A dying man trudges across a dying planet in George Clooney’s ambitious sci-fi epic for Netflix, “The Midnight Sky.” Based on the book by Lily Brooks-Dalton, this is a piece that almost feels designed by a screenwriting algorithm informed by some of the top genre films of the last couple decades. The recipe here is a base of “Gravity” (which Clooney himself has referenced as an influence, along with “The Revenant”), a bit of “The Road,” a dash of “Interstellar,” a shot of “Ad Astra,” a scoop of “The Martian,” and a pinch of “Children of Men” for flavor. Just being able to pick apart these references doesn’t inherently make “The Midnight Sky” a misfire, but what’s startling is how little is left to chew on after considering the better films brought back to memory by these superficial callbacks. He’s a welcome presence in his first on-screen performance since 2016, but Clooney’s direction is as a cold as the landscape his character travels, never once finding anything that feels organic or character-driven. It looks good. It sounds great. It’s as hollow as can be.
Clooney plays the incredibly named Augustine Lofthouse, a scientist at the end of the world. He decides to stay behind after his station evacuates because of a planetary crisis. Not too many details are given, but Brooks-Dalton, writer Mark L. Smith, and Clooney are clearly suggesting our planet doesn’t have much time left, setting a film about climate catastrophe in 2049. (Remember when apocalyptic movies were further in the future? It’s getting scary. Also is that a “Blade Runner 2049” reference? Probably not but given the familiarity of the rest of the movie anything is possible.) Augustine discovers that there’s a space shuttle named Aether on its way to a home that isn’t habitable anymore, and so he makes it his mission to warn them to turn around and go back to the planet they were already scouting to take the future of the human race. The problem is that his signal isn’t strong enough to communicate with the Aether before it’s too late, and so he has to traverse the Arctic to get to a stronger one. And he has to do so accompanied by a mute girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall), who happened to be left behind during the evacuation.