As the months dragged by with most movie theaters closed, there was a scarcity of content for the few that remained open. Theaters screened “Tenet” for months and supplemented with older, family friendly films. As we get back to our new normal, content has come flooding back. Many theaters remain closed, and states reopening theaters have restricted attendance. If my experience is any indication, those restrictions are rarely needed as folks are not flocking back to their local cineplex. The matinees I’ve enjoyed in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Florida, where theaters remained open, have all been like private screening rooms for yours truly.
Films that in the Before Times might have been blockbuster successes have tried to attract audiences on streaming platforms. A boon to those who’ve grown accustomed to streaming all their content, it’s been a detriment to some die-hard cinema fans who prefer their content on a movie screen. Comparing films that were released with limited cinema screening and those with more robust releases, has there been an impact on a film's popularity? Did “The Midnight Sun,” George Clooney's big-budget sci-fi thriller thrill audiences on the small screen? Would it have found a larger audience if it were released today with more big screens and high-quality sound systems showcasing those dramatic scenes set in space with the lush soundtrack crafted by Alexandre Desplat? How do you create awe if your art is projected into a space like a home with kids yelling and cellphones distracting viewers?
The current box office for “The Midnight Sun” is $62,557, though Netflix doesn't release the streaming numbers. The film didn't receive critical acclaim, but was this epic-sized film not being appreciated because most people watched it on a television, or worse, a laptop? Or were audiences not up for a dystopian future featuring a grizzled, dying Hollywood star? The release dates of most other big budget action adventures have been postponed. Would that have helped this film? In comparison, “Wonder Woman 1984,” with twice the budget ($200 million) and double the theater screen release, has a box office of $822 million. Of course, “Wonder Woman” was highly anticipated sequel and has a built-in audience. A better comparison might be another film that received mixed critical response. George Clooney directed “The Monuments Men.” It garnered $151 million worldwide on an exclusive theatrical run.
“The Midnight Sun” will likely garner some technical awards as there weren't many action adventures released last year. George Clooney has applied what he learned from starring in “Solaris” and “Gravity,” and his performance is noteworthy. It's interesting to note that the spaceship was filmed using virtual reality, and the stories he tells from the production are astounding. From a blinding snowstorm (shot in Iceland) to a blood ballet (VR-enhanced on a sound stage in England), the cinematographer Martin Ruhe shot the film for a release on IMAX that never happened. A movie full of big ideas and grand scale, “The Midnight Sun”is all about the small moments. There's a quiet intensity to the communication between George Clooney's determined astrophysicist and the mute little girl he encounters. The chemistry of the astronauts didn't feel as if they'd been together for the extended time implied in the plot and their parting seemed oddly anti-climactic. On the small screen, the effects that might have wowed seem muted and those intimate moments between characters may have lost their charm in contrast.
Following on the heels of “The Midnight Sun” release, another film starring a Hollywood legend opened. In “News of the World” (co-written and directed by Peter Greengrass), released in theaters and streaming online, Tom Hanks plays a grizzled older man paired with a young girl. Instead of a dystopian Earth, we have a dystopian American South that’s war-torn, full of racial strife and Indian fighting. Watching this movie in the theater, the journey through the mountains and plains seems vast and the soundtrack (James Newton Howard) is stirring. As in our sci-fi film, this Western is full of quiet moments, and it's the young actress, Helena Zengel, who steals the show from Tom Hanks. There's even a whiteout in this film. What's improved by watching “News of the World” on the big screen is how your attention becomes focused more intently on the quiet scenes by a campfire after enjoying the expanse of the wide-open prairie.
“News of the World”is still playing in theaters and has a box office of $10.2 million currently. That's a serious chunk of change more than “The Midnight Sun,” which didn't benefit from a large theatrical run. “The Midnight Sun” sounds like it could also be a Western, doesn't it?
Both films are good genre movies with strong performances, beautiful scores and gorgeous cinematography. It's an interesting twist of fate for George Clooney who got his start on the small screen, but directed a big-budget film meant for the big screen.
DRINKS WITH FILMS RATING
“The Midnight Sun:” 2 gravity-defying water bottles out of 5
“News of the World:” 3 cups of campfire coffee out of 5