[Midnight Sky] Is Very Mediocre, So Lay off

Before watching Midnight Sky, there were the criticisms on Twitter, which do not hold enough weight to make me not watch a movie that seems intriguing, but they are enough to temper my expectations. And maybe it was these tempered expectations that allowed me to enjoy the movie, but enjoy it I did.

Midnight Sky the kind of movie I grew up loving, one I could watch at the theater with friends when we had nowhere else to go or on a lazy Saturday at home after it has made its TV debut, intermittently getting up to pee or grab a snack or a drink at the too-frequent commercial breaks. 

And if movies like Midnight Sky, with all its flaws, are the future norm for Netflix original movies- considering their campaign for a movie a week for all of 2021- I am excited to watch a lot of films this year. 

I miss theaters, and I will continue to miss theaters until they reopen, but I also have found space in my life, for casually watching a film on my own time on my own time without paying $13.75 for a popcorn and a drink. I wouldn’t say it is better, but it has its advantages. And I think one of those advantages, is that it reopens a space that was diminishing in the movie world- for mediocre to bad movies to be watched and enjoyed. 

Theaters create a metric- the box office dollar sign- that stamps movies as good or bad before people are able to decide for themselves by actually watching the movie. After all, it takes a much bigger commitment, physically and financially, to watch a movie at a theater, so therefore the information I can gather before I make that commitment becomes more important. The title ‘box office flop,’ which Midnight Sky probably would have attained, could have been enough to keep me away from it. That coupled with tweets decrying its worst attributes, definitely would have. 

I would even take that further and say once stamped as ‘a movie I do not want to go see’ or as ‘a box office flop,’ a film takes those titles with them. A proverbial scarlet letter that stymies its afterlife on Netlfix or Hulu or Amazon Prime. After all, I made up my mind not to see that movie in theaters, why would I hit play now? 

I’ll give you a real example. Before COVID shut down the world and theaters I went to see The Call of the Wild, not because I wanted to- it looked cheesy, I had heard it was bad, and it wasn’t making a lot of money- but because my dad did. And I loved it. I was super invested in that silly animated dog (which I wrote about here).  It makes me wonder if The Call of the Wild would have been better as a Netflix release, available with less commitment of time, money, and energy.

Midnight Sky seems to fit into that crowd. It was super okay. A very mediocre movie overall. It is not going to make it onto anyone’s favorite movie list. However, that is a high bar, albeit the bar we keep holding movies up against as we decide whether they are worth watching.

I guess I have lower expectations, or my needs are met by a lower standard of film. Midnight Sky had a good acting performance from George Clooney, an interesting take on how to tell a story surrounding climate change (an, as of now, unsolved problem), an attempt at intrigue with a twist at the end, and an appropriate tone of sentimentality and hope to fit the theme of the movie. 

More specifically, I enjoyed Clooney’s character and the child, Iris, as he discovered her and they interacted in their solitude. I enjoyed their journey to the other station, and Clooney’s character’s internal struggle mirrored in that journey, and those elements gave me enough to make the investment feel worthwhile.

However, I did not connect with the story enough to know Clooney’s character as anything other than Clooney’s character, and on top of that, his storyline was only about sixty percent of the film. Concurrent, to this storyline was a vaguer storyline of some ship coming back from some other planet that humans could possibly inhabit. It felt like a cool idea, but we don’t really learn what happened to all the other ships that are presumably doing the same thing, nor do we learn exactly what happened to Earth in the meantime or about any of the humans other than Clooney’s character and where they were planning to go and what they were trying to do. I guess this is fine, but these gaps created a disconnect with this secondary story that was hinged upon the conflicts of that reality.

But the spaceship was cool. The ‘walk through space’ was well done and the disaster that followed its wake. The tension of a two-year journey and all it entailed came through via some awesome acting (shoutout to Kyle Chandler who always brings the heat) and some solid conflict for those characters to explore.

But again, there was a cloudy vagueness over these characters that prevented, when the two storylines finally converged, the emotional payoff that seemed befitting Clooney’s acting and storyline.

But it was all there. And it was enjoyable. And I appreciate that these movies will have their day because it seemed like, through film-elitism and the nature of going to movie theaters, they were being phased out of existence. If it wasn’t cheap, going to make a lot of money, or going to win awards, don’t make it. Now, because of streaming services that are less dependent on those factors, there seems to be some more wiggle room for movies of all kind. I wouldn’t have seen Midnight Sky a year ago, but it is a new year, and I am glad I did. 

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