger Lofthouse (Ethan Peck) was instrumental in discovering decades earlier. Beaumont base’s weaker transmitter is not ideal for contacting spacecraft, but mission control as well as other receiver stations have all been abandoned.

Note: Two Star Trek guest stars appear in the film. Actor Tim Russ (Lt. Tuvok on “Star Trek: Voyager”) and Ethan Peck, who played a younger Spock in Star Trek: Discovery” season 2, and is set to reprise the role in “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” set to begin filming as soon as pandemic conditions permit. Russ is seen early in the film as a colleague of Augustine’s, and Peck appears in flashbacks as the promising younger version of Dr. Augustine. Peck seems to be making a name for himself playing younger versions of iconic actors/characters.

One Man and a Little Lady.

After his daily rounds of blood transfusions and a perfunctory meal in the abandoned mess hall, Augustine goes to work, using the base’s transmitter in increasingly futile attempt to reach the Aether, which is heading home to a contaminated Earth…its crew unaware of the three-week old cataclysm which has rendered the surface of their home planet a dying husk. Augustine is hopeful that if he warn the Aether to turn around and try settling down on K-23 instead of returning home in a suicide mission. He glances at a mission profile of the Aether crew as he calls out to them. Working tirelessly at his work station, the exhausted Augustine notices a bright-eyed, mute young girl (Caoillinn Springhall), apparently left behind during the evacuation. Augustine immediately sends a call out to his former colleagues, advising them that a little girl was left behind during the evacuation, but there is no response. The sickly Augustine fears he doesn’t have either the resources or stamina to properly take care of the girl, but the curiously mute child doesn’t seem to mind.

Special relativity: It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out the child’s significance for Augustine.

The child is very curious and tactile, touching every screen and object that she can, despite Augustine’s repeated warnings not to touch anything. No harm is caused, so Augustine relents. Later, he sees the little girl drawing a particular flower and deduces that the mute child is drawing her name, Iris. At night, Iris drags the bedding from her nearby quarters and sleeps on the floor of Augustine’s room. They share meals in the mess hall, and even playfully toss peas at each other, expressing their mutual dislike for them. Over time, Iris becomes Baby Yoda to Augustine’s sickly Mandalorian, trailing him all over the lonely base and bonding with the gruff researcher.

Note: Since I gave a giant spoiler warning up top, it’s fair to assume readers already know the ‘big twist’; the girl is actually a vision of Augustine’s own abandoned daughter, Iris, who is currently a member of the Aether crew. I don’t claim to be any more clever than the average viewer (I am an average viewer), but I had this one figured out as soon as the girl wouldn’t speak with him. If we’d heard her accent matching the British accent of actor Felicity Jones (the adult Iris), we’d put it together too quickly. Even so, this “twist” is very obvious, and shouldn’t fool anyone. That said, their curiously non-verbal relationship reminded me of the relationship between Eleven (Milly Bobby Brown) and her eventual adoptive dad, Hopper (David Harbour) in the early episodes of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”

The Aether returns home from a survey of a new Earth–blissfully unaware that it should’ve stayed put.

Meanwhile, in deep space, we see Aether astronaut Sully (Felicity Jones) experiencing a dream of her time on the beautiful, habitable Jovian paradise of K-23. Running panicked through an alien wheat field, she realizes the lander craft is lifting off without her. She awakens from the dream, and decides to take a leisurely stroll through the ship (nice way to see both the ship and meet the crew). Stopping to tease her commander and lover Adewole (David Oyelowo) for leaving her behind in her dream, Sully is visibly pregnant with their child. We soon meet the other members of the Aether crew: Middle-aged family man and pilot Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) is sharing a breakfast with a holographic simulacrum of his wife and kids back on Earth (the holographic chamber being a means for the crew to conjure friends and family members for emotional support when needed). Seasoned medical officer Sanchez (Damien Bichir) is contrasted with inexperienced young astronaut Maya (Tiffany Boone), for whom he shares a paternal fondness. The large fusion spacecraft is state of the art, with a spinning centrifuge deck allowing for simulated gravity, plenty of supplies, and 3D printers for easy construction of replacement parts. Their mission to K-23 was a resounding success, as the moon easily supports human life and resembles a clean, unspoiled Earth… but with gas giant Jupiter and its many moons looming large in the sky above.

Note: Gotta give the movie one serious strike for sloppy science—there is no way an Earth-like moon orbiting Jupiter could’ve evaded discovery until the mid-21st century. Yes, the Jovian system has dozens of moons (currently 79), but the four largest of them were discovered way back in the early 17th century by Galileo (hence their moniker ‘the Galilean satellites’), and those four moons are considerably smaller than Earth, and without appreciable atmospheres. I realize the story had to have a close enough target to reach by manned spaceship (instead of say, an exoplanet beyond our solar system) but I would’ve preferred if they found a subterranean zone on Mars rich in raw colony materials, or anything slightly more plausible than a completely habitable, Earth-like moon somehow thriving within a radiation-rich orbit around Jupiter. The occasionally loopy science of the movie is nestled at the Lagrange point between “The Martian” (2015) and “Armageddon” (1998). But then again, it’s pop entertainment, not PBS’s “Nova”.

Felicity Jones as Sully opens all hailing frequencies…no response.

The mission has recently hit a snag, however, as the crew is unable to contact anyone on Earth, and no new comm traffic is coming from the planet. Assuming the fault must be in their equipment, the crew checks and rechecks their transmitters and receivers multiple times, but to no avail. At this point, the radio silence is believed to be little more than an annoying equipment anomaly rather than anything too serious.

Note: I wondered why the Aether crew didn’t pick up any sort of SOS or other distress calls during the earliest onset of “the event.” In the event of a full nuclear war, you’d think there’d be multiple broadcasts from national emergency networks all over the airwaves, and certainly someone at Mission Control could’ve warned the crew personally before evacuating Houston, or at least relayed an message from the Emergency Broadcast System before singing off. Granted, that would no doubt ruin the ‘surprise’ for the crew later on, and destroy Augustine’s reasons for tirelessly manning the transmitters at the North Pole. Hence, no movie.

About that base, about that base, no trouble

At Beaumont, Augustine briefly establishes contact with the Aether before losing it once again, thanks to Beaumont’s weak transmitter. The frustrated Augustine devices a dangerous new plan to reach a much stronger transmitter at another base, which is a few days travel by snowmobile. Given the growing danger of the increasingly toxic atmosphere (as evidenced by flocks of dying falls falling from the sky outside), Augustine hopes the new base’s more remote location might also buy them more time. The scientist packs food, a 3D-printed rifle, and the vital transfusion equipment which keeps him alive. With everything in tow, he helps Iris gets comfortable with her breathing mask before he’s certain she’s good to go.

“Giddy-up giddy-up giddy-up let’s go. Let’s look at the show. We’re riding in a wonderland of snow…”

Taking off on a snowmobile, they make tracks across the punishing cold of the Arctic. With freezing winds and blinding white landscapes, the duo make a couple of stops along their way to the new base, both of which are ill-advised.

Note: I am once again astonished by the breathtaking reality with which LED wraparound screen technology has evolved; the digitally rendered North Pole snowscapes are very convincing, and the interactive lighting (shot in-camera) completely sells it, too. I watched the movie at home on a 7 ft. screen through a digital projector, and there are none the tells one spots with green screen use, such as slightly mismatched lighting, or digital cleanup along the edges of foreground objects/people. More on the wraparound LED screen technology after the synopsis.

“Flight 137 has been delayed indefinitely…”

The first stop along the way is at the wreckage of a downed airplane. It’s hoped the two of them can find supplies in the wreckage for their days-long journey ahead. Warning Iris to stay by the snowmobile, Augustine takes the rifle and heads into one of a section of the plane’s fuselage. Deeper inside the craft, he stumbles across a dying man, pinned under heavy, twisted debris. Iris wanders inside the passenger compartment, only to have Augustine growl at her to keep away. With radiation burns across his face, the unfortunate survivor gazes at the rifle, giving his unspoken consent. Augustine shoots the man dead as an act of mercy.

The scene of Augustine in freezing water was a scientific snafu that would’ve made for a helluva Mythbusters episode.

The second stop en route to the base finds a pair of abandoned freight containers where Augustine hopes they might be able to spend the freezing Arctic night. Having made a temporary dwelling within one of the containers, a sleeping Augustine has a curious dream about the mute young girl in his care. During the dream, he asks her name, and she replies in a British accent, “Iris.” He then feels a sensation of drowning as he jumps awake, realizing that the container is sinking into the freezing water beneath the rapidly fracturing ice. The container and snowmobile both drown, along with Augustine’s irreplaceable transfusion gear. He tries swimming after his life-saving equipment, with the sinking snowmobile’s headlights providing some illumination in the dark icy water, but he is unsuccessful. Unable to escape with little more than the protective outerwear on their backs, the two are forced to move on.

Note: Another bad science alert: I don’t care how much adrenaline was coursing through Augustine’s veins when he realized they were sinking, there is simply no way he could’ve swam as far as he did through icy water during a polar midnight. Hypothermia from the water would’ve begun to work on him very quickly, not to mention that wet clothing in sub-freezing temperatures should’ve killed him as well. He had no way to dry off, other than being freeze-dried (which would be fatal at those temperatures). By all rights, that scene should’ve ended the film. I can’t help but think there could’ve been a more creative and plausible way for Augustine to lose the bulk of his precious survival gear without the sickly, 60-something year old man suddenly gaining superhuman cold resistance.

Master and Commander: Flying without radio confirmation from Earth, the Aether’s course goes a little caca

Things aren’t going too swimmingly aboard the Aether as well. An alarm goes off, and pilot Mitchell notices that that ship’s autopilot has taken them far off course. Even killing the engines, they will still drift on their erroneous heading until the momentum tapers. Once stopped, they try to compute a new heading back to Earth (apparently, fuel consumption is not an issue with this ship), but realize the only heading will take them through a part of the solar system that hasn’t been charted. Preferring an uncharted course to nothing, Mitchell prepares to steer Aether into the rough part of the solar neighborhood.

Note: I’m not sure exactly what is meant by ‘uncharted space’ within the confines of the inner solar system. Save for constant solar wind, stray meteors, and random leftover planetary/cometary molecules here and there, most of the solar system is… well, empty. Not much to chart, really. Even the twin robotic Voyager spacecraft successfully navigated the asteroid belt with nary a scratch. Speaking of Voyager, the movie makes a casual reference to “Voyager 3,” implying that the 1970s spacecraft series resumes production someday.

“We will, we will ROCK you!”

The Aether once again hits another snag—their course takes them through an cloud of small meteors which wreak havoc on the hull of the ship, damaging the radar navigation system and completely obliterating the main transmitter dish. Using the ship’s 3D printers and stripping needed electronic components from non-vital systems, Maya and Sully are tasked with constructing a new radio receiver/transmitter dish, which will be installed during a forthcoming spacewalk. During a brief lull, Maya does a health check on Sully’s baby (it’s a girl, by the way), and the young astronaut confides in Sully that she’s terrified of performing what she hopes will be her first and only spacewalk. Sully assures the reluctant astronaut that she’ll do fine.

Note: Yep. Maya’s dead.

Sully Ride.

Inside the airlock, poor Maya cannot stop vomiting from space sickness. Sanchez is frankly amazed that so much vomit came from such a tiny person. Commander Adewole is going on the spacewalk as well, and warns Maya that if she has any vomiting left to do, she’d best do it now before they seal her into her helmet (yech). Thoroughly voided, Mayo and the others are ready to exit the airlock as soon as its atmospheric pressure drops to vacuum. Once outside the ship, they find that the radar antenna is merely jammed, and easily fixable. That done, they cautiously float along their tethered lines to the end of the ship to replace the main radio dish.

Note: A rare kudos for scientific accuracy in the film’s spacewalk sequence, as the only sounds we hear are radio chatter and the muffled sounds from within the character’s spacesuits. While the film has many science lapses, this sequence is reasonably close to the real thing, or as close as possible within a movie that doesn’t follow a deep adherence to science. The admirable attention to spacewalking detail reminded me of another George Clooney space film, 2013’s “Gravity, which also had a few big scientific fudges in the service of character and dramatics.

Sanchez and Mitchell hold an impromptu karaoke night: “Sweeeeet Caroliiiine, dum, dum, dum…”

In one of the film’s very few lighter moments (you can count them on one hand), Sanchez and Mitchell, remaining aboard the Aether, hold an impromptu karaoke night; starting things off with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Once again, the movie’s predictability becomes something of a liability for those who thrive on surprise, because you can just feel in your bones that something really bad has to happen… and oh, it does.

Note: Yes, the old trope of the good time right before the s#!t hits the fan. It’s a story trope as old as time. I mean, if a buddy cop movie opens with two cops cracking jokes, you just know that one of them is going to die and that the other will have to team up with a new partner to avenge the murder, right? Well, it’s no surprise that when astronauts engage in a merry ship-wide singalong, something equally awful is right around the proverbial corner

David Oyelowo is given a somewhat routine role as the stalwart captain and female lead’s boyfriend. While he offers more than able support, this role feels like a step down for the star of 2014’s “Selma.”

Sure enough, the restored radar picks up another fleet of fast-moving meteors, of the same class that destroyed the radio transmitter— but this time there are three astronauts outside the ship. Of course, Adewole orders his fellow spacewalkers to drop what they’re doing and haul ass back inside. Luckily, the the new radio transmitter/receiver is up and running, but the meteors are pelting the ship hard—destroying parts of the protective shielding in the process. No inner hull punctures, despite the flexible materials’ wobbling. Hauling their tether lines in as fast as possible, Maya notices blobs of blood are pooling inside of her helmet. One of the meteors has punctured her spacesuit in her lower back.

Note: See? I told you. I knew it would happen well before it did, and I make no claims to psychic power.

This becomes one of the gorier scenes of the movie, and yes, that includes the dried vomit on Augustine’s shirt.

Getting Maya back in the airlock, Adewole and Sully scream for medic Sanchez to get down to the airlock right away. Trouble is that the pressure differential in the airlock has to equalize before the door will open. Unfortunately, that process takes more time than the hemorrhaging Maya has, as globules of blood flow from her spacesuit like so many water beads. Soon, the entire airlock is filled with a sea of floating red blobs, as the traumatized Maya exclaims, “So much blood.” The pressure equalizes, and Sanchez quickly floats inside, but there is nothing more to be done. Maya is dead. Their mission was a success, but it carried a tremendous cost.

Santa Claus is stunned to hear that he’s just won People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive contest…

Things aren’t going so well for Augustine’s quest to reach the new base, either. Walking into a blizzard, he is surrounded by wolves just before he loses sight of Iris. Calling out to her in the snow, he tells her to respond to the sound of his voice. With his hope of finding the base diminishing, Augustine collapses. His cold face a prickly red, he sees a vision of his ex-wife Jean, looking as she looked 30 years ago. With the sun behind her head, her face dissolves into the face of Iris. Providing him with the motivation to go on, he places his exhausted arm around the child, as she leads him towards the sunrise…

And the children shall lead.

Iris directs the exhausted Augustine to a short hillside overlooking a transmitter dish; the one capable of reaching the crew of the Aether. They’ve arrived. Inside the base are fresh supplies and ample food. The only downside is that Augustine’s vital transfusion equipment is at the bottom of an icy lake somewhere, so his days are numbered. However, the stronger new transmitter means a better chance at hailing the Aether and warning them not to return to the dying Earth.

Mitchell is in shock at the sight of a silent, fatally wounded Earth.

Aboard the Aether, the Earth is already visible as the craft makes its final approach. Everyone is shocked to see Earth covered in sickly yellow clouds, as multiple smoky plumes rise from its surface. With the ship’s transmitter repaired, a stunned Sully tries once again to reach the mysterious stranger she’d reached earlier at the North Pole. Iris awakens a sleeping Augustine, who answers Sully’s call. He tells her that the Earth is a lost cause, and that the Aether’s best hope for survival is to use the planet as a gravitational slingshot back to K-23.

Mitchell and Sanchez set a course for oblivion.

With the crew in agreement that going back to K-23 is their only hope of survival, Adewole and Sully are stunned when pilot Mitchell respectfully requests taking one of the two landing shuttles back to Earth. After receiving an old video message from his wife and children, who are most certainly dead by now, Mitchell decides he just wants to go home…even if it means his death as well. Sanchez volunteers to go with him, pointing out that a landing craft requires two pilots to operate; he also wants to take Maya’s body home. Adewole reluctantly but understandably grants permission. Relaying the news of the Earthbound crew members to Augustine, all parties fully understand that Sanchez and Mitchell are signing their death warrants.

Note: This is not a film about happy endings or tying things up in a neat bow, and I appreciate that. Many science fiction films of the post-Star Wars period are about the heroes saving the day, or wronging rights, or fulfilling their fondest dreams. But sometimes, life just doesn’t work like that. Sometimes even our best shots are seemingly fired into a void of futility.

A poor excuse for a father seeks forgiveness from his daughter, who appears as a guiding, almost saintly vision.

Once again reestablishing contact, Sully tells “Dr. Lofthouse” (“Augustine,” he insists) that she is a great admirer of his pioneering work in the detection of habitable worlds, and that her mother Jean, knew him–he once gave her a gift of moon rocks. Sully tells him that her full name is Iris Sullivan. She is the child Augustine never came to see after her birth, and she was the hallucination that his mind conjured in the Arctic for motivation, and perhaps redemption.

Note: The movie is more about a deadbeat dad seeking redemption and forgiveness than anything else. In many ways, “The Midnight Sky” reminded me of 2014’s “Interstellar”, as both movies are about a father and daughter reaching out to reconnect after a painful, chosen separation. In this film, however, the father and daughter’s roles as astronaut and earthbound scientist are reversed.

The daughter today, facing pending motherhood herself, makes her final peace with the old man.

Augustine realized that his daughter was on the Aether mission. In fact, she was his motivation to warn the Aether away from Earth with his dying breath, so that the daughter whom he’d previously neglected would have a final chance at survival on another world; a world he’d discovered. K-23 would be his parting gift and legacy to the daughter his younger self was too self-absorbed to know.

Note: Once again, the ‘revelation’ that astronaut Sullivan is Augustine’s 30-something daughter Iris is hardly a surprise, but the moment still works because of the emotional punctuation given to it by the actors. Solid actors are vital to any story that is predicated on a surprise ending. In lesser hands, this twist ending could’ve badly misfired, but Felicity Jones and George Clooney really make it work.

Dreams Of My Father: Iris, remembering her time spent on the surface of K-23.

With the end closing in, Augustine asks for Iris to describe the world she saw on the moon he discovered. She describes the orange cast to the sky, and a smell like fresh pine trees in the air. K-23 is a beautiful new world for she and her future family to settle. Augustine tells his daughter and mother-to-be that is proud to have finally met her.

Note: The surface of K-23 is one of the film’s least convincing visual effects, sadly–appearing overly digital and green-screenish, lacking any sort of organic feel. It almost looks unfinished at times. Then again, this arguably works for seeing K-23 as a mythical or dreamlike place, which is in keeping with the movie spaceship’s Aether, named after the Greek god who presided over the very air of Olympus. K-23 is less about a future colony site, and more about the pursuit of hope itself.

One final look…

A dying Augustine then exits the base, without protection, into the freezing night of the North Pole. He is also released from his need of the Iris-apparition, who disappears from his side. He gazes up into the clear stars of the polar sky one last time. The final shot of the film is of Iris and the father of her unborn child, aboard the Aether, setting a course back to K-23, presumably to live out their lives as a pioneering family.

Note: Two people are not enough to start a viable genetic base for a new population, so I assume Iris and Adewole plan to simply raise their daughter and die off as a family…?

The End.

Reel Life to Real Life.

While many viewers might simply see “The Midnight Sky” as a combination survival/ecological movie, for me it also felt like the collective apology of previous generations to the next; yes, we screwed up on climate and we failed to provide a better world for our children, but maybe you can do better. While we currently have no viable “Planet B” waiting for us (certainly not out near Jupiter, either), it’s possible that future generations might be both clever and farsighted enough to work out a viable solution for themselves and the planet. It’s also not important that Sully never realizes that Augustine is her father. In fact, the film might’ve worked just as well without that M. Night Shyamalan-ish reveal (which was telegraphed in advance), though it does give Clooney’s deadbeat dad greater impetus to reach the astronauts before they make their ill-advised reentry into a poisoned, deadly Earth.

Director George Clooney goes mountain man for “The Midnight Sky.”

I also appreciate how the screenwriter Mark L. Smith (adapting Lily Brooks-Dalton’s “Good Morning, Midnight”) keeps “the event” that doomed the Earth somewhat vague. Based on the map we see in the trailer (which I don’t recall seeing in the final cut), with red zones around major cities and unbreathable air, it almost certainly looks like a nuclear war (or as metaphor for whatever you’d like; climate change, biological warfare, pollution, etc). At any rate, humanity has screwed up. In addition to apologies, Augustine carries a forlorn hope that humanity can start anew elsewhere. But, as Neil deGrasse Tyson once said (and I’m paraphrasing), it’s a lot easier to fix what’s wrong with our own planet than it is to try to rebuild the native ecology of another (‘easier’ being a relative term, of course). But the simple truth is that no matter how much we tinker with Mars, or any other local moon or planet in our solar system, we will never find another goldilocks world quite like the one that birthed our species. We may find temporary digs on others, but few, if any, will ever have quite the ‘fit’ of the Earth. However, the sudden, unspecific, devastating nature of ‘the event’ seems to kill any hope that Earth has a surviving population large enough to even deal with this crisis, let alone restore ecological balance.

Since the ‘red zones’ on the global map are centered around large cities, it’s safe to assume the ‘event’ was something that deliberately targeted large population centers, but has since spread globally.

The timing of the movie was notable as well, with principal photography ending in early February of 2020; right around the time that coronavirus was slowly turning into a real-life global crisis. Most studios and other filmmaking facilities would be shut down a month later as were schools, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, salons, and many other businesses. Clooney’s Augustine, however unintentionally, is a window into pandemic life. The cancer-stricken researcher is alone (despite his imaginary daughter) and must learn to fend for himself as much as possible. That he chose to stay behind also speaks to the many who self-isolate in order to avoid possible asymptomatic spread of coronavirus to more vulnerable members of society (the elderly, the infirm, or people with preexisting conditions). Even alone, the character still has to wear a breathing mask to go outside, since the contaminated air is quickly drifting into the formerly ‘safe’ polar reaches (as seen with the dying birds). Given the astonishing rate of COVID-19’s spread across the world (a sizable number in my own circle have been stricken), the movie’s ‘event’ is best left as a metaphor–let the audience fill in what happened with their imaginations. Whatever the exact cause of the yellowish, sickly looking Earth in the film (as seen from orbit), an audience’s imagination is almost certainly more potent.

Like Disney’s “The Mandalorian,” George Clooney’s “The Midnight Sky” also made heavy (safe) use of LED wraparound screens to create exotic locations–in this case, to simulate on on-set, controllable North Pole environment.

“The Midnight Sky” was primarily shot in Surrey, England for studio-based work, and on location in Spain for some of the flashback exterior scenes. The movie also employed wraparound LED-screen technology to film some of the harsher exterior scenes in the blinding snowfall of a simulated North Pole. LED-wraparound sets allow for both natural interactive lighting as well as less static shots than are afforded with traditional green-screen/chromakey technologies, which also require much fill light to drown out spill from the green temporary background. The hit DisneyPlus series “The Mandalorian” has made tremendous strides with wraparound LED screen sets, the backgrounds of which can move the action along in-camera with the characters, allowing filmmakers to get most of the action on set without further digital FX-alterations. Immersing actors in these simulated locations safely, and with studio-level control, may be key in bringing down overall shooting costs for post-pandemic Hollywood someday, once the initial investment for the technology is made.

Summing It Up.

Spend an evening under “The Midnight Sky.”

For a nicely crafted (if somewhat predictable) movie night at home, Netflix’s “The Midnight Sky” makes for an engaging enough homage to the nihilistic science-fiction films of the late 1960s and (pre-Star Wars) early 1970s. While the supporting cast only get brief chances to shine, actor/director George Clooney really gives his all– both in performance, and in creating a feeling of sober dread, laced with fleeting bits of hope. “Midnight Sky” is also a po-faced cousin to Christopher Nolan’s 2014 space opus “Interstellar”; both feature ambitious explorer fathers reconciling with their daughters across spacetime, and both have some heavy messages about the fragility of our life-sustaining planet. For sci-fi fans (like myself) who occasionally miss the days when the genre was more about social/ecological allegory than heroes in capes slicing through armies of robots? You could do a lot worse than an evening spent under “The Midnight Sky.”

COVID-Safe Viewing.

Maya does an impromptu check on the health of Sully’s baby.

“The Midnight Sky” is available for at-home safe viewing on Netflix streaming. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during this pandemic.  The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is nearing 350,000 as of this writing (that number is increasing daily).  Vaccines are available but are slowly making their way into the general population, so it may take months before most of us get immunized. Even so, the length of immunity isn’t fully understood just yet, so for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing wherever possible, wear masks in public, and avoid crowded outings as much as possible.

Be safe and take care!

Images: Netflix.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I will say here, what I’ve said elsewhere afterwe watched it, visually interesting: design of the spaceship etc. Reasonable characters and plot, but…

    It’s a SF film for people who don’t understand or like SF. Its plot is a cliche. So much talent wasted. However, the spaceship design is gorgeous.

    Disclaimer: If you like this film you are not wrong. If you dislike this film; you are not wrong. De gustibus non est disputandum – there can be no argument about taste.

    1. I liked it well enough for a night’s entertainment, but yes, it had a lot of issues; I won’t dispute that.

      That said, I think I prefer a noble effort that tries to say something important rather than another empty superhero spectacle.

      There are some messages to be gleaned, however clumsily at times, and Clooney clearly poured his heart into it. I just wish the construction and story logic weren’t so dicey.

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