Published on May 29th, 2017 | by Sarah Stefanson0
The Space Between Us
Sarah takes a movie bullet for you, ultimately wishing that there was more space between her and science fiction teen romance The Space Between Us.
The Space Between Us opens on a room full of very pleased with themselves rich people dressed to the nines and ready to send off the first colonists to a settlement on Mars. Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), the head of the company bankrolling the expedition, gives a rousing speech about how humanity needs a new place to live after squandering all of Earth’s resources, save the one resource with no limits, “Courage.” Then, we see the six-person crew (appropriately diverse with one woman, one black guy, an Asian dude and 3 white men) who take questions from the audience before boarding their shuttle.
But all is not well on the voyage to East Texas (yup, that’s what they named the first extraterrestrial human settlement). Soon enough we see the captain, Sarah Elliot, throwing up and the team quickly realizes that she has behaved badly and gotten herself pregnant before the journey began. This is the first major break from reality that the viewing audience must accept in order to continue watching The Space Between Us.
Given the fact that astronauts are subjected to endless medical tests during preparation for a space voyage, it is unlikely that no one would have determined that she was pregnant before she got on that shuttle. At this point, one wonders why they didn’t just have this strong, accomplished woman make her “mistake” (yes, this is the wording they use) with one of her fellow astronauts once they landed on Mars, but this would render later twist plot points (not expounded upon here in order to avoid spoilers) irrelevant. Thus begins the litany of near impossibilities that pepper this movie throughout.
But I digress. The astronauts get to Mars, the baby is born, but Sarah tragically dies in childbirth. The company feels that keeping the baby a secret is the best course of action so as not to let the captain’s shameful behaviour overshadow the good work they’re doing. Therefore, the boy is raised by astronauts for the next 16 years.
Eventually, Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) starts to get curious about Earth and his parents. As he researches, he begins a chat relationship via the internet with a cute girl back on Earth called Tulsa (Britt Robertson), who believes that Gardner is confined to a Park Avenue penthouse due to having osteogenesis imperfecta. It is worth noting at this point that although Gardner seems to have unrestricted access to instant messaging with a girl in Colorado, it also appears as though his only available entertainment includes old German movies and instructional videos on courting from the 1950s.
No longer content to be pseudo-parented by Kendra (Carla Gugino), the childless astronaut assigned to watch over him, he desires to make the trip to Earth, despite the fact that his low-gravity upbringing could render him incapable of living in Earth’s atmosphere. After a quick full-body surgery to reinforce his bones with carbon fibre and seven months of rehab and travel, Gardner arrives on Earth, whereupon he instantly reverts from a clever, resourceful boy (after all, he was “raised by scientists”) to a bumbling idiot who is equally enchanted by things he’s never seen, like rain, as he is discombobulated by things he’s been doing all his life, like interacting with human beings.
Soon, Gardner suspects that the adults in his life are aiming to send him back to Mars for his own good, so he steals an old man’s clothes and goes on the lam, managing to elude the company, NASA, and the state police in order to show up at Tulsa’s high school. Tulsa exhibits very little scepticism to the revelation that Gardner is actually from Mars and willingly joins him in his effort to find his father. Luckily, as a tough foster kid, she’s got some skills that prove invaluable, like stealing cars and flying airplanes.
Lazy screenwriting by Allan Loeb is a great hurdle to overcome for the elsewhere-decent cast. I’ve seen both of the young leads in other movies and they are quite talented, but they, along with the rest of the cast, have very little to work with here. Carla Gugino, who, in my opinion, is an underrated actor, is serviceable as the replacement mother who can’t have kids of her own, while the fantastic Gary Oldman whines his way through a role clearly based on caricatures of Elon Musk and Richard Branson. The inconsistent script is working against these fine actors. For example, while the movie takes place 16 years in the future, Tulsa continually uses slang that was passé years ago (“ghosting,” “slow your roll”). The script also repeats itself constantly in an effort at creating nostalgia for earlier scenes in the movie.
The main problem I found with The Space Between Us is that if one is aiming to create a reality-based sci-fi movie with no magic or alien technology, then one must work within the confines of science, medicine, and logic. It is as if none of the three people involved in the development of this story even once consulted any experts in the fields of space, medicine or aeronautics, much less engaged any ideas from futurists. On the surface, the future looks legit with transparent laptops and cars that can drive themselves while you sleep, but closer inspection reveals that characters are using present-day iPhones and the new piano Tulsa plays in a department store is one that is currently on the market, never mind the fact that Gary Oldman’s character doesn’t age over 16 years and still wears the same glasses. Those are all quite trivial quibbles compared to the blatant disregard for science and medicine that the story insists on showing.
The costume and production design is acceptable, although there are some weird instances like the scientists greeting Gardner as he steps out of the capsule onto Earth for the first time wearing snorkelling masks and Tulsa choosing a pretty blue dress to wear on their escape through the desert. There are some really pretty and well-composed shots of the American landscape during their trip as well. All in all, the only people who did their jobs really well on this production are the product placement team. Boy from Mars eating a Mars bar? How droll!