Arts & Leisure

Lost under a “Midnight Sky”

GEORGE CLOONEY and Caolinn Springall star in “The Midnight Sky” (Netflix photo).

By Jim Tortolano

Space flight used to be considered exciting. But, according to some of the prominent films based on astronauts, it’s fairly dull a lot of the time.

Like “Ad Astra” and “Interstellar” before it, the new film “The Midnight Sky” by George Clooney (star and director) has great expanses of … well, not much. Like the distances between planets and stars, “Sky” gives us many minutes of exposition without much action or enough context.

You know that when a film about life-and-death on “the final frontier” has as its principal highlight the crew of a spaceship singing a slightly off-key version of “Sweet Caroline,” something is missing.

This story, based on the book by Lily Brooks-Dalton, starts off in a muddle. Folks are evacuating an arctic scientific outpost in the wake of some catastrophic world-wrecking event. Just what that is never gets explained. CGI images from space seem to indicate either nuclear war or out-of-control weather, but for all the details that are provided it might just as well be the return of disco.

Clooney portrays an aging man with the unlikely name of Augustine Lofthouse.  He’s dying of some unnamed disease just as the world dies. Yet he dies very very slowly… which describes the pace of the film.

He’s left alone, or so he thinks. Up pops a young girl named Iris (Caolinn Springall) who just happens to have the same name as his long lost love whom he gave up in favor of being a grumpy guy in the frozen wasteland.

His mission – other than doing not much slowly – is to warn a NASA spaceship returning to Earth from one of Jupiter’s moons not to bother. Unable to reach the crew because of the limits of his radio array, he bundles this 8-year-old moppet onto a snowmobile and heads off to another outpost with bigger antennas.

Meanwhile, in space, the astronauts run into their own problems, which they tackle with pluck and Neil Diamond music. And then … oh, heck. It’s all downhill from there. The cinematic effects are fine and Clooney may win an Oscar if there’s a category next year for Best Performance By a Actor Playing a Sullen Old Man with a Beard.

But the message – if there is one – is muddled. Is this a cautionary tale about climate change, or nukes, or the lingering feelings about old flames? About halfway into this film, you stop caring. There’s just too much “space” in this space movie.

“The Midnight Sky” is rated PG-13 for some language and a child in peril.



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