How Netflix has sold a story of isolation and desperation.
The new movie The Midnight Sky probably wasn’t intended to be as timely as it has wound up becoming. Based on the book “Good Morning, Midnight” by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the film stars George Clooney, who also directed, as Augustine, a scientist in the Arctic who has survived a global pandemic that wiped out much of the world’s population. He’s engaged in a desperate attempt to communicate with the crew of Æther, a ship returning from a mission to a potentially habitable moon of Jupiter who are unaware of the danger that awaits them back on Earth. Sending that message is difficult, though, forming much of the movie’s drama.
Also starring in the film are Caoilinn Springall as Iris, a young girl who encounters Augustine in his Arctic isolation, and Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone and Demián Bichir as the members of Æther.
Initial reviews were middling, calling it a bit muddled, a reception reflected in its 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, there was at least some feeling it could result in a bit of awards speculation, especially for Clooney. And Netflix has given it a campaign that not only seems Oscar-ready but is also far too relevant to today’s world.
Augustine stares into the sky, which is also shown inside the frame of his head, on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A), released at the end of October. It’s a simple but suitably atmospheric image, especially with the copy reading “There’s a universe between all of us.”
On the final poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), which came out earlier in December, that copy is removed and replaced with the more vague “Hope finds a way,” which isn’t quite as effective. This time, though, the main image shows both Augustine and Iris in the arctic environment they attempt to traverse. A massive planet hangs in the sky above them, hinting at the story’s connection to space travel.
The first trailer (2.2 million views on YouTube) – teased ahead of release and promoted during a late-October edition of “Monday Night Football” – opens by showing that communication is not happening in either direction. Augustine can’t reach the crew of the Ether and they haven’t heard from Mission Control in weeks. He’s trying to warn of a cataclysmic event that’s happened on Earth while they were in deep space. From there we see he and the young girl with him try to reach a more powerful antenna while those aboard the Ether recount what’s happened on their long journey. Time is running short for both parties, though, making the stakes higher with each passing moment.
The final trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube) came out in early December, starting off by showing Augustine explaining to Iris what all is in his lab and what he’s trying to do. Their journey on Earth is shown alongside the crew of the Æther and their attempts to reach someone – anyone – on Earth as they get closer and closer to returning. It’s all very dramatic, with snowstorms and meteor showers and more, making the film look like an enjoyable piece of drama.
Online and Social
No website about the actual movie, but Netflix, in addition to supporting the film on brand social channels, created the-midnightsky.com. On that site you can record and send a message to someone, which is then played as an AR hologram placed in the room they’re standing in.
Advertising and Promotions
Netflix celebrated the end of principle photography in February, announcing the movie was coming later in the year. In September news came that Clooney would speak about this film and more during October’s 64th BFI London Film Festival.
A recent installment of Netflix’s “Bucket of Movies” had Clooney sharing his thoughts on various classic film titles. He also reminisced about his career path and the roles that contributed to that career.
Media and Press
Clooney was interviewed about the movie and how he approached directing it in an article that also included some first look stills. Another brief interview with Clooney had a few more story details and more.
A feature profile of Jones had her talking about filming the movie, including how Clooney made adjustments to the production to accommodate her pregnancy mid-filming.
Another interview with Clooney had him talking about the story of the film and finishing the project during quarantine. He and Springall both spoke on the experience of filming in Iceland, dealing with the subsequent isolation and lots more. In additional interviews Clooney also covered the challenges of directing, especially the space sequences, working with Springall and more. With composer Alexandre Desplat he talked about creating the score, especially during the recent shutdowns, and how it adds to the emotional messages of the film.
How Clooney and the rest of his team handled both the extreme conditions during production and the challenges of the post-production situation was covered in a lengthy feature just recently.
While, as stated, the reviews haven’t been wholly positive there’s a good story being sold here, albeit one that seems to mash up a handful of movies we’ve seen before. Even more than that, what the audience is being presented here is a strong solo outing from Clooney, who have a solid track record both in front of and behind the camera.
With the focus, particularly in the press interviews, on how post-production was handled in isolation a nice hook that’s relevant to the film was offered, one that everyone seized. That helps make the story, despite those reviews, something that may benefit from the fact we’ve all felt like we’re stuck on our own in a desolate arctic outpost for months, even if we don’t live in Green Bay.