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Midnight Special (2015) - Movie Review

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Midnight SPecial - Blu-ray Review - Blu-ray Review

5 stars

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud), Midnight Special is a richly dark treat that recalls some of the best moments from the slew of science fiction movies released during the 1980s.  It is ambitious and imaginative, refusing to provide answers while we watch one father and one son steal themselves through the south on the run from the government.  With an eye-popping conclusion that is borderline visionary, the highs of Nichols’ fourth film – and first to get big studio backing – allows our imaginations to fire up in a film about extraordinary powers and extraordinary love.

At the center of this narrative is a father’s love for his son.  Blessed or cursed (depending on your take) with strange powers, they are all they have.  The 8-year-old boy, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), is unlike the rest of humanity.  He wears blue goggles due to his ability to project rays of light directly into another person, enabling them to see unique visions.  The knowledge of what is inside these visions is why the film opens with two mysterious-looking men – Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton – barreling down the highway in a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle. 

It is deep darkness.  Hours before dawn.  And Alton’s birth father, Roy (Shannon), has no choice but to keep moving as a force bigger than they know is trying to stop this child abduction: The U.S. Government.  This is E.T. and D.A.R.Y.L. territory and Nichols kneads that feeling into the dough of this thriller with chilling effectiveness.  With a little help from the superb cast, Nichols’ restraint behind the camera pays off with a magnificently engaging tale that plays against stereotypes and suspicions.

Led by NSA officer Paul Sevier (Adam Driver), Alton’s supernatural abilities have him being viewed as a threat to the nation and so – with links to a religious cult called “the Ranch” inspired by Alton’s own ramblings during his “episodes” – the media’s spin on this abduction falls flat.  We recognize that Shannon and Edgerton are rescuing the boy, eventually reuniting him with his mother, effectively played by Kirsten Dunst with world-weary resignation.  We just don’t know what their plan is.   

There is one sequence just outside of a gas station that will leave you breathless.  Alton, led by an awareness beyond his years, walks away from his father’s car.  He is still wearing the blue goggles.  Again, it is the dead of night.  A woman, concerned for the boy’s safety approaches him while Roy is on the phone.  Unaware his son has left the car, he continues his phone call.  He suddenly sees the woman approaching Alton and runs to save both of them.  From what?  Exactly.  What goes down, involving these three people AND a weapons defense system, will leave you with chills.  In that way, much of Midnight Special sneaks up on you.

Nichols, four pictures in to his directing career, is a champion of the underdog.  His movies are powerful and effective, yet somehow they continue to escape the mainstream.  Maybe that’s how it should be.  They are quite effective ballads – working with themes in religion, science fiction, and the human condition – that larger audiences would probably never hear in an appreciative manner anyway. 

On a personal note, this is exactly what a flick like Tomorrowland should have been but wasn’t.  Midnight Special is an inspired mystery with a child’s adventurous heart and spirit.  Not only is it operating as nostalgia, but it is also inspired by heart-rending events involving the director and his son. 

From David Wingo’s score to the ambiguity of its more charged moments, there is indeed something unique within the matrix of Midnight Special.

Midnight SPecial - Blu-ray Review - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and action
Runtime:
112 mins
Director
: Jeff Nichols
Writer:
Jeff Nichols
Cast:
Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst
Genre
: Adventure | Sci-fi
Tagline:
He's not like us.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Sometimes we are asked to do things that are beyond us."
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site: http://www.midnightspecialmovie.com/
Release Date:
March 18, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
June 21, 2016
Synopsis: In the sci-fi thriller Midnight Special, writer/director Jeff Nichols proves again that he is one of the most compelling storytellers of our time, as a father (Michael Shannon) goes on the run to protect his young son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), and uncover the truth behind the boy's special powers. What starts as a race from religious extremists and local law enforcement quickly escalates to a nationwide manhunt involving the highest levels of the Federal Government. Ultimately his father risks everything to protect Alton and help fulfill a destiny that could change the world forever in this genre-defying film as supernatural as it is intimately human.

Midnight SPecial - Blu-ray Review - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - June 21, 2016
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps); French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps); Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD-50); UV digital copy; Digital copy
Region Encoding: A

Released by Warner Bros, Nichols’ movie gets an impressive 1080p transfer.   It was shot on film but the processing of the film has smoothed out the grain.  I guess this is a viewer’s preference here but…ya know.  Colors, when in the sunlight, are strong and expressive – if slightly muted for emotive reasons.  Images throughout the transfer are crisp and visually stimulating.  Black levels remain strong and the shadows are impressive.  There is only one scene – pitch black in a forest – where the crush consumes the detail.  All in all, this is a good-looking release that combines practical effects with digital renderings and pulls it off.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix effectively carries Wingo’s bass-building score and presents dialogue and other effects clearly.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

There’s not much but what we do get is fascinating, especially if you want to know more about the movie and the people involved with it.  First, writer/director Jeff Nichols takes us into the origins of the movie, commenting on its seed, creation, and how it developed.  Producer Sarah Green also discusses the film and its use of different worlds.  They do this in 5-minutes and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the creative process, if only it were longer.  The second and final supplement takes us into a bit of the characters involved in the film.

  • Origins (5 min)
  • The Unseen World (13 min)

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