Saturday, April 23, 2016


It's confusing that an original indie movie shot over 40 days for 18M is a better Superman movie than any $200M Superman movie WB has made in the last 15 or so years.

If we’re going to discuss Midnight Special I feel it’s important to bring up the current slew of superhero films coming out today. No, I’m not a part of the super right wing superhero fatigue camp, nor on the ultra-left-wing “we live or die by the capes” side of things. I just like new inventive movies. I bring these movies up because it says something about the kind of era we’re stepping into now. Since around the 1970s with the original Star Wars and Jaws we went into the era of the Blockbuster. Films that follow certain conventions, please many audiences and take us through grand stories in an inventive way. We’re still in that era of course (I mean I just saw The Jungle Book like two weeks ago), but the Blockbuster era is slightly changing.

We’ve sort of entered this two way film system. The first being that contemporary blockbusters will follow this “little risk cycle”. Studios assess what does well and continue to make films like this because they continue to do well and people have an interest. It may be the case because they might not know any better, or because those movies are their taste, doesn’t matter. People are seeing them because it plays to what they expect. They love the big spectacle because that’s what they’ve grown to embrace in modern cinema. They love the hero vs. villain story. Superman fighting Zod for humanity’s protection against extinction. They love friend vs. friend inner and external conflict. Ironman and Cap sure to duke it out in Civil War to the bitter end. Hyped for those big action scenes sure to come. And it’s the studios that understand “if they want it, give it to them”, and for they’ll make billions in the process. And who can blame them? If there’s profit, go for it, man! I won’t blame you. It does beg the question though: would this same audience today embrace a film like Close Encounters of the Third Kind? I wouldn’t say so myself. Yes, it’s Spielberg. Yes, it has aliens. But it’s a blockbuster that by no means follows cinema expectations. There’s no big action scenes or heroes fighting an otherworldly threat, and yet somehow it made $303.8M. In 1977, this was HUGE money, and was only made for $18M in comparison.

It’s these kinds of films made by EMI and Amblin, who were behind classic films such as “Back to the Future” and “ET” that today have switched over into the indie world. Films like Midnight Special made for $18M, aiming for high spectacle concepts, limited CG, respectable and talented actors, except never to see the 300+M Close Encounters made. Never to get a grand wide release and the advertising support of a Universal Studios umbrella. Only to be seen by cinephiles, critics and audiences who take the time to see it and hear about it through word of mouth. If we’re talking about change, this is one that was sure to come but man, it’s sad to say the least. Midnight Special doesn’t compare in quality to the classics I mentioned, but it harkens back to the days of classic Amblin. In a way it’s essentially a 1977 film playing in 2016 rules, and the kind of superhero film an indie artist director just *wishes* he could make today for $80M, $90M, but it just won’t happen…it’s too risky.

Midnight Special opens with Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), two men armed behind a boarded up dank hotel from with a goggles wearing child named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher). Unfazed by the TV blaring of his disappearance, taking him to a place unspecified, only letting us know he has to get there. Desperately. Believing in its audience to fill in the blocks and stay invested in the mystery as it unfolds. Limited CGI, focusing on the metaphorical purpose of our characters. No central villain propelling the story, opting for multiple factions that see our lead differently, including the likes of big government and a religious cult. No forced twenty minute long action climax that culminates in nothing than a set-up for the next in the franchise. It’s the kind of story that pays attention to creating a great single movie first, and the future of its characters finite with a /possible/ opening for more if they wanted, which would give me some interest.

This would be because of how they used Alton. A child that I feel to some extent embodies the qualities of the man of steel himself, which to be honest made me kind of fucking giddy. Inside his sci-fi spectacle Nichols hides a genuine father son story about children experiencing a potentially hostile, unknown world. Alton viewing himself as an outsider. Creating a discourse among society as to his place on earth. Whether he’s an angel that has come to liberate, or a figure of evil set on destruction. One of the things that make this film work is that it’s happening through the perspective of a child. While I would have loved more focus on this whole concept, Nichols does well at presenting Alton as some sort of symbol, bigger than Roy, Lucas or Sarah (played wonderfully by Kirsten Dunst) or anyone on this earth, however humanising him to an extent that he feels tangible. His arc echoing an involving Superman as though it were told from a youthful, growing Kal El, and his journey towards greatness long ahead of him. Roy and Sarah taking the role of a reshaped Ma and Pa Kent, who know they have to let their child see this destiny through, against opposition and the potential heartbreak and lose it will cause them. When this was the focus, for me, it *really* worked. If it had perhaps a tighter script, the floodgates and euphoria would be washing over me. Taking this to 4.5/5 territory, maybe even 5/5. Sadly however, it did leave too many narrative threads opens and some of the scene execution and their conveniences did hinder my experience. It’s not exactly being the tight conclusion of a Close Encounters meets a solid interpretation of Superman, but it comes close enough I was enthralled.

Midnight Special might be flawed, but fuck does it come with some neat things to show for it. We need a renaissance of Amblin type movies. Given the budgets and attention and care they deserve. That would be a great decision. I’ll take this for now at least, but man… It left me thinking of just what could be…

Bailey's Score: 7/10

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