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Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The Empty Skies

SPOILERS for The Midnight Sky

Handled differently, George Clooney's The Midnight Sky (2020) could have been a tense apocalyptic science fiction thriller. Unfortunately, the screenplay is so riddled with plot holes and  misguided story beats that all the drama is drained from the film before the conclusion of the first act. 

The music is lovely, the performances are fine, and the production design is magnificent--but what is the point of this story? The only stakes are the lives of the handful of people on the starship returning from Jupiter. The film makes it clear that everyone on Earth is doomed. Saving the astronauts is pointless; even if they make it back to the habitable moon around Jupiter (and don't even get me started on the idea of there being a habitable moon around Jupiter and we just didn't notice it until the mid-21st century), it's not like they can repopulate the species with just a couple of people. At best, they're dooming the astronauts to an extremely lonely and depressing life, raising a child (one astronaut is pregnant) who will eventually be all alone, without parents, without another single member of her species anywhere in existence. 

Also, what was the point of the little girl who stays behind in Greenland with Clooney's character? The film's plot and tone wouldn't have changed a whit without her. 

I'd respect the film more if it acknowledged these problems, but Clooney treats the ending as melancholic but hopeful, as if warning the astronauts to turn back is some kind of huge victory. Even Clooney's efforts to make contact with the ship are pointless, because they clearly see that Earth is wrecked as soon as they arrive, and from that point they could have figured out themselves that they had to go back to Jupiter to survive (however pointless that survival may be). 

Science fiction at its best is a wonderful vehicle for exploring all kinds of stories. But creators can't just rely on the awe and majesty of their visual effects to carry the story. The story needs to make sense; it must be logical; it must have meaning. The Midnight Sky has none of these elements.

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