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Midnight Special Blu-ray Review

Midnight Special (2016) movie poster Midnight Special

Theatrical Release: March 18, 2016 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Michael Shannon (Roy Tomlin), Joel Edgerton (Lucas), Kirsten Dunst (Sarah Tomlin), Jaeden Lieberher (Alton Meyer), Adam Driver (Paul Sevier), Bill Camp (Doak), Scott Haze (Levi), Sam Shepard (Calvin Meyer), Paul Sparks (Agent Miller), David Jensen (Elden)

Buy Midnight Special from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

The films of writer-director Jeff Nichols -- Shotgun Stories (2007), Take Shelter (2011), Mud (2013) -- have drawn increasing acclaim and attention. Nichols' fourth feature at the helm, Midnight Special, is his biggest yet and has potential to further grow his following. Midnight differs from Nichols' past efforts in striking ways:
it was produced and shrouded in secrecy, has the backing of a major studio in Warner Bros. Pictures, is primarily classified as science fiction, and moves closer to shedding the director's "low budget" reputation with an $18 million price tag. At the same time, the film upholds the director's trademarks with a cast that includes Michael Shannon, settings of southern flyover country, and methodical storytelling that may not entirely win over the masses. With that in mind, Warner opened this PG-13 film in five New York and Los Angeles theaters and slowly expanded it over the next few weeks, contracting soon thereafter as demand swiftly dried up.

Midnight Special takes its time establishing its premise. An 8-year-old boy with UV-blocking swim goggles is in the custody of two suspicious men. Television news reports the boy, Alton Meyer (St. Vincent's Jaeden Lieberher), as being abducted. His guardians, Roy Tomlin (Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), are certainly on the run. Their intentions are vague. So too is the connection of a cult known as the Ranch, whose leader Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard), Alton's adoptive father, announces seemingly random series of numbers as part of his sermons to an attentive night congregation.

Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) has a chat with his biological father (Michael Shannon) in a convenience store parking lot where satellites are about to descend in "Midnight Special."

The service is raided by FBI agents with vested interest in the whereabouts of the boy, who is known to possess some unusual powers. We're mostly kept in the dark regarding the nature of those powers, knowing only that they involve Alton's sometimes glowing eyes and that Roy, the boy's biological father, and Lucas will go to great lengths to protect them, blocking out sunlight with cardboard taped to windows.

An analyst (Adam Driver) leads the FBI pursuit, while Roy, Lucas, and the boy lay low and visit the boy's mother (Kirsten Dunst), trying to keep him alive for the few days until he is to fulfill a prophecy at an assigned set of coordinates.

Midnight Special looks and feels like a movie from a different era. It is set in the present day, as a Nancy Grace sighting, dates, and news Twitter references make clear. But there are also pay phones, old cars, police scanners, long outdated fashions, and a general lack of technological gadgetry. You could easily liken the film to those from the '80s, like Starman and D.A.R.Y.L., ones that the 37-year-old Nichols and much of his principal cast would have grown up with. At the same time, the film plays more as timeless than as a throwback.

Adam Driver plays Paul Sevier, a nerdy FBI analyst who is on the trail of our protagonist party.

Nichols is not entirely at ease here. There is a lack of energy most of the time, which you notice in the few scenes where the film really bursts to life, including a brief chase and an arresting exchange. The whole cult angle disconcertingly goes nowhere. Most viewers wouldn't immediately classify this as overt sci-fi.
Despite the somewhat significant budget, the backing of Warner, and the genre-esque thematic material, this doesn't really feel like Nichols' first mainstream play. Then again, neither did Mud and that Matthew McConaughey film grossed an exceptional $22 million from under 1,000 theaters. Despite a promising start on the coasts, Midnight Special didn't get anywhere near those heights, grossing just $3.7 million domestic and another $2.5 M abroad, numbers earning this project clear flop designation. By comparison, Take Shelter grossed nearly half as much from only one-fifth as many theaters back in the fall of 2011 on a much lower budget.

Though not as unanimously approving as they were of Mud, critics were receptive to Nichols' fourth film, while acknowledging it's not the typical multiplex moviegoer's cup of tea. It's not, but cineastes with patience who are appreciative of something a little out of the ordinary should enjoy this well-acted, well-crafted tale in spite of its belabored pacing, understated tone, and meandering storytelling.

Warner forgoes their usual combo pack, releasing Midnight Special in separate DVD and Blu-ray editions, each equipped with digital copies. The latter is reviewed here.

Midnight Special Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service, French, Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: June 21, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($28.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Nichols may be more renowned for his storytelling than his technical prowess, but he knows how to compose a film in compelling ways. Midnight Special looks great in the Blu-ray's sharp, clean 2.40:1 presentation. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, meanwhile, does a fine job of distributing crisp dialogue, score that varies from ethereal to pulsing, and potent occasional sci-fi sound effects.

Kirsten Dunst discusses her character Sarah Tomlin, Alton's mother who has been excommunicated from the Ranch. Writer-director Jeff Nichols shares the origins of his ideas in "The Unseen World."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with Origins (12:36), a collection of five shorts exploring the characters Roy, Lucas, Sarah, Alton, and Sevier.
They detail each lead's backstory with the usual blend of talking heads (from Nichols and the cast), film clips and stills, and a tiny bit of behind-the-scenes footage.

"The Unseen World" (5:12) is a short making-of featurette pulling from the same sources which lets Nichols discuss the story and its inspirations and pays notice to the design of the other universe.

The disc opens with a trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and a promo for digital movies.

The scored, static menu adapts poster art.

The purple disc is housed in a standard, unslipcovered eco-friendly keepcase with the lone insert supplying your Digital HD with UltraViolet code. A sticker on the shrinkwrap touts the film's Certified Fresh status on Rotten Tomatoes.

Don't let the glowing eyes throw you off...Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is different from other boys.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Midnight Special is a step down from Jeff Nichols' highly rewarding two previous films,
but still a fairly agreeable and unique experience. While this unconventional sci-fi slow burn will disappoint those expecting popcorn entertainment, it should intrigue the discerning filmgoer as a rare genre art house picture. Warner's Blu-ray is basic but befits a film that is worth a viewing.

Buy Midnight Special from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols: Take Shelter | New to Disc: 10 Cloverfield Lane Zootopia Eddie the Eagle Hail, Caesar!
Joel Edgerton: Black Mass Animal Kingdom The Great Gatsby Zero Dark Thirty The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Michael Shannon: 99 Homes Man of Steel Revolutionary Road My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
Jaeden Lieberher: St. Vincent | Kirsten Dunst: Spider-Man | Adam Driver: Frances Ha Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Tomorrowland Ex Machina Flight of the Navigator Men in Black Safety Not Guaranteed

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Reviewed June 14, 2016.



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