Cinematic Releases: The Space Between Us (2016) - Reviewed

Have you ever wondered what John Carpenter’s 1984 science fiction romantic drama Starman would look like if it were remade decades later as a tween young adult vehicle aimed at high schoolers?  Neither have I but clearly that prospect occurred to the Hannah Montana: The Movie director Peter Chelsom who with his new sci-fi tween romance adventure film The Space Between Us.  

Originally titled Out of This World (no relation to the classic PC game), the film more or less sneaks onto the set of Ridley Scott’s The Martian concerning a young lad named Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield from Hugo) who is the first human born on the planet Mars after his mother dies during childbirth.  Eager to see more than beyond the dome set of Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running, the boy begs to travel to Earth for the first time and witness all of its splendor firsthand.  So excited to see the new world comprised of water and trees, Gardner breaks loose of the NASA base hospital and embarks on a romantic adventure with street smart pen pal Tulsa (Britt Robertson) with the program director Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) and Kendra (Carla Gugino) hot on his tail.  Determined to find out his identity in spite of the imminent health risks presented by the Earth’s gravitational pull, the movie becomes another chase thriller romance except that this time we want the boy to be apprehended and returned to safety. 

Part NASA driven hard science fiction meets your prototypical CW Entertainment tween tripe, this Teen Choice Awards nominee is a bit of a tedious slog that is likely to bore its target audience of high schoolers when it isn’t being completely implausible.  The plot itself hangs on the conceit that the boy’s mother secretly became impregnated before her trip to Mars and experienced pregnancy sickness on the way, paving the way for a grand reveal that manages to trump the absurdity of this device.  While clearly designed to justify the story of the first human born on Mars, it comes off as a ridiculous contrivance that could only ever happen in the movies.  Meanwhile the overqualified Gary Oldman seems to inject some life and care into the proceedings with many soliloquys which sound like trained actor improvisation and B.D. Wong from Jurassic Park shows up too as his usual executive antagonist.  As for the young lovebirds aided by BannersShine a Light on the soundtrack during one of many montages, they’re perfectly bland when Robertson isn’t going off on another angry histrionic rant.  I can buy her as a street smart orphan but narrowly escaping capture by leaping into a biplane only to jump out at the last second before it crashes into a barn requires a bit more suspension of disbelief, but I digress.  Watch how this movie manages to hit nearly every high watermark of Starman including having the couple end up in Las Vegas, leaping from car to car while being pursued by choppers as NASA tracks their every move. While not quite the identical film, it comes dangerously close to being a ripoff.

Hey. What's up robot? 

Reportedly this was supposed to come out in August but got pushed back to allow for more time to finish the film’s visual effects.  Was it worth the wait?  Not particularly.  The concept of a Mars born human being’s physiology being different than that of the Earthlings is a novel one but it’s in service to the usual saccharine tween clich├ęs driving this love on the run romance of self-discovery.  Somewhere in The Space Between Us is a science fiction story worth telling but as a whole it’s a dull bore that I kept waiting to be engaged by well after the end credits rolled.  

I enjoyed Gary Oldman’s scenes which elevate the picture above being forgettable tripe, but everything else just kind of drags towards its soppy conclusion.  I suppose if you’re a teenager looking for something to take your high school girlfriend to, The Space Between Us will do the trick at getting a make-out session going as it will be far more interesting than looking at the screen.  At the screening I attended, poster boards were handed out with a blank area including the inquisitive hashtag ‘My #1FavoriteThingAboutEarth is’ along with sharpies to write whatever we wanted.  When the film finished, I had a burning desire to answer that question by declaring my favorite thing to be the ability to rip up the poster and leave.


-Andrew Kotwicki