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Midnight Special Breathes New Life Into Old Sci-Fi

Even science fiction fans who are happy with the current state of the genre often find themselves longing for the good old days when these movies had more to offer than impressive special effects. Fortunately, Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special is a full-blown throwback, sacrificing scale—it had less than one tenth the budget of Batman v Superman—for the freedom to take risks. Nichols prefers cryptic clues to detailed exposition, leaving a larger-than-usual burden on viewers to decipher the proceedings for themselves. This is just one way that this film harkens back to the science fiction of the past. If you want a better sense of where this intriguing experiment comes from, consider spending the weekend with these genre staples.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

By his own admission, Nichols modeled Midnight Special on the early films of Steven Spielberg. In addition to Close Encounters’ combination of paranoia and mystical otherworldliness, the writer-director channels the specific family crises of Sugarland Express and E.T., as well as the very-special-child in peril emphasis of A.I.

Starman

Nichols also acknowledges the early films of John Carpenter as a crucial influence on Midnight Special. For the most part, this manifests in a more general way. The score and visual style both bring to mind films like Christine and Escape From New York, but the most relevant Carpenter film is Starman, the touching alien-on-the-run movie that earned comparisons to E.T.—and an Oscar nomination for Jeff Bridges.

D.A.R.Y.L.

This ’80s science fiction favourite is rarely mentioned today, but it echoes early Spielberg in many of the same ways as Midnight Special.

Firestarter

Nichols has specifically refuted the notion that this Stephen King adaptation inspired Midnight Special, but the obvious parallels—including a narrative about the capture of a child with special powers and a score by key Carpenter influence Tangerine Dream—are undeniable.

Looper

According to Nichols’ timeline, Midnight Special was already written when Rian Johnson’s Looper arrived in 2012, but that film’s success may have helped this similar display of kid power get the support of a major studio (Warner Bros.).

Midnight Special opens in some cities today, expanding further next weekend. You’ll get a hint of what’s going on in the trailer below, but don’t expect much more detail from the film itself.

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