The Space Between Us
Directed by Peter Chelsom
Having had its release bumped from late last year, “The Space between Us” is probably more at home amongst the lowered expectations of February. It’s a flawed movie with good intentions but somewhat unclear audience appeal.[Some mild spoilers ahead.]
Asa Butterfield (“Hugo,” “Ender’s Game,” “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”) stars as Gardner Elliot, a boy born to the commander of a Mars settlement mission, who was unaware she was pregnant at the time of liftoff. As such, he’s a liability and potential embarrassment to the program and the company behind it, and so he’s raised in secret until, sixteen years later, he’s an understandably resentful and socially awkward teenager.
Even this plot element requires that we can believe such a secret to be possible, despite constant monitoring not just of video feeds, but of statistics like oxygen, food and water usage. The number of people in on the lie … but let’s move on.
When we meet Gardner, he’s just about to sneak through the Mars base’s ventilation system for the first time – which seems odd as it might be easier to believe that he had been doing so since childhood. This seems more about knowing your limited surroundings than a simple act of rebellion. But he has also been risking his secret status by chatting online with a girl on Earth, again apparently without anybody noticing.
Eventually, of course, the two must meet and it’s decided that Gardner deserves to visit earth for the first time. The problem however is that, having been born and raised on Mars, his body is unsuited to earth’s gravity. You’d think that somebody would have planned ahead for this eventuality, even allowing for a base evacuation, by perhaps having him train with weights or jog with a massive backpack across the surface of Mars, but it seems as though some light track-work wasn’t on the cards until the trip is planned.
We’re also shown Gardner, whose heart is supposedly the weak link, experiencing discomfort even jumping on Mars, which doesn’t seem to make much sense if that’s the gravity he’s grown up with. And for all of the concern throughout the film about his ability to handle greater gravity on Earth, nobody ever seems concerned about blasting him around in various rockets, where he would experience far greater forces than on either planet’s surface, albeit temporarily.
There is an attempt to reinforce his skeleton but, as seen in scans of his body, they only strengthen the long bones and spine which means he probably would have broken a hip as soon as he started one of his awkward Earth-bound runs. But then this is a film that has equally awkward scenes of weightlessness in which people float unconvincingly while their hair still hangs down and people around them still seem firmly positioned in their seats.
But the film stumbles hardest when Gardner finally meets Tulsa (Britt Robertson: “Tomorrowland”), his online love interest, who is supposed to be the same age but looks more like she should be in graduate school than high school. Indeed, one of the last times we saw her was as a nerdy college student dating a rodeo star in “The Longest Ride.”
“The Space Between Us” seems to be trying to be a cross between the science of “The Martian” and the health-threatened teen romance of “The Fault in Our Stars,” but it fails on both counts – and a double-header of those two movies would make for a far more compelling evening. It’s also a film that seems oddly placed as PG-13 for “brief sensuality” when that brief sensuality is what appears to be an underage love scene. Without which, the film could have appealed to a tween audience and, perhaps (?), an audience less likely to realize the flaws in the science.
It’s also a predictable story that appears a little patchy at times in its editing –as scenes transition leaving a feeling that something went missing in between. All of which is disappointing because some of the individual scenes are delightful and the underlying premise of the story is a strong one and probably played well in pitch meetings. In practice, it becomes a moderately entertaining film, largely based on Butterfield’s wide-eyed innocence as Gardner experiences earth for the first time. But it’s marred by the awkward spaces between those good moments.