THE SPACE BETWEEN US
PG-13, 121 mins.
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.
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
That, and having THE
SPACE BETWEEN US written but the man that also scripted the worst film of
2016 in COLLATERAL BEAUTY is
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.