HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Midnight Special
HTS Overall Score:79
“Midnight Special” is the fourth feature film from independent director/writer Jeff Nichols, with his last piece being the amazingly good drama, “Mud”. Taking a turn from a dramatic thriller, Nichols delves into the realm of science fiction, pairing us up with elements of “E.T.”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and a little bit of “The X-files”, where a boy that isn’t of this world has to be reunited with the otherworldly realm, aliens, whatever they are that spawned him. Nichols adds his own very indie feeling flair to traditional science fiction tropes and routines in a way that makes it fascinating, if not slightly flawed. Personally I think many of the flaws in the film come from a rather low budget of $18 million (which is Nichol’s highest budget to date, but still not a whole lot when you’re trying to make an awe inspiring science fiction film), but he manages to eke out a fascinating ride along the way to our meet with the alien race.
The magical boy in question is one Alton Tomlin (Jaedon Lieberher, of “The Confirmation” and “St. Vincent”), an 8 year old child who has spent his entire life being raised inside of a cult out in the boonies. The pastor of the cult (played by Sam Shepard) has adopted the boy as his own after witnessing the strange light that comes out of his eyes sporadically as well as mysterious predictions (which turn out to be government secrets taken from spy satellites orbiting the earth by Alton) that spout from his mouth. Alton’s mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), fled the cult in despair after her child was ripped from her arms by the crazed cult leader, and two years later her husband Roy (Michael Shannon) follows suit after stealing the boy back. Now an amber alert has been initiated and the police are soon involved. However, the cult has already been under investigation by the FBI for suspicious behavior and has been monitoring the near godlike powers of Alton.
With the FBI and NSA hot on their trail, Alton, Roy and Roy’s childhood friend, State Trooper Lucas (Joel Edgerton in an under rated performance) alternate running and hiding from the authorities as they make their way to a rendezvous that Lucas has informed them MUST be met. Much of the action and story is not explained up front. In fact you are dropped right in the middle of the escape without nearly any warning. The viewer is let into the puzzle by way of individual puzzle pieces that slowly flesh out the story. However, some of the plots and narrative devices that push the story forward aren’t fully explained. We get many of them, such as Alton being extraterrestrial or other worldly, and that they’re going to meet up with his kind somewhere, but also we have little bits like him not being able to go out in to the sunlight, or being sick that are just slid to the background in favor of the main plot.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=73377[/img]The inclusion of Adam Driver as lead analyst for the Feds in charge of bringing Alton in. He’s a strange cliché of Fox Mulder (He’s even got a poster with the phrase “I want to believe” in his office) and nerdy analyst, but he proves me right in my theory that Adam Driver CAN play something other than a hipster. He and Joel Edgerton are the best characters in the movie, despite not being the stars (ironically Michael Shannon is a star in just about EVERY Jeff Nichols film to date). He plays the role with a sense of duty, yet sense of imaginary wonder which makes him the prime target for Alton to use to make his escape after federal authorities take him in.
Nichols does a great job with feeding the audience little bits of information. Keeping the primary goal and plot points to himself until the time is right. On the other hand this hoarding of information acts as the film’s weak spot too, keeping the viewer in the dark about many things, even up until the very end. I’m all for not being force fed a plot, but there is a fine line between keeping just enough information back, and giving away too much. Sometimes Nichols blurs those lines just a little bit too much. I sincerely LOVED the first two acts, but only enjoyed the final act. I think this is partly due to the fact that many of the promises that first two act made in regards to an awe inspiring alien/otherworldly encounter just aren’t able to be fully realized with the limited budget that Nichols had to play with. Instead we’re given the trappings of a world that looks like “Tomorrowland”, and without the emotional reaction that “E.T.” or “Close Encounters of the third Kind” was able to elicit. It’s a great attempt, and certainly worthy of watching, but the slightly unsatisfactory ending dampens the enjoyment just a little.
Rated PG-13 for some violence and action
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=73385[/img]The 2.39:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray is a good, if not sometimes great looking encode. The movie tends to take place 99.99% at night, and is thusly bathed in a sort of dim ambiance that shrouds the entire picture with shadows and sort of yellow, dingy haze. Fine detailing is good, with plenty of facial textures and clothing details being prevalent in the image. “Midnight Special” was shot on the Arri Flex digital camera system, and while it doesn’t always look razor sharp and crystal clear, produces a very pleasing looking image. Due to the dark nature of the film we see intermittent banding crop up as well as some digital noise. However neither of them are a consistent or obtrusive occurrence. Black levels remain strong, but sometimes show the presence of some washed out colors and details. That orange/yellow color grading is complimented with earthy browns and a sense of griminess that adds a nice texture to the film.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=73393[/img]“Midnight Special’s” 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track is a POWERFUL mix that just throbs with energy and a ferocity that seems to come out of nowhere. Dialog drives much of the track, with clear vocals and a distinctly large dynamic range. A dynamic range that is shockingly wide as the first few moments of the film show off an incredibly bass track that just does NOT let up throughout the hour and 52 minutes. Waves of LFE wash over the listener as the creepy track, combined with Alton’s strange powers dig deep into the lower teens, vibrating everything on my walls nearly off the studs. There is a small downside to the dynamic range being so wide, especially in regards to the vocals. One moment you’re listening at a normal level to the characters speak to each other and then then next your walls are caving in with earth shattering bass. Surrounds get a hefty workout during those more aggressive moments, pulsing with the same energy and excitement that the LFE channel exudes. However, the movie can be very low key at times, with the surrounds and LFE fading off into the background for short periods of time, only to be called forth with earth shaking presence.
• Origins: Roy
• Origins: Sarah
• Origins: Lucas
• Origins: Sevier
• Origins: Alton
• The Unseen World
“Midnight Special” marks the 4th film that Director/Writer Jeff Nichols has undertaken, and I eagerly await anything the man might tackle next, as his ability to take the clichéd and turn it on its ear is refreshing. “Midnight Special” may not have been everything that he envisioned (I suspect it was something much grander, something his budget wouldn’t allow), but it is an entertaining watch, full of solid performances by everyone involved. Audio is fantastic, and the video is quite good, leaving me to give it a solid thumbs up as a recommended watch.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French DD 5.1
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 112 minutes
Own Midnight Special on Blu-ray or DVD on June 21 or Own It Early on Digital HD on June 7!
Buy Midnight Special On Blu-ray at Amazon
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