Directed by: Peter Chelsom
Premise: In the near future, scientists establish a colony on Mars. One scientist dies in childbirth and the existence of her son (Asa Butterfield) is kept from the public. At age sixteen he travels to Earth in search of his father and meets a young woman (Britt Robertson).
What Works: The Space Between Us has an interesting premise. Gardener is a sixteen-year-old boy who has grown up among adult scientists on a planet with a different atmosphere. He’s never even met another young person and Gardener’s body has acclimated to conditions that don’t dispose him to life on Earth. When he finally arrives on our planet, Gardener’s physical and social impairments make him awkward. The Space Between Us shows us life on Earth through this teenager’s eyes and the film finds the joy of discovery in Gardener’s first encounters with rain, animals, and civilization. Actor Asa Butterfield effectively conveys the newness and the earnestness of Gardener’s experience. Through the social media of the future, Gardener makes a friend with Tulsa, an Earth bound teenager played by Britt Robertson. Tulsa is a foster child to an irresponsible guardian and she dreams of getting out of her small town. As an actress, Robertson gets pegged in the girlfriend role a lot but The Space Between Us allows her to be a bit more than that. The budding romance between Gardener and Tulsa is charming and the characters learn from each other with Gardener absorbing the nuances of social life and Tulsa disarmed by his enthusiasm and honesty. The Space Between Us is well shot by cinematographer Barry Peterson. The movie has some impressive vistas and the color of Earth’s locations pops off the screen. The visual style of the movie supports Gardener’s point of view as he experiences Earth for the first time.
What Doesn’t: The Space Between Us has an interesting concept with compelling characters but the filmmakers don’t have any idea of what to do with them. The script is credited to Allan Loeb who also wrote Collateral Beauty and The Switch and Loeb’s influence is evident in the odd and illogical plotting. The greatest problem of The Space Between Us is the tension. There isn’t any. The premise of the movie suggests an obvious conflict, since the movie hinges on the inability of Gardener’s body to survive in Earth’s atmosphere. But the filmmakers don’t do anything with that until the last thirty minutes of the movie and only bring it up as a way of forcing some suspense into the finale. For that matter, virtually all of the conflicts of The Space Between Us are contrived and cliché. When Gardener arrives on Earth he is kept in quarantine until escaping with the authorities in pursuit. This is basically the same premise as Starman and Mac and Me and The Space Between Us slavishly follows the formula. The Space Between Us also has some problems with its credibility. The filmmakers clearly want to this picture to be taken seriously as a science fiction story like Interstellar or The Martian but it has obvious logical lapses. The journey between Earth and Mars takes years and the female astronaut discovers her pregnancy just after takeoff but she doesn’t give birth until after their arrival. The error is repeated when Gardener leaves the Red Planet and he is the same age when he arrives on Earth. We’re also to believe that a whole facility of scientists, who apparently shuttle between Mars and Earth on a regular basis and who can contact their home planet on a whim, are complicity in the conspiracy to conceal Gardener’s existence. The movie ends on a dumb reveal that’s supposed to be a big twist but it’s fairly obvious. These lapses in logic stand out all the more because this movie is so boring.
Bottom Line: The Space Between Us squanders a good idea and a talented cast with an unimaginative and frequently stupid story. The film wants to be credible science fiction and a teenage tearjerker but it fails at both.
Episode: #634 (February 12, 2017)