A film review by Craig J. Koban February 13, 2017


2017, PG-13, 121 mins.


Asa Butterfield as Gardner Elliot  /  Britt Robertson as Tulsa  /  Carla Gugino as Kendra  /  Gary Oldman as Nathaniel Shepherd  /  B.D. Wong as Genesis Director Chen  /  Janet Montgomery as Sarah Elliot

Directed by Peter Chelsom  /  Written by Allan Loeb

THE SPACE BETWEEN US is a new sci-fi romance that's proof positive that an incredibly nifty premise can utterly implode on itself with shoddy and prosaic scripting that hurtles towards one ludicrous narrative contrivance after another.  

The film's central arc is stellar, which concerns a teenager that was born and has been raised on Mars when his Earth mother astronaut gave birth to him on the red planet.  In many respects, THE SPACE BETWEEN US cunningly sets itself up like a cross between THE MARTIAN and STARMAN, not to mention that its alien visiting Earth fish-out-of-water storyline has an E.T. that's a human being.  The limitless potential of the film exploring what it truly means to be human are undeniably there, but it wallows into a shoddily executed young adult road trip flick that capsizes any thematic and narrative novelty it could have attained.  A film with this one's initial hook has no business being as boring and pedestrian as it is. 

That, and having THE SPACE BETWEEN US written but the man that also scripted the worst film of 2016 in COLLATERAL BEAUTY is also telling. 



The film opens inexplicably a few years in the future in 2018, inexplicable in the sense that NASA has miraculously cracked the star trekking code to get human beings safely to Mars.  One extremely wealthy and ambitious businessman named Nathaniel (played with the volume dial cranked to eleven by Gary Oldman) is desperate to team up with NASA to ensure that his childhood dream to colonize Mars bares successful fruit.  He gathers together a crackerjack squad of astronauts, one being Sarah (Janet Montgomery), to make the dangerous journey to set up the colony, dubbed East Texas.  After a very successful launch a shocking discovery is made when Sarah finds out that - gasp! - she's pregnant, which doesn't particularly bode well for NASA's medical screening.  How any female astronaut's pregnancy would not be tipped off on a routine pre-launch medical on the most important trip in human history is one of the film's many laughably illogical gaffes. 

Now, it's at this point in THE SPACE BETWEEN US when - if you excuse the point just mentioned - that the film becomes modestly engrossing.  How will a fetus develop in zero gravity for a nine month in space and, for that matter, will the child be able to be successfully carried to term and be born on Mars?  The pregnancy also forces Nathaniel and NASA on the PR defensive, and they immediately decide that it's in the mission's best interests to place a total indefinite gag order on the Martian born child.  Rather conveniently, Sarah and the crew land on Mars just as she's about to go into labor; the baby is born healthy and responsive, but Sarah dies tragically during childbirth.  Without a mother and faced with the prospect of having the other fellow crew members raise the baby, Nathaniel decides that no one will ever find out about the child's birth and covers up his existence. 

Flashforward to 2034 and we meet back up with the baby, now a 16-year-old scientist, Gardner (Asa Butterfield), who has lived relatively happy, but completely closed off from Earth.  His only intimate human contact has been with his fellow Mars residing astronauts, the most important being his surrogate mother Kendra (Carla Gugino).  Even though Gardner outwardly appears like any other human adolescent, inside his bones and internal organs have developed to adapt to the different gravity on Mars, making any long-term journey and stay back on Earth extremely hazardous.  Nevertheless, Gardner is passionately inquisitive about his species' home planet and wishes to return there to locate his birth father...and he also wants to hook up with a pretty girl named Tulsa (Brit Robertson) that he befriended online in futuristic Skype-styled chats.  

It doesn't take Nostramdamus to figure out where this plot's heading. 

THE SPACE BETWEEN US benefits immensely by the extremely endearing tandem of Butterfield and Robertson, who make a cute on screen couple despite the creepy age difference between them (Robertson is nearly ten years Butterfield's senior in real life and, nearing her late twenties, she's getting too old to play 16-year-old high school girls in movies).  Butterfield himself has been in some compelling films that made use of his natural skills (HUGO and ENDER'S GAME) and others that have squandered them (last year's MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN), but here he proves himself to be charming and inquisitively full of life.  Robertson is also charismatically feisty and works well off of Butterfield, and the pair work wonders to sell their relationship in authentic strokes despite the borderline absurd turns of the story they're placed within.  Bad casting would have all but sunk this film.  I only wished that their fellow co-stars gave equally grounded performances; Gary Oldman is so flamboyantly theatrical here in bellowing out his cookie cutter lines that he often appears like he jumped into scenes from a different film altogether. 

THE SPACE BETWEEN US can't completely coast by on the good will of Robertson and Butterfield, ostensibly because the flimsy scripting had me scratching my head and asking far too many reality-bending questions.  On top of the preposterous notion of NASA not discovering that one of their astronauts is pregnant before takeoff, this film's science is also insipidly hilarious.  Take, for example, the FaceTime-like chats that people on Earth have with their Martian colonists, which appear to occur instantaneously in real time.  Unless technology has been miraculously invented for faster than light radio transmissions to sustain such communication (and without any explanation of it being given in the film), these frequent scenes of people chatting with each other instantly are beyond silly and strain modest credulity.  The future of THE SPACE BETWEEN US is also handled without much care and attention.  For a film that takes place nearly twenty years from now, everything appears like it's stuck in 2017, sans for a few transparent laptop screens.  The lack of conceptual imagination in this film is frustrating to endure. 

Then there's the other weird anomalies of the script that go left unexplained, like how Gardner, for instance, seems more shocked and awed by the appearance of a man on a horse than he does of being surrounded by vast oceans of water upon landing on Earth.  Also, the security measures of the combined might of the federal government and NASA are apparently really, really lackluster when they allow this extraterrestrial born space teen (whose existence is shrouded in complete secrecy for national security reasons) to escape their facilities and go on a joyous highway trip with Tulsa.  Furthermore, when Tulsa and Gardner are on the run they're able to make plenty of pit stops and appearances in, for example, wholesale shopping centers surrounded by hundreds of people...without ever once concealing their identity.  Equally howl inducing is how the government seems to only have enough resources to track this pair using one helicopter and few cars.  If the future tech in this film allows for faster than light video conferencing between planets millions of miles apart then you'd think that Earth orbiting satellites would be able to spot these fugitives with relative ease...but not in the make-believe la-la land of this film. 

To make matters worse, THE SPACE BETWEEN US careens towards a fairly preordained climax that's supposed to invite tears, but will more or less inspire groans in audience members.  The whole mystery of Gardner's father can also be deduced in the film very early on for any viewer with a decent head on their shoulders.  This film sets up enthralling ethical questions about mankind's place beyond Earth - and what it would mean for a human being born and raised on Mars to return to Earth with potentially life threatening consequences - and then does nothing to thoughtfully deal with such weighty themes...and this is unpardonably disappointing and creatively lazy.  THE SPACE BETWEEN US simply collapses under the weight of its nonsensical schmaltz and dumb story machinations.  

I bet you Neil deGrasse Tyson would have a field day with this flick.  

 weirdly stalker

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