The Midnight Sky (2020)
December 23, 2020 6:58 PM - Subscribe

This post-apocalyptic tale follows Augustine (George Clooney), a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.

A Netflix original.
posted by DirtyOldTown (25 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The scenes with Clooney and the little girl are terrific. The stuff with the spaceship crew is somewhere between mediocre and actively bad.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:06 PM on December 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also, the "twist" is stupid bullshit.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:13 PM on December 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

See even before seeing this, my immediate reaction is "Well exactly where else do they expect them to go?”
posted by happyroach at 9:31 PM on December 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Similarly, I kept thinking “how did they expect this movie to work?”

I was so thrown by the credits, Felicity Jones sitting there while the credits scroll past her. I can’t think of an end credits sequence like that and I don’t understand the filmic language. Is she supposed to be waiting to see who the second unit director was?
posted by chrchr at 10:41 PM on December 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

I read the book so I was immediately fascinated by the idea that they somehow made a movie version of it. It's a mostly faithful adaptation, with the exception of one very major change that I think was done in the service of visual storytelling. It did not affect the themes or how the ending works.

It's a very weird, moody piece, and honestly about as weird in movie form as it is in book form. I think the thing I missed the most is that the book takes place over a longer time scale, and you get to see Arctic Winter turn to Arctic Summer in Augustine's storyline, which if I recall correctly the book ends as summer is beginning to slip away again and the cold weather is returning. I thought that aspect reinforced the themes, and the abbreviated feeling timescale in the movie wasn't as nice.

The deal with the girl is better foreshadowed in the book, but it's hard for me to really say how well it works here because it wasn't a surprise to me.

I actually loved the very final shot. I read it as the movie indicating that it was ending mid-story, in a way. The plot has ended, but there is no clean ending for those two, no good way to close. It's just them, alone, going through the motions of what they need to do now. And we, the audience, sit with them in their contemplation of their situation. It's also very close to how the book ends tonally.

I'm very curious to know the story of why someone thought this was a good story to make into a movie.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:12 AM on December 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

One thing about the ending that I think sticks with me is that realistically it's a grim future for those two but thematically, if that's the right word, they're an ambiguous Adam and Eve, starting over again. Allegorically maybe?

I thought the holograms of their families back home was a nice detail, although they'd be a super-weird thing in reality.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:16 AM on December 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

This movie is living in my brain.

I went back to my copy of the book, and realized that an even bigger shift that I failed to really appreciate is the characterization of Augustine. In the book, he's not terminally ill, just very old, and he's not on any kind of heroic mission. He has no knowledge of the Aether, is just as cut off as they are and has no idea what happened to the rest of earth, and just goes to the bigger radio at the lake to try and reach anyone at all. He talks to Sully, briefly, and neither one realizes the relationship between them.

The major change I referenced before is the introduction of a habitable moon of jupiter. That's such an absolutely wild addition. I think they did it so that they could accomodate the Earth being obviously, visibly a death sentence for anyone on the planet. The book is... ambiguous - we're never given any idea what happened to everyone, and Sully and the guy end the book going down to Earth to find out while some others from the ship are unable to do so and remain in orbit with limited supplies. It's very similar to how things end in the movie (some of the crew go to an ambiguous future, some of them die) but Augustine's new heroic plotline falls apart if they're just going down to earth anyway.

In general the book is much quieter, and generally entirely unsuitable to being made into a movie. Still can't believe they did one anyway.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:07 PM on December 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I thought this movie was so well done although I’m not sure how I feel about the ending. I was kind of mad about the two astronauts. It felt like they were abandoning the other two AND the human race. I felt like their departure scene didn’t cover all the emotions. Seems like there should have been some anger or hurt over being abandoned.
The twist really reminded me of the twist in Fight Club. There were so many surprises in the end that it was almost too much. But I loved this movie. I loved how slow and deep it felt.
posted by gt2 at 7:26 PM on December 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

If it makes you happier, the two astronauts are certainly going off to a slow death and the extinction of the human race. Two people isn't enough for long-term survival

Honestly, this is a film that had no business being made in this day and age. The effects are better, but this is basically a plot that the original Twilight Zone would have rejected for being too old and hackneyed. Seriously? An undiscovered habitable planet around Jupiter? Astronaut Adam amd Eve? Oh come on, that's like 1930s Astounding Magazine old.

So the best I can think of, is this script has been kicking around since before I was born, and it got picked at random by some producer who didn't know better. But let's look on the bright side: if were up to the 1930s plots, maybe in 20 years our so we'll get to the era of Lensman maybe.
posted by happyroach at 11:50 PM on December 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oddly, the movie tried to simulate zero g with some detail and (maybe) accuracy - e.g. when astronauts transfer through the spoke to go from pod to pod they pass through weightlessness, and the blood globules in the death scene, etc.

But they also had FTL radio transmission, which to me was a big WTF and broke me out of the story. Jupiter-adjacent round trip transmisison delays would be over an hour.

I did like the pacing and mood however.

Is this a book you'd recommend reading after seeing the movie?
posted by soylent00FF00 at 3:59 PM on December 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I turned it off when their cabin started sinking. I had no idea what was going on and after careful consideration realized I cared not at all for any of the characters. Doesn’t sound like its worth finishing, right?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:50 PM on December 26, 2020

My viewing buddy and I had an argument at that point - was it Arctic or Antartic? Theory being: Arctic is all ice, no land, and Antarctic was land.

Your cabin can't sink into the ocean in the Antartcic. So we decided Artic.

But then a few scenes later: Mountains! We decided it was Antartic, but with secret sneaky frozen lakes or something.

Sigh: suspension of disbelief : fail.

What's weird to me is not that a movie makes mistakes, but that the overall idea "should we try to be scientifically real or not in general?" doesn't get asked. It's like every scene had a diferent scientific consultant.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 4:59 PM on December 26, 2020

I don’t always remember with much specificity the books I read (I won’t discuss the book here), even ones that I recall mostly enjoying or at least having been worth my time. I remember Good Morning, Midnight enough to know that The Midnight Sky is a terrible adaptation that basically never really engages with the entire thing about the human condition that the book explores as its very reason for having been written at all. This makes two movie nights in a row (the other being Wonder Woman 1984) that have been a waste of my concerted attention. I hope at least that Lily Brooks-Dalton made some decent money selling the film rights.
posted by bixfrankonis at 11:00 PM on December 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

But they also had FTL radio transmission, which to me was a big WTF and broke me out of the story. Jupiter-adjacent round trip transmisison delays would be over an hour.

The Aether was a lot closer to earth than Jupiter by the time it got "in range"

What irritated me was there was no time-delayed communication at all. If we're beaming television willy-nilly into space I would've thought the original antenna more than strong enough to send a "yo, sup" message to Jupiter.
posted by coriolisdave at 1:21 AM on December 27, 2020

I read the book over the past two weeks before watching this tonight and while I don't think the movie is a classic, I like it so much more than the book. I really kind of hated the book, especially the end; I was tempted to throw when I read the last page but it's a library copy and didn't want to damage it.

The book was just so fucking pointless and irritating that I'm glad that they tweaked it for the screen.
posted by octothorpe at 8:08 PM on December 28, 2020

I’m still watching, but gosh that asteroid field was adorably slow. What luck to be flying 60 bajillion miles an hour through space and bump into some asteroids going 60 bajillion minus 5 miles an hour in the same direction.
posted by ftm at 7:51 AM on December 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I read the book and enjoyed it, and I too was like, "They're ... making this into a movie? That's going to have a plot? And it's going to star ... George Clooney? This is going to be AWFUL." So to be fair I deliberately hate-watched this and dragged it on social media while I did.

"The major change I referenced before is the introduction of a habitable moon of jupiter. That's such an absolutely wild addition."

I was furiously angry about this! I kept taking screenshots of the ridiculousness; here is my partial list of complaints:

1) There's no way a moon that big (it would have to be Galilean-sized) with volcanic activity goes undiscovered that long, "surprise Jupiter moon!" is a dumb plot.

2) For Jupiter to be as large in the sky as it is when they're on the moon, the moon would have to be about twice as close to Jupiter as its actual first moon (Metis) is, and Metis is one of those weird potato moons that's like the size of Manhattan.

3) The closest large moon to Jupiter is Io, and it is way, way farther back than Metis is. Anything as big as "K-23" orbiting that close to the planet would have been sucked into Jupiter's gravity during the formation of the solar system, which leads me to

4) NOTHING THAT CLOSE TO JUPITER WOULD HAVE ATMOSPHERE WHATSOEVER, Jupiter would have long ago sucked it down like that giant robot maid in Spaceballs.

5) Speaking of atmosphere, they're just walking around in normal clothes with no helmets because the atmosphere is an EXACT REPLICA of Earth AND the temperature is in not just the survivable range for humans, but the "room temperature" range for humans? (Netflix, you really cheaped out on your alien planet effects.)


7) How did it get there?

8) Wheat is a domesticated grain, it didn't just spring up wild.


10) WHERE is all that sunlight coming from? There's so much of it! The sun is really far away from Jupiter! and also

11) Why is the sun in the sky of K-23 basically the same size as the sun from Earth? (Because this movie was made with no science consultants, that's why.)

Which, two semi-related complaints. First, they show a course map where you see the orbits of Jupiter's four Galilean moons with the addition of K-23. Maps of Jupiter's Galilean moons' orbits are freely available all over the place! THEY WERE ALL WRONG. They appeared to have put the moons in separate orbital planes so they'd have lots of wonky shapes like the moons are just whanging around at random but JUPITER HAS AN ORBITAL PLANE YOU IDIOTS. Some of the orbit shapes where not even ellipses! They were weird misshapen eggs! When their course map came up on the screen I literally paused it and was like, "Where are they going, that's not Jupiter? Oh my God, that's supposed to be Jupiter!"

And second, during the earth scenes where Gus is outdoors, there was zero continuity in the clouds/sky/sun location/light. Like, I'm honestly concerned the cinematographer does not actually know how light sources work. They also showed sundogs WITHOUT THE SUN IN THE MIDDLE and when Gus was facing away from the sun, which ... the weird thing is someone made a choice to put them IN, but did it wrong?

(And yes, I feel like Neil deGrasse Tyson complaining about the sky in Titanic but there was just SO MUCH WRONG WITH THAT FAKE MOON that even I, as a backyard astronomer who's terrible at aiming my telescope, Could Not.)

The smartest guy in the movie was the surprise airplane rich guy who tried to escape with all his art, because at least he flew TOWARDS the pole instead of evacuating from it which for some reason everyone else did during the nuclear holocaust?

I did cry at the end, but I was kinda mad about it. The ending was legitimately touching, but I think that rested on very good actors, and not the very dumb script. I also have a lot of OSHA-type complaints about that spaceship (which was basically an Ikea), but I always have those complaints about sci-fi movies.

"In general the book is much quieter, and generally entirely unsuitable to being made into a movie. Still can't believe they did one anyway."

Yeah, the book is entirely liminal -- it begins after "the event" (which you never find out what it was) when these few survivors have been thrown into isolation and lack of information, and it ends just before that liminality is resolved with knowledge. The book is entirely a meditation on isolation and (lack of) knowledge and what it means to be human when facing an apocalypse alone. Nothing happens except what's interior to the characters. (A few things happen. But barely any.) I thought it was imperfect, but really lovely. I'm not sure how having seen the movie first would affect reading the book; I'm not sure it would be so absorbing/submersive if you've seen the movie first.

SUCH a weird choice of book to adapt.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:18 PM on January 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Okay after a rant that epic I feel morally obligated to post screenshots, so here you go.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:37 PM on January 1, 2021

Love the rant, Eyebrows, but I will at least give the movie credit that the scenes on the planet were all someone’s dream? I’m sure it’s based on the reality that they saw, but those specific scenes were part of a dream.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:51 PM on January 1, 2021

I assume that the habitable moon was shoehorned into the story because it was one of the only ways to get around the unfilmable ending of the book. It doesn't really make much sense and neither does the pregnancy in space but you can't spend $100M on a Hollywood movie and not have some kind of hope at the end.
posted by octothorpe at 6:17 AM on January 2, 2021

I agree that the book was a weird choice for a film.
posted by octothorpe at 7:42 AM on January 2, 2021

It feels like structurally, as a film, it would have worked better without the George Clooney plotline. They could have had the invented Jupiter moon settlement (maybe have terraformed an existing moon?), and just stuck with the crew of the Aether, losing contact with Earth, and gathering dribs and drabs of information -- a last-minute transmission from a rogue NASA scientist who tells them something bad has happened, a scrap of TV transmission, an emergency transmission from the ISS. And they could have had a lone Arctic scientist talk to them as they got close enough for two-way radio and say "yeah, no, don't land," and explored the themes of the book about the isolation and lack of information of these astronauts in the wake of a catastrophe, and what they decide to do, resting on their "settling Jupiter's moon" plot (and drawing out the theme that was just barely gestured to, that we were THIS CLOSE to having a second place for humanity to live when we destroyed the first one), and nodding to the ideas of the book but making a more traditional space adventure.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:00 PM on January 2, 2021

My viewing buddy and I had an argument at that point - was it Arctic or Antartic? Theory being: Arctic is all ice, no land, and Antarctic was land.

It's in Nunavut, Canada. There's a map on a screen early on.
posted by biffa at 2:34 PM on January 2, 2021

It doesn't really make much sense and neither does the pregnancy in space
..but why does that not make sense?
I mean, it's not like it's a great CHOICE but people get dumb when they're horny for each other

(also, that was retconned into the story because the actress turned up pregnant, which I reckon is a better way to go than just filming her from the boobs up, or making her wear a fatsuit)
posted by coriolisdave at 7:24 PM on January 3, 2021

I was so thrown by the credits, Felicity Jones sitting there while the credits scroll past her.

It was kind of funky but I think I appreciated what they doing artistically? It reminded me of the ending of The Graduate, like, "the characters made their choices and are locked in, and now they just have to accept that they've completely changed their life while they wait on the back of a bus going nowhere fast." In this case it seemed almost hopeful, even though they're logically not gonna survive.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:29 AM on April 4, 2021

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