PG-13 for being generally bleak. There's a decent amount of blood in one scene, which is set in zero gravity, so it goes absolutely everywhere. There's a sense of peril to the movie and some scenes are genuinely nerve-racking. I would also couple this with the notion that most of humanity is dead. The off-screen body count is astronomical, which I suppose should be mentioned. There might be some mild language, but I'm becoming deaf to it. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: George Clooney
There are movies that I really want to like. I mean, that poster is rad. It's kind of a bummer when a movie gets a really sweet poster, but the movie is very "meh." Because if I hung that poster on my wall, it would be a talking point both for "What did you think about that movie?" and "Why do you have the poster on your wall then?" But beyond that, I really root for artistic genre fiction. I mean, we've had a few standout entries in genre fiction lately. It's not like science fiction can't be used to tell a great story. But I also know that George Clooney, as amazing of an actor as he is, is also a pretty talented director. But The Midnight Sky, despite my constant attempts to love this movie, kept boring me stupid.
I don't hate boring. I've probably written that phrase too m many times on this blog, so it is probably losing its meaning. Heck, for all I know, I do hate boring. (I don't.) I went into this thinking that Clooney was trying to either redeem or repeat his remake of Solaris. At the end of the day, he kind of is. For those who don't remember Clooney in Solaris, it was a remake of a Russian space film that ended up filling the character and the audience with existential dread. The remake was fine, but didn't capture much of the artistic merit that the Russian version offered. It was a bit too clean and a bit too studio to ever really have the impact that the original film did. But I imagine that this was the moment when Clooney discovered that he wanted to use space and isolation to talk about the heaviness of man's soul. And he's right. If there's one thing that The Midnight Sky absolutely nails is how to use setting to provide a sense of loneliness and self-loathing without being tainted by characters having to tell you that you are lonely and self-loathing.
It's the downside of the setting that really hurts the movie, though. The Midnight Sky is, and should be, about Augustine dealing with his failures while life was populated and abundant. That is what we care about. But that's a Twilight Zone episode in terms of length...unless you are extremely talented and smart. Clooney is both of those things, but not in the case of The Midnight Sky. Instead, to actively defy boredom, he provides a B-plot that really fights to be the A-plot. And it is that B-plot that really hampers the story. Because for all of the heavy themes and motifs of isolation running throughout the story, the B-plot is there so people don't get bored stiff. (It is in this moment that I effectively convince my readership that boring is good and that thrills are bad.) For all of Clooney's forays into indie film, his movies tend to be extremely polished. I loved Good Night, and Good Luck. It's probably the best talking-heads movie that I can think of. But that movie is clean and safe. This is what Clooney makes. He makes these small release films that just look like Spielberg directed them. This is where his Solaris remake fell apart. It became about the mise-en-scene and not about the message of the story. If I think of The Midnight Sky after this blog, I'm going to picture colorful galaxies and overwhelming worlds of beauty. But that's not what I should be taking away from it.
The B-movie's plot is almost an attempt to apologize for nothing happening in the movie. The ship in space takes elements from The Martian and Gravity and then calls it a story. Honestly, those scenes offer nothing new to the table. It just distracts from the story of Augustine and Iris on Earth. There probably isn't much of a need for the survival scenes on Earth, but at least it makes sense contextually. (I don't believe that a guy who has a hard time walking down the hall swimming for a Ski-Doo that is sinking, but it's a cool sequence.) But I wanted to bond with the group in space. They are in the movie for a reason. Perhaps that reason isn't justified. It kind of feels like I'm jumping into another movie full of scenes that are meant to bond me with these characters. I am told that characters miss their families, but I don't believe it. There's a scene that the crew all sing "Sweet Caroline" altogether to show their comradery. But that is telling me, not me understanding. Star Trek: Enterprise had the same problem. Instead of earning those relationships, we have to simply believe that the story had validity.
So then it all comes down to me reacting to half the movie and seeing if the story is effective. Honestly, as much as I'm dunking on this movie, I think the answer is "Yeah". I really like the Clooney alone in an observatory story. It's the part that my wife found boring while the opening credits were still running. But there's something real there. There is a character that I can have opinions about and relate to. The flashbacks to his younger life are interesting, but far too infrequent. All this shows that there's a movie in here that is actually pretty darned good. Listen, we can have the daughter in space. But how cool would the movie have been if the daughter faced a parallel isolation that the father did? While Dad is dealing with this sacrificial moment as the end of his life of emotional failure, the daughter deals with the same sacrificial loneliness to define her life. She is this beacon of hope while he is a remembrance of failure. There could have been this great cross-cutting of looking at the world in different ways. It's not to say that there wouldn't have been hardship in space. I think stressing that would have added to the story, but just looking at things in two different ways. Dad sees a breakfast that hits the spot with relish that he can actually enjoy the remaining food on the planet. The daughter looks at freeze-dried rations with disdain because it's the same thing, day-in, day-out. There's a story there. It's a boring story, but a far more valuable one than getting set off course against an asteroid field.
So there's something there, but the movie kind of squanders it because it feels like it needs to be entertaining. Not every space or genre film has to have action. Sometimes, the setting can just be a setting. Perhaps we've all been tainted by the successes (and well-deserved successes!) of The Walking Dead, which balances drama and action. But The Midnight Sky could be something beautiful if it was just smaller in scope. Not everything has to be a big-budget epic. This could have just been what it was instead of being ashamed of being a personal story of a man reflecting on his life squandered.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.