Schultz reviews: 'Greenland' and 'The Midnight Sky'
“Greenland” Distributed by STX Films, 119 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released December 18, 2020:
When a collection of space debris and ice particles known collectively as the comet Clarke moves into the vicinity of the earth, people around the world are told to anticipate a spectacular show in the sky, a sort of cosmic fireworks display. But when the first large particle enters the atmosphere and destroys Tampa, Florida, the media reveals to the world that the remainder of the comet will constitute an extinction-level event.
Atlanta architect John Garrity and his estranged wife soon learn from the Department of Homeland Security that along with their diabetic son they’ve been selected for evacuation to a shelter in Greenland with other essential personnel, in a desperate effort to preserve humanity. But first they must travel through chaos and a hysterical population to Robins Air Force Base near Macon to board the military transport plane. And that’s only the beginning of their increasingly perilous odyssey.
Produced on a fairly economical budget rumored to be in the neighborhood of $35 million, “Greenland” flirts with being an unusually distressing entry in the disaster picture sweepstakes, along the lines of 1996’s “Independence Day,” the competing 1998 pictures “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon,” and many others And certainly the new picture can be viewed from that narrow perspective.
But taut direction from Ric Roman Waugh (“Angel Has Fallen”), an incisive script from Chris Sparling, and empathetic and persuasive performances from actors Gerard Butler as Garrity and Morena Baccarin (“Deadpool,” TV’s “Homeland”) as his estranged wife Allison elevate this movie to a significantly higher plane. Despite its end-of-the-world epic trappings, “Greenland” ultimately becomes a thoughtful and reflective picture, the rare movie in which the jaw-dropping computer generated effects serve the narrative instead of the other way around.
Fast-moving and episodic, “Greenland” is at times reminiscent of the flurry of cautionary tales from the mid-1980s and early 1990s which all followed in the wake of the game-changing impact of the 1983 TV movie “The Day After” and portrayed with varying degrees of stunning accuracy the effects of a global nuclear holocaust--films like 1983’s “Testament,” 1984’s “Countdown to Looking Glass,” and 1990’s “By Dawn’s Early Light.”
Like those pictures, “Greenland” is neither a happy picture nor one that’s pleasant to watch. The film contains disturbing scenes and images, and likely you’ll sometimes find yourself turning away from the screen, or wanting to. The picture’s impact might very well be augmented in the wake of the global pandemic--a fact which might possibly render some of the scenes particularly difficult to endure. Still, this is a thinking person’s disaster epic, one that takes the science seriously...as well as the humanity.
Originally scheduled for wide international release on July 30, 2020, “Greenland” was delayed multiple times by the pandemic and resulting lockdowns...although the picture was distributed more or less on time in Belgium, France, and Scandinavia. The film will debut in the rest of the world according to a complicated release schedule, with a Pay-Per-View release in the United States on December 18 and a debut on HBO Max in the US scheduled for early 2021.
Filmed in Atlanta and also containing strong supporting performances from David Denman, Hope Davis, and Scott Glenn (also one of the stars of 1984’s “Countdown to Looking Glass”) “Greenland” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of disaster action, some violence, bloody images, and brief strong language.
“The Midnight Sky” Distributed by Netflix, 122 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released December 11, 2020:
It’s not easy to be the last living man on earth.
Stooped and sickly, bearded, bent and broken, research scientist Dr. Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) moves with a gait that’s more of a shamble than a walk, the movements of a man who’s died but hasn’t yet given up the ghost. The last man stationed at a research station in the Arctic Circle, assigned at his own request to the one place he might still save lives, Augustine’s eyes reveal the infinite sadness of a man who looked into the abyss--a man who saw the end approaching but didn’t do enough to stop it.
Fueled by a daily regimen of self-administered chemotherapy, Augustine continues to will himself alive for one final mission: The spaceship containing an exploratory crew of US astronauts is returning to Earth after having confirmed too late that one of Jupiter’s undiscovered moons contains the delicate balance of elements, chemicals, and gases needed to sustain human life. Augustine means to wave them away, and advise them to return to Jupiter’s moon as a means of possible survival for the human species. Then he can die.
But Augustine’s final mission is interrupted by an unexpected surprise: The dying scientist finds to his amazement that he’s the unwilling steward of a seven-year-old child (Caoilinn Springall), a little girl left behind in the frantic last rush to evacuate the occupants of the Arctic outpost to a location more hospitable. Unable to contact the departed staff and presuming they’ve already perished, Augustine’s only choice is to care for the child as best he can...and wait with her for the end.
Longish but not overlong, sad but never mawkish, thoughtful but not boring, “The Midnight Sky” turns out to be a quiet, deep and contemplative drama that hits all the right notes and pushes all the right buttons to sustain the viewer’s interest and make the audience care about both the survival of the film’s handful of characters and the future of our planet. Packing a sublime message about ecology, “The Midnight Sky” also contains one of George Clooney’s career-best performances as an actor...and represents his finest hour as a director.
Adapted by “The Revenant” co-writer Mark L. Smith from Lily Brooks-Dalton’s 2016 novel “Good Morning, Midnight,” we never learn from the movie’s narrative the source of the catastrophe that destroyed life on earth. It’s suggested the origin might’ve been biological in nature, or ecological--the word “mistake” is mentioned during one garbled transmission, and we learn that the returning spaceship’s no-contact list includes China, India, and Russia.
In other words, the cataclysm might occur tomorrow...or might’ve occurred yesterday. As seen from the returning spacecraft, the earth seems to be covered with a shroud of death and disease, obscured by swirling clouds of oily black smoke--a forbidding sight, a planet for approaching spacecraft to avoid as they steer past. As Augustine notes when finally reaching the crew, “I’m afraid we didn’t take care of the planet very well while you were away.”
“The Midnight Sky” complicates the proceedings by splitting the narrative into three parts, between Augustine and the child, the returning spacecraft, and a flashback sequence showing the young Augustine sacrificing love for science. Clooney disappears entirely for a big chunk of the movie’s third act, while the spaceship’s crew navigates through an unexpected asteroid belt. Seemingly an attempt to embrace a more traditional type of sci-fi, the asteroid scene is one we’ve seen before in movies like “Armageddon” and Clooney’s own “Gravity” in 2013, and although it’s fairly well staged, we really didn’t need to see it again.
But it’s the scenes between Augustine and the child that form the soul of “The Midnight Sky.” Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, much of the interaction between the two solitary survivors in the earth’s Arctic is accomplished without words, with facial expressions and the emotions contained in their eyes. In the child’s company, Clooney’s Augustine’s expression of anxiety and infinite regret ultimately gives way to determination, devotion, and even hope, while the little girl’s eyes convey only loyalty, love, and trust.
Most of us might’ve hoped that Hollywood wouldn’t begin its latest trend of extinction-based entertainment quite so quickly after we somehow dodged the real thing. But sooner or later it was probably inevitable. As long as the shift is beginning, the quiet, thoughtful, and solemn “The Midnight Sky” is as good as any place to start--a picture which likely will send you on your way with a bittersweet smile as well as a heavy heart. In a movie that’s essentially about death, “The Midnight Sun” somehow finds a way to celebrate life.
Also featuring performances by Felicity Jones, Demian Bichir, Tiffany Boone, a resolute David Oyelowo, and the always-reliable Kyle Chandler on the returning spaceship, “The Midnight Sky” is rated PG-13 for strong language and some bloody images. Released briefly to a few selected theaters on December 11 before the second pandemic lockdown, the film will begin streaming on Netflix on December 23.