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Roy's young son, Alton, has mysterious powers coveted by religious extremists. On the run, the two escape in the night, and as the chase escalates into a nationwide manhunt involving the highest levels of government, Roy will risk everything to help Alton find his ultimate purpose.. whatever that may be. (From the WB synopsis)

 Midnight Special
Jeff Nichols is no stranger to family dramas. The excellent Shotgun Stories revolved around a family feud following the death of a patriarch. In his sophomore film Take Shelter (also starring Michael Shannon) he explored the mind of a father plagued by premonitions, fearing for the safety of his family to the brink of insanity. Even his third film Mud, which largely focused on growing up and a hermit character had lots of family drama in the sidelines. Now with Midnight Special he tackles the themes of parenthood and protecting one's family again, but with a more supernatural element thrown in. At the start of the film we see two men, Roy and Lucas, in a dark motel room. On the television is an amber alert newsflash for a missing boy named Alton. Upon seeing the image on the TV they turn their attention to a young boy with blue goggles on, reading a comic book under the sheets. It's Alton, and it's time for them to leave. And just like that they're on the move.

Nichols waste no time getting into the tension of this 80's style sci-fi yarn. There isn't a lot of backstory. For example, Roy came from a ranch where a cult-like religious group worshiped Alton as their messiah, but we never see them in this context. We only learn about it when the FBI is interviewing members of the ranch. There's a lot of details like this in Midnight Special where its up to the audience to decipher the implications and I found myself really liking the "less is more" nature of it all. It doesn't take long at all for us to learn that Alton has special powers. He has fits where beams of light shoot out of his eyes, sometimes into the eyes of another person and giving them otherworldly visions. We never see these visions as the viewer, and the movie is better for it. I found myself really admiring the level of restraint, though it will certainly be a source of frustration for some. Nichols doesn't possess J.J. Abrams knack for scale and spectacle, but it is refreshing to see someone wear their Spielberg influences on their sleeve without aping his visuals so directly.

 Midnight Special
It's interesting to consider that Nichols is a young parent when watching his films. So much of the drama within is informed by it. On this disc's extras Nichols mentions that he started writing this movie after his young child had a seizure, and I absolutely believe it when I see Michael Shannon's character in the film. There's a line in this movie that I thought summed up parenting in a really lovely way. Roy spends so much of the film concerned for his child's safety, and at one point Alton tells him "You don't have to worry about me." His father responds, "I like worrying about you." I'm only an uncle and this simple exchange still resonated with me in a way that few family dramas do, let alone sci-fi thrillers. This scene somewhat represents the whole of Midnight Special in many of ways. It is a screenplay of few words, but when it has something to say it is usually worth hearing.

 Midnight Special

Video


This 1080p transfer from Warner Bros. is impressive. Midnight Special was shot in a fitting 35 mm format but it is a very dark movie. Most of the scenes take place at night, either outdoors or in barricaded rooms. Black levels are solid for the most part, but on occasion the light is so limited that the image just looks muddy and washed out in appearance, but this seems to be inherent to the film itself and not the result of a bad transfer process. Still, because of the nature of the movie and these scenes, this will not be a vibrant experience for showcasing the qualities of your high definition setup. There are some brighter outdoor scenes that look great though, and detail is very strong in these.

Audio


Midnight Special is the kind of release that makes me question how well calibrated my sound setup is. It's full of quiet, soft dialogue taking place in barricaded motel rooms. During these scenes I found myself having to turn the volume up to make out what was being said. When Alton has an episode they are explosive and jarring, and the shift in volume reflects that in a way that led to me having to turn the volume back down. With an ideal mix I would never have to keep my thumb on the volume buttons but I'm willing to consider this could be a fault of my setup. Aside from his issue, the quality of the audio is top notch. David Wingo's score is a simple but haunting refrain that elevates the mysterious elements of the plot. When Alton's abilities are at full force the sound mix goes into war zone mode, with bombastic chaos coming from all directions.

 Midnight Special

Extras


The special features start off with Origins (HD, 12:36). These are five short segments devoted to the main characters of the film. You can watch them individually or all at once. There are interviews with the cast and Jeff Nichols in here, where they talk about the background of some of the characters. As I wrote in my review, I really liked the way the film didn't spend a lot of time on backstories for the characters, but these extras have the cast and crew giving what they imagine the backstories are, so I found the supplements unnecessary. The only other extra on the disc is The Unseen World (HD, 05:12) which has Jeff Nichols elaborating on his inspiration for the story and a specific aspect of it. He also talks about finding the line between showing the audience something and allowing them to imagine it.

Overall


Midnight Special may be Jeff Nichols' weakest film to date, but even when he isn't firing on all cylinders he's still a better storyteller than the majority of his peers. I hope he never stops making movies with Michael Shannon who gives a wonderfully understated performance here. With the loud, busy blockbusters of the summer in full force it was refreshing to see a sci-fi flick take the "less is more" approach. I was impressed with the restraint, but I'm sure some will feel unsatisfied with the lack of information they're left with. Warner Bros even seems to acknowledge this criticism with Blu-ray extras aimed at character origins. The visual style of the movie doesn't always lend itself to the best video presentation, but for the most part it looks and sounds great.

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* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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