Spoilers, because this is nonsense.
At the finale of The Midnight Sky, with the actors tapping at generic instrument panels like extras on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation the credits begin to roll and the action continues, much like the ending of Michael Clayton, a far, far superior film and I made a sound like a camel giving birth or dying. Or both, I don’t know but my groan and attempt to say Oh my God, at the same time, my attempt to express my intense irritation and discomfort with everything that it tries and fails to be all came out at once and my dog, who is just as depressed as I am these days, rolled his head over at me in concern.
Since that moment the only real thought in my head regarding The Midnight Sky is whether or not I hated it more that Ad Astra, a film so self-indulgent and unoriginal that I made two attempts to write a scathing review of the thing before it was too late. All memory of the experience had evaporated like a dream in the morning, nothing remained but an impression and a vague sense of having been robbed of time. I almost made a decision when I decided that Sky at least has a positive message but I realized it does not, there is no message at all about climate change or environmental matters, it’s as if The Road were set in the Arctic and all the horrifying examinations of humanity, absent decency or hope, were removed. What remains is just a real bummer, man, and that’s saying something when comparing it to THE ROAD.
Not only is there no real purpose or enjoyment to be had here it contains one of the two cringiest moments I’ve experienced this weekend, two moments that vaulted into the top five cringiest things I’ve seen all year, yes, this year. The first was Diana Prince suddenly realizing she has the power to make things invisible with some hand wiggling, including an entire jet all of a sudden, never mind that radar doesn’t work by actually seeing the object it’s detecting but whatever. That was dumb but brief and then neat because fireworks! That moment was usurped here in The Midnight Sky when an ensemble cast of actors, in space, play and sing along to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, a song that I don’t hate because it seems to make (white) people so very happy, however I never ever want to hear it again in my life if it can be helped. This scene had me rooting for the meteor shower, is what I’m saying.
I had to double check the Wikipedia article to confirm that this film identifies as “science fiction” to which I respond, How dare you. I’m not usually a plot holes guy, I find it to be low hanging fruit and mostly ammunition for the kill-joy crowd, all films have logical inconsistencies somewhere to greater or lesser degrees and I like getting lost in the movie. I want to believe, I want that suspension of disbelief so I generally turn a blind eye but yikes, Clooney. It’s the present day and we can tell there are potentially habitable worlds in other star systems so the idea that there is a paradise moon orbiting Jupiter that just popped into discovery in the modern era is kind of ludicrous, bro. Humanity has been staring at our celestial neighbors for a few hundred years and while there is still much to discover and a lot of potential in places like Europa, there are not oxygen rich, forested utopias a couple months away by giant space ship. Also, why is there lattice work decorating this admittedly impressive interplanetary spacecraft? Even forty years in the future it’s still going to be about practicality and utility, and in the era of television that features The Expanse at the forefront of what space travel is going to be all about if we survive this era of self-destructive adolescence, why are you decorating with an ensemble cast and big budget special effects.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Netflix model has one endemic flaw in it’s desperation for new content and accommodation of A-List talent and that’s a lack of oversight. One of my favorite Twitter threads is Network Notes, a series of bizarre directions and requests from studio heads that range from completely tone-deaf to utterly insane contradictions but for every thousand or so of these there are probably some reasonable assertions and suggestions to rein in creative types or creative attempts that are destined to fail. The Midnight Sky needed someone to say something about the abysmal pacing, the relentless cliche, and the absence of entertainment value in watching George Clooney do nothing of value. It’s not as if the Aether (which is the name of the spaceship, insert camel dying sound) needed to be warned of the condition of a dying Earth because he fails to warn them and they just see it for themselves, anyway, and he has no information as to the who/what/why.
There are voices that argue it’s a father protecting his daughter but, if you get to the conclusion, that is utterly irrelevant. Maybe it’s about the resiliency of the human spirit in the sense that two characters decide to abandon Earth and return to Dream Moon but, and I’m not a geneticist or a scientist but I did stay at Holiday Inn Express one time, two human beings can’t repopulate the entire race. That Coach Taylor and Hispanic stereotype decide to land on Earth anyway is pointless and suicidal so, you know, why. If the entire endeavor had been an exploration of nihilism I may feel inclined to grant some leeway but in the same way that I absolutely despise Cormac McCarthy and the previously referenced The Road it’s because absolutely fuck you.
Not you, personally. But one of my favorite Doctor Who moments has to do with Vincent Van Gogh, and not just the nerd fantasy of showing a great artist, who was racked with depression and insecurity in his life, the power of his works. It’s in the line, “He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of the world…” Pain is easy to portray, that’s true. I’m guilty of perpetuating it here, in my disappointment and frustration with The Midnight Sky. George Clooney is a terrific actor, see Syriana and a terrific director, see Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Goodnight and Good Luck. But where McCarthy has what is described as poetry to his nihilism, here there is none of that, only a beginning and middle which is not art, just dazzling set pieces and half-formed ideas. What a waste, particularly in our time and our need for some kind of clarion call. Like the devastated, chaotic Earth hastily and half-heartedly gestured at, what an inexplicable waste of resources, money and time.