Updated: Mar 31, 2021
Anyone who has watched through the entirety of The Office has seen Threat Level Midnight (S7 E17) starring Michael Scott (Steve Carell). For some, this episode remains one of their favorite of all nine seasons. And for others, this episode sits at the bottom of their list.
Fun Fact: This film, originally released in 2011 as part of a normal episode, was re-released with extended and previously-cut scenes in 2019 as a stand-alone short film. The YouTube version of Threat Level Midnight has amassed over 8.5 views as of early 2021.
“After secret agent Michael Scarn (played by Michael) is forced into retirement due to the death of his wife at the hands of Goldenface (played by Jim Halpert), the President of the United States of America (played by Darryl Philbin) requests that he prevent Goldenface from blowing up the NHL All-Star Game.
A full synopsis of the film can be read here.
As I write this critique, I will try to be as nonpartisan as possible, but that will be difficult as I’ve grown very fond of The Office. The film begins with a cringey opening scene, which seemingly has nothing to do with the rest of the film.
Opening Credit Sequence
After that, we see the beginning credit sequence. From a creative standpoint, this is a very boring sequence. Michael could have used a much more interesting background to replace the nothingness we currently have.
During the credit sequence, we see “Introducing Ryan Howard.” From this, I inferred that a prequel to this film exists, though I couldn’t find anything about it online. I guess we may never know…
Michael’s assistant (played by Dwight Schrute / Rainn Wilson) is supposedly a robot, which might explain the awkward acting. However, we don’t learn that Dwight is a robot until a brief shot towards the end when, Michael, for some unknown reason, oils Dwight’s motherboard.
Cinematography and Creativity
One major critique that covers the whole film (except a couple of scenes) is the cinematography. Despite the typical “single-camera setup” in which The Office is shot, this film wasn’t shot by the (fictional) documentary crew and should have had more of Michael’s flair and creativity. Michael certainly would have added more interesting camera angles and movement instead of the rudimentary camera angles present. This was especially noticeable in the dialogue sequences.
Another instance of a lack of creativity was the scene where Michael takes a shot at the goal repeatedly. That particular shot was very wide and uninspired; and that paired with a weak attempt at slow-motion hurt the idea for which Michael was aiming. We can give Michael some credit however, because he worked with what little budget he had as well as the limitations of slow-motion technology back in the late 2000s.
I will hand it to Michael and those who helped him with his film- his set decoration and locations were pretty well done. He did a particularly good job transforming the conference room into a Presidential office. Other locations such as the “Funky Cat” and the bar in which he preforms his signature song and dance were incredibly believable. I wouldn’t doubt it if Michael filmed them both in a real bar that exists in the show.
Seeing this film’s overall theme and color fall flat is a bit disapointing. Yes, I know it was the 2000s, but Michael, let alone the actual creators of the show could have done some form of color grading. The film felt very digital, which makes sense as it was supposed to have been shot on Michael’s little camcorder. Many films, especially now have a signature look/feel/tone to them and, Threat Level Midnight fell short in this area.
Cherokee // Mr. Miyagi
One specific scene that made me chuckle was when iceskating instructor, Cherokee Jack (Creed Bratton) told Michael to “mop the ice” while he was learning to skate. It gave me very distinct Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid vibes
A Funny Scene
Though cinematically boring, when Michael and Goldenface fight while skating, I can’t help but chuckle.
What is Oscar Wearing?
Do the Ends Justify the Means?
A couple questions: Did Michael kill Oscar when he choked him after the skating competition? If so, why not simply kill Goldenface. In this situation, Michael clearly has no problem with killing someone to save many others- a classic Ends Justify the Means situation. Michael doesn’t care if someone has to die to save many- why not kill Goldenface and avoid all of the trouble?
Excessive Special Effects
As funny as it is, Toby’s head explosion scene fell a bit short. The main problem I have with the scene is the multiple camera angles replaying the exact same thing. I know, I know, it’s just Michael creatively showing his hatred for Toby(Paul Lieberstein), but it could have been done so much better. We don’t need all of the camera angles replaying it and in some of the camera angles, we don’t see the other characters sitting next to Toby- like Pam (Jenna Fischer) who should have been visible in a couple of the shots.
Stunt: Meant to be a Joke?
I won’t talk long about the painting smashing on the President’s (Darryl Philbin/Craig Robinson) head. It was bad. Yes, I know it was intended to be a joke, but I have to be objective in this analysis.
Character Depth & Backstory
I enjoyed Goldenface’s monologue about his past. It is a classic, yet necessary and effective tool to give us a better insight into his past. When we understand characters better, even the villains, the story is more complete.
My Favorite Shot
One of my favorite scenes of the whole film is Michael’s monologue. It is both a beautiful shot and evokes emotion well. I am in love with the overall vibe, but especially with the rain. This scene reminds me of a film noir. Michael’s affinity for film is portrayed in this and he certainly makes use of the many different styles.
Eventually, Michael Scarn saves the day and all is well.
Even though this film was written by Michael (the character, not the actor Steve Carell), it follows a typical story structure. I am very proud of Michael’s writing ability- no matter how silly it is; and that ability unquestionably comes out of real-life writer, BJ Novak’s experience.
One mistake that I, and many others found is the President. At the end of the film, Michael gets a call from the President asking him to return to saving the world. BUT if we recall, he was in on the plot to blow up the NHL game all along. Unfortunately, unless a Threat Level Midnight Vol. II is released, we will never truly know what Michael was thinking when he wrote that contradictory scene.
While it is hard to overlook the poor cinematography, it’s easy to love this film because of who made it and who stars in it. Two different versions exist:
Personally, I find the talking heads and drama surrounding the film screening in the original television release to be much more enjoyable. However, others adamantly disagree. Which do you prefer?