“The Midnight Sky” begins with a graphic telling us we’re in the year 2049, “Three weeks after the event.”
That’s never a good sign. No one refers to something good as “the event.” It wasn’t someone’s birthday or wedding or your company’s IPO on Wall Street. “The event” is always associated with something devastatingly bad, like Pearl Harbor or Chernobyl or NBC deciding to reboot “Supertrain.”
In this case, we’re never told or shown what “the event” was, only that it’s killing off pretty much the entire population of Earth. At an observatory above the Arctic Circle, everyone is evacuating to try to get home, with the exception of Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney, who also directed). He’s a brilliant scientist who, years earlier, had discovered that K-23, one of the moons of Jupiter, might be habitable by humans. In the wake of his announcement, an international mission was launched on the spacecraft Æether (named for the baby of Grimes and Elon Musk?), captained by an astronaut named Sully (Felicity Jones), and on its way back to Earth.
Lofthouse wants to warn Sully and her crewmates about the cataclysmic status of the world, but the antenna at the observatory isn’t powerful enough to reach them. So, he decides to take a snowmobile and a bunch of supplies and try to make it to a weather station several miles north, where there’s a stronger transmitter and receiver. But before he leaves, Lofthouse discovers a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) who’s hiding in the observatory. Unwilling to leave her behind, he takes her along for the trek. Oh, Lofthouse also has to take along the dialysis equipment he needs for blood transfusions on a daily basis. Luckily, the observatory has a portable model.
Every bit of this takes place while a sad violin plays on the soundtrack as we sit through long periods of boredom interrupted by a few action sequences meant to be intense — but not so much. Lofthouse and his David Letterman starter beard have to not only try to save the crew of Æether, as well as the girl, whose only purpose is as an exposition device, giving him someone to explain the plot out loud to for our benefit.
Meanwhile, onboard Æether, Sully and her crewmates (David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bechi, and Tiffany Boone) are in good spirits after finding K-23 to be just as suitable for a human colony as Lofthouse predicted it would be. They’re so happy, in fact, that at one point, they break into a singalong of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” for no reason whatsoever. Because astronauts in 2049 will still love oldies from eighty years earlier. You know, the way we all go around in 2020 singing songs from 1940.
The positive space vibe continues until Æether is hit with an asteroid storm that tears apart some of its vital pieces, including the equipment that allows it to communicate with Earth. You’d think that a space mission launched nearly three decades from now would have some sort of onboard system to avoid such a calamity, but no. Yes, there is an emergency message that flashes on the omnipresent control screens warning of a “Proximity Alert,” but not until the foreign objects have already begun to pound the ship’s exterior (not one member of the crew yells at the screen, “Duh!!”).
If only someone at NASA could have predicted such an occurrence, perhaps because they had seen Clooney and Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” — the visuals of which he borrows from extensively in the asteroid-impact scenes.
Clooney was clearly trying to make an important sci-fi movie. But to do so, he copied too many concepts from others in the genre, even giving the astronauts a holodeck a la “Star Trek: The Next Generation” to allow them to simulate life on Earth with their families while in deep space. The result is that “The Midnight Sky” is a ponderous, poorly executed, and not-all-that-interesting story which fumbles any opportunity to incorporate real science, make us care about the characters, or ever explain what the hell “the event” was.
I give “The Midnight Sky” a 2 out of 10, so it will be on my Worst Movies Of 2020 list.
It is now streaming on Netflix.