MOVIE REVIEW: “The Space Between Us”
“THE SPACE BETWEEN US”
Call me a softy or a sunny optimist, but I will take “The Space Between Us” over the next “Percy Jackson and the Hunger Maze Runner City of Bones Games with the 5th Wave of Divergent Mortal Instruments.” The YA movie marketplace is overfilled with militarized kid-on-kid peril in the science fiction department. “The Space Between Us” is cheesy, corny, and pretends to be better than it really is, but, gosh darnit, the film has a charming and positive core that is hard to ignore. For as much as there is a place for the heady and heavy, there should be room for the simple as sweet too.
“The Space Between Us” begins as optimism beset by tragedy. In 2018, the wealthy visionary Nathan Shepherd (Gary Oldman) has willed NASA’s Genesis program off the ground to finally colonize Mars. Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery), the lead mission commander, discovers shortly into the seven-month journey to the Red Planet that she is pregnant. Sarah carries her pregnancy to full-term in a completely zero gravity environment. Shortly after landing on Mars, she dies giving birth to a son named Gardner, the first human born away from Earth.
Faced with a potential PR dilemma and the fact that an infant would not survive a return trip, Shepherd and Genesis director Tom Chen (B.D. Wong) agree to the fateful decision that Gardner be raised on Mars in secret. Sixteen years pass to 2034. Shepherd has left the public eye and the boy has become a whip-smart young man (“Hugo” star Asa Butterfield) raised by care-taking scientists, led by Kendra Wyndham (recent professional movie mother Carla Gugino).
The low gravity, faint sun, desolate terrain, and the confinement of the space colony comprise the limited boundaries of Gardner’s world. He learns of Earth from media files, anecdotes from Kendra, and an (unexplained) online pen pal connection with Tulsa (Britt Robertson of “Tomorrowland”), a foster child and high school student in Colorado. Finally reaching an age and level of strength to handle space travel, Gardner jumps at the chance to visit Earth. He plots and plans to escape NASA’s quarantine to meet Tulsa and learn the identity of his father.
From there, the high concept of a child raised on another planet in “The Space Between Us” downshifts to a teen-bonding road movie. It is peppered with a dash of “Starman”-esque initiative as Gardner detrimentally has trouble acclimating to the greener, wetter, heavier, and brighter Earth. The thought-provoking scientific ramifications that created the film’s intriguing premise are muddied by the silly coinkydinks and frequently preposterous holes and turns of the plot’s earthbound pursuits.
Telling you the film was written by Allan Loeb, the screenwriter of the reviled “Collateral Beauty” and directed by Peter Chelsom, the man behind “Hannah Montana: The Movie” does not help its cause. Nobody does frantic like Gary Oldman who is always overselling, forgivably so. 26-year-old Britt Robertson is too old to play a convincing teenager, but shows bossy pluck as the chatty and fetching love interest. You have to take the bad with the good because the same writer also composed the colorful fun of “21” and the director brought the masses the chick flick fave “Serendipity.”
Through all the glossy cheese, what is winning and worthwhile about this adventure are its positive messages and old-fashioned romantic vibes that lie far removed from the usual recipe of petulant Millennial angst that permeates the movies targeting today’s teen demographic. Composer Andrew Lockington’s blend of synth and strings merges well with a coffee shop pop soundtrack featuring a pair of Ingrid Michaelson songs. The key draw is Gardner. Asa Butterfield plays the teen as a pleasantly hopeless romantic. His smile and wide-eyed worldview are charming and contagious. The kid’s got spirit and so does the movie.
LESSON #1: PEOPLE CRAVE CONNECTIONS — People desire creating bonds and making memories out of special places and special people in their lives. Even though Mars and NASA habitats are all he has ever known, Gardner is no different in wanting those connections after arriving on the vibrant home planet of his parents and growing closer to Tulsa.
LESSON #2: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT EARTH? — Technically a true alien, Gardner amusingly asks this question of everyone he meets. Scoff at and dismiss the thought and question as corny all you like, or slow down and really think about the precious details about our planetary existence that make living here on this big blue marble special.