Before the film The Martian was released, there was trepidation from studios considering a big-budget movie involving the red planet. Movies such as Mars Needs Moms and John Carter, to name a few, didn’t leave a good impression at the box office. Since the common denominator was Mars, it was made the scapegoat, allowing instead for stories involving other planets and galaxies to be made. Then The Martian becomes a critical and financial success and Hollywood is wondering what other literary gems are lying around that might remind us of the fun we had watching Matt Damon grow potatoes.
The Martian is actually one of my favorite Ridley Scott movies. I enjoy any story set in space and love how the unique variables of survival make an exciting backdrop for the protagonist. The universe is a vast, chaotic, and beautiful place; so to imagine reaching any part of it that is outside of our own intergalactic neighborhood is astounding by itself. If you can write a captivating story around all of that, your audience will be filled with curiosity and anticipation. Star Wars is popular for this very reason. Charming personalities and interesting characters travelling to unbelievable locations and bringing us along for the ride. When it works it’s an instant classic or an eventual cult classic. When it doesn’t, you at least applaud the effort.
In The Space Between Us, directed by Peter Chelsom, Gardner (Asa Butterfield) is a 16-year-old boy who has no friends his age and has a job caring for plants. He also happens to be born and raised on Mars and has never set foot on Earth. His mother didn’t know she was pregnant with him and didn’t survive the labor. Since his body chemistry has acclimated to the Mars atmosphere, it is determined that he should stay there to avoid any risk to his health. He has been cared for by the many scientists who rotate in and out of the habitat he calls home, a facility named East Texas.
The facility was created and financed by Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman). Under his instructions, the public is to have no knowledge of Gardner’s existence, but N.A.S.A. brings Gardner back anyway so he can have a chance at a normal life. Fearing he might have to return to Mars, Gardner escapes and sets out to find Tulsa (Britt Robertston), a misfit, high school student that he messaged from Mars. Tulsa thinks Gardner lives in another state doesn’t believe a word of his story, but is disenchanted by her own life and decides to help him on his quest to find his father.
This movie plays out as a road trip that develops into a teen romance. It has many cute moments and the chemistry between Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson is pretty good. I sort of got a War Games vibe in the way these two were on the run from the government and grew closer along the way. Gardner is the socially awkward teenager while Tulsa teaches him about the nuances of human interactions and how fun it is to take chances. Occasionally Robertson comes across a little two-dimensional and her responses to Butterfield’s lines don’t feel genuine, but overall I enjoyed the two of them on screen.
The scenes of Gardner experiencing the sights, smells, tastes, and textures of Earth are fairly charming. He learns by asking questions and takes things in as they come. You get excited for him when he discovers a new food and can’t stop eating it or when he spots an unfamiliar creature and is mesmerized by it. Butterfield made you like Gardner and care about him almost as much as Kendra (Carla Gugino), his caregiver on Mars and a N.A.S.A. scientist.
The special effects are very subtle and are used sparingly throughout the movie. In fact nothing in this movie seems unrealistic from a technological standpoint and that’s surprising considering this movie takes place in 2034. It seems so far away, but it’s just around the corner so maybe we shouldn’t expect too many things to change.
Where this film loses me is the inconsistencies in Gardner’s backstory. He is isolated from Earth and it doesn’t seem like they went out of their way to hide Earth from him, but they never really taught him about Earth either. He knows a few things here and there, but he spent most of his life not being told much of anything. The film jumps from his birth to him being a teenager, so what happened while he was growing up? Why didn’t anyone give him coloring books of the animals on Earth or let him have movies to watch so he could catch up on history and current events? Why didn’t he look up any of this stuff himself on the computer? He had access to the system on Mars and contacted Tulsa regularly so obviously he can reach the internet somehow.
Another issue is how the characters interact with each other. Gary Oldman gives one of the better performances in the movie and has genuine emotional depth, but many of the scenes between everyone else feel like they are just reading off a script and not reacting to the line that was just said. Nobody behaves like you would expect in these situations and you don’t feel the weight of the moment because of it. It took me out of the movie several times.
The Space Between Us is a decent, romantic film about two teenagers who learn something about themselves as they evade capture to go on a grand adventure. I don’t know if I would watch it more than once; but if you have a quiet afternoon and enjoy seeing Britt Robertson make wisecracks and being neurotic, then I suggest queuing this one up. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad movie to watch if you are in a relationship, but if you are an adult you might grow tired of the plot holes and narrative issues. Asa Butterfield needed better direction with his character as well. I also wished we had gotten a lot more of Mars. Even though Gardner spent his whole life there, we haven’t and it would have been nice to get equal time between the two planets. Despite the problems with this film, I do hope that it continues to keep the public engaged in the space program.
THE SPACE BETWEEN US:
About The Space Between Us
Synopsis: The first human born on Mars travels to Earth for the first time, experiencing the wonders of the planet through fresh eyes. He embarks on an adventure with a street smart girl to discover how he came to be.
Director: Peter Chelsom
Writers: Allan Loeb, story by Stewart Schill, Richard Barton Lewis & Allan Loeb
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Carla Cugino, Gary Oldman, BD Wong
Runtime: 2 Hours