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While the push to get to Mars has not quite incited the same passion the Moon once did, it does have many thinking about the future and the possibilities for shifting our species to a second home. Mars in fiction has long been home already to seemingly countless journeys there, most ending in catastrophe, so coming up with something fresh is welcome in a genre that seems desperate to find one. With The Space Between Us, there is certainly a clever premise, but the introduced intriguing themes are abandoned for what essentially is a road trip movie that draws upon solid influences but fails to capture its potential.
In the near future, passionate independently-wealthy space exploration proponent and on-the-nose named Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman) strives to be the first to establish a human colony on the Red Planet, and funds to send up a team of astronauts to do so, calling their new camp East Texas. Among these pioneers is Sarah (Janet Montgomery), who learns she is pregnant while on the flight. Months later, she dies in childbirth and questions arise as to whether they should scrub the mission or stay the course. You can guess their choice.
Flash forward sixteen years later and that child, named Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) has been raised as the first human born off Earth. Naturally, he is the curious type but also socially-awkward and lonely, wanting to learn more about his father and his home planet. Fellow astronaut Kendra (Carla Gugino) attempts to be a parental figure, but Gardner instead is more drawn to a girl nicknamed Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a teen on Earth who is feeling similarly isolated and curious about life beyond her walls. When Garnder at last gets the chance to leave Mars, he quickly ditches his handlers and makes off with Tulsa, but there are serious consequences as his internal organs can’t function properly in the heavier gravity on Earth and his already enlarged heart begins to slowly kill him.
Directed by Peter Chelsom, The Space Between Us uses space and exploration as a pivot point and loose metaphor to shift away from that theme to a young adult romance that might have worked under better circumstances but here is nothing more than an often painfully uninteresting melodrama. While that is certainly going find an audience one day, albeit a very specific one, with its tepid and declawed romantic conflicts, the film has nearly no momentum in taking its admittedly clever plot switch to any place groundbreaking, instead delivering loads of clichés and bland characters.
Interestingly enough, it begins with great promise, even if the future world isn’t quite sold, with a setup that compels us to think there might be something fresh on the new horizon, but that is let down quickly after Gardner’s birth when the film treads lightly or all-out abandons opportunities to be impactful. Chances to deal with isolation are skimmed over but then, once on Earth, with a reversed E.T.-esque advantage to look more closely at life on our planet as a human are lost to fish-out-of-water gags played for easy laughs and tricks to build closeness with the boy and the girl.
That relationship also falls flat, with nearly no chemistry between them. Robertson, who was last seen in the equally underwhelming A Dog’s Purpose, once again plays the lifeboat, so to speak. The problem is, forced by the script to be a kind of younger version of Starman, the two simply don’t connect, made worse by obvious dialogue and contrived moments. All of this is layered in a ‘future’ score by Andrew Lockington that in the right moments works well, but otherwise urges with great effort to lock us into emotions the film doesn’t inspire.
The Space Between Us should have been a better adventure film that explores more than it does. Coming off more like an adapted young adult novel than an honest look at what it sets up, it aims to be a saccharine sweet love story rather than something deeper, which would be fine but is simply too absurd and fearful to carry it to its logical end.
Movie description: The Space Between Us is a 2017 romantic sci-fi film about a boy raised on Mars who travels to Earth for the first time and discovers a planet he's never known before.
Director(s): Peter Chelsom
Actor(s): Britt Robertson, Asa Butterfield, Janet Montgomery
Genre: Sci-fi, Romance