The Midnight Sky: Mostly Cloudy, by David Bax

We learn from an opening title card that the events of The Midnight Sky take place “3 Weeks After the Event,” which places George Clooney’s new science fiction flick damned close to the record for quickest to induce an eyeroll. It’s an almost parodically adolescent attempt to establish mystery and portent and it’s indicative of all of Clooney’s half-assedness to come.

The Midnight Sky is told in two parallel stories. In one, a team of astronauts is on its way back from a research mission to a possibly inhabitable moon that could provide a future for humanity. In another, a scientist named Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney) treks across the arctic, trying to reach a remote communication station in time to warn the crew that Earth is no longer safe to return to.

Augustine is not alone in his frozen journey. He’s also unwittingly been charged with the care of a child who was accidentally left behind at another research facility. Perhaps due to the trauma of her circumstances, she seems unable to speak. A mute moppet sidekick is almost cynically treacly, like a premise Lipnick might have suggested to Barton Fink.

Risible as it all is, Clooney is begging to be taken seriously. The Midnight Sky is presented at 2.11:1, the native aspect ratio of the camera used by the production. A non-standard frame size, you see, is an unequivocal highbrow signifier. And just to be sure, the Augustine half of the story favors close-ups and a shallow focus, all but screaming, “This is not to be taken lightly!”

Lest I stand accused of being unfair, there are good parts to The Midnight Sky. Most of them take place aboard the spaceship, the crew of which is played by an impressive cast–Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir and rising star Tiffany Boone (recently seen in Little Fires Everywhere). A spacewalk sequence featuring a few of these actors is the film’s most visually impressive and emotionally sublime. It helps–as it does throughout the film–that the score is by the incomparable Alexandre Desplat.

The Midnight Sky‘s existential engine is a question. Is it more important to preserve the future of mankind or to take care of those in need and those we love in the immediate present? In the abstract, it offers solid arguments in both directions. Practically, though, by assuming that young people 30 years in the future will still be referencing Neil Diamond and The Wizard of Oz as if this version of mankind produced no notable culture of its own, it tips the scale toward saving the future because its own imagined present doesn’t seem worth the effort.

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