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The Midnight Sky
  • Composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • ABKCO / 87m

George Clooney is not a personal friend of mine, but he seems to have so many qualities – using his fame as a force for good, seemingly a very nice man, an interesting one, a very fine actor – and so quite why it is that I find the films he directs to be so curiously uninvolving I have no idea, but The Midnight Sky joins that list. It sounds like it should be great – a scientist alone at a remote Arctic communications station, desperately trying to contact spacecraft out there looking for a new home for humanity, telling them not to return to earth because there has been a catastrophe – but it just never works for me.

Still, you can’t fault the director’s composer-of-choice, which has been Alexandre Desplat on his last few films. Desplat faced writing and recording this score during the pandemic – he still managed to get it played by the London Symphony Orchestra and it’s turned out just fine.

Alexandre Desplat

The album begins with the somewhat low-key main theme – it’s calm and reflective, a little sad, not one of the composer’s showier efforts but certainly very nice. Actually more typical of the score is the cue that follows, “Aether Spaceship”, which is all twinkly and glittering, slightly playful. After the atypical “Sullivan’s Nightmare”, a brassy and dramatic piece of action music, we reach perhaps the score’s most wonderful piece which is the stunning “Iris in the Stars”, a sprightly piano solo absolutely sparkling as it dances around the strings.

A fair chunk of the score is rather darker than this – often brooding suspense, the occasional insertion of (surprisingly electronics-heavy) tense action music. The composer chooses to make this somewhat monochromatic, and while it’s fine in the film there’s probably too much of that side of the score on the album. You’re just waiting for the next injection of “pure” Desplat, such as the magical atmospheric soundscape of “Families and Friends” and its follow-up, the appropriately ethereal and very beautiful “In the Milky Way”. The film takes a turn when Clooney discovers a young girl hiding at the outpost with him, and she gets a lovely emotional piece from Desplat, “A Child” and then a wonderfully playful piece representing the pair starting to bond, “Peas Battle”.

“First Alert” is one of the best action cues – the familiar Desplat electronic pulse given one of the most fast-paced workouts I’ve heard it have. This side of the score doesn’t always work for me but this piece is where the composer does it best. “The Ice Breaks” is even more intense, with piercing brass, some dissonance – it shakes the room. Perhaps these two cues would have been fine to represent the more intense face of the score on album.

There is a particularly exquisite passage in “Survivors” which marks it out as a standout cue – dripping with emotion, elegiac, it represents Desplat at his best. Following this is “Is There Hope?” which musically very much suggests that yes, there is, with perhaps the most soaringly positive performance of the main theme in the whole score in the first part of the cue before perhaps deciding there isn’t as much more tense electronics begin to take over, leading to very cold and sparse material towards the end of the lengthy cue. By contrast, “Changing Route” could barely be any warmer – romantic, Debussian piano and strings offering almost rapturous delight.

“Blood Drops” is quite interesting, with pretty anxious action/suspense music followed by a piercingly sad piano solo finale. The “Survivors” theme gets another airing in “There Is Nowhere”, this time being presented in a much chillier atmosphere. It gets twisted into something much more positive in the wonderful “A New Life Ahead”, the album’s climax and a very satisfying one at that.

Parts – large parts – of The Midnight Sky are prime Desplat, and therefore amongst the film music highlights of the year, especially the more ethereal sections, which are generally superb. Were the album trimmed down by half an hour I’d probably give it my highest recommendation, but parts of it are less interesting and so as a packaged listening experience it is more up-and-down than it needs to be. Still – you can probably make a playlist from the tracks I’ve named in the review and have something very satisfying indeed.

Rating: **** | |

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