“What is your favourite thing about Earth?”
It may be such a simple yet overwhelming question, considering all the wonderful things that make up our world and each and every little thing that makes up all the good in all our individual lives. Yet one of my favourite slogans so far of 2017 is one that asks very deep and a heavy emotional response.
Sadly, the slogan seems to be one of the very few deep parts that comprise director Peter Chelsom’s newest inspirational film The Space Between Us. The UK director seems to be on some sort of positive cinema boost, given his last film Hector and the Search for Happiness is a parabolic film about one doctor’s real life pursuit of life’s greatest gift.
Sadly, with The Space Between Us, Chelsom’s handle on science fiction is very scarce, even though space accounts for a very small portion of his newest film. The Space Between Us is a love story through and through. Dabbling with elements of the who-dun-it narrative, as well as the coming of age story arc, Space is a modestly budgeted film with some great ambition that really doesn’t live up to the hype and one film that has its gaze far beyond the horizon. Think of it as a film that promises finding the gold at the end of the rainbow, only to really deliver Skittles, I mean, if Skittles are your thing.
The cosmic love story begins well before either of our love birds began their courting, nearly two decades before, when a young and ambitious astronaut, Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) and her crew, become the first group of individuals to colonize and inhabit Mars for four years. Placed in the care of their precarious and idealist leader and founder, Nathaniel Shepard (Gary Oldman), Nathaniel’s Genesis program partners with NASA to deliver Sarah and her sacrificial crew to the unknown planet of Mars. Given that all the numbers, scenarios and outcomes were already pre-planned, the one situation no one anticipated, was Sarah pregnancy. Giving birth and losing her life before she makes it to Mars, the Genesis program agrees to make the child’s birth a complete classified secret. Luckily, Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) makes it safely to Mars, as we flash forward to Gardner’s adolescents. It is in Mars that Gardner grows up, interacting with the brightest scientists from NASA, who continue to occupy Mars, practically and implicitly contributing to Gardner upbringing, Gardner lacks many average teenage characteristics, despite his closest maternal relationship on the spaceship to botanist Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino). Gardner’s intellect is established quite early on, showing off how book smart and scientifically minded the youngster really is.
Bored with nothing but causing chaos aboard the station, Gardner uses his smarts to trick everything and everyone on Mars. Learning of his secrecy to Earth early on, Gardner begins using the Wi-Fi (yup, they have internet in Mars) to make new friends on Earth. Concealing his true identity and current situation to an online friend and potential love interest Tulsa (Britt Robertson), the two spark a friendship that originated on an Orphan based online chat room. As the two orphans begin developing a closer relationship thanks to futuristic FaceTiming and instant messaging to one another, it becomes quite clear that Gardner is ready to finally venture to Earth, despite his physical boundaries and various health issues, including his oversized space heart, brittle bones, his foreignness to gravity and his very poor human social skills.
While Gardner’s time spent on Mars is very limited, his caregiver and closest friend Kendra, begins campaigning for Gardner’s request to visit Earth, not only to finally see Tulsa, but to find out the identity of his father. Half way across the Universe, once on Earth, Gardner surprises Tulsa at school, where the two team up and break many laws in search of Gardner’s father. While discovering America, Gardner falls in love with Tulsa, and the two love birds steal their way to Arizona where they embark on an adventure that involves the Grand Canyon, hot air balloons and some pretty romantic locales.
Sadly, Space is a project that has been in development for quite some time, having Asa attached since before he was casted as Ender Wiggin in the sci-fi Ender’s Game. While many cast and crew moved on, Asa remained attached with the project until it was green lit, with Robertson as his Tulsa. Unfortunately, while Robertson and Butterfield continue to prove their strong acting skills on screen, the two never really convince audiences of their love story and romance, sharing an almost big sister/little brother type relationship instead. Not that I want to pry and say age is just a number and its how you feel, but the tremendous age difference of seven years shows in troves during the film between Butterfield and Robertson; relaying a much more sibling like relationship, with kisses almost placed on-cue just for the simple fact to lure young people in, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Think of it as a script written much like the early drafts of Star Wars, before George Lucas knew he was going to make Luke and Leia brother and sister. Maybe its just a science-fiction thing? Sadly, since Hollywood is obsessed with the telling of love stories, it is easily felt that the relationship between Gardner and Tulsa would have worked much better without the forceful element of love.
On top of the very unconvincing relationship between the two young stars, the production does what it can with its very modest budget, and absolutely does a wonderful job with its production design and sets, but really shows a very poor quality string of editing choice that really shows the narrative inconsistencies in the film. Stringing together scenes with cinematic glue, the story begins to break from its seams once Gardner makes his way onto Earth, and his journey of finding out who is father is becomes the driving narrative in the film. Luckily, Butterfield is such a talented young actor, that the film thrives during his exploration and discovery on Earth, which charms us with each new scene. Butterfield really sells and steals the show when Gardner relishes some of the things in life that we take completely for granted, including; nature, colours and lights, and easily one of my favourite scenes of Gardner basking in the rain. If there is one thing The Space Between Us does so well, is reminding audiences of the real, small and unappreciated everyday beauties in life.
As the story unfolds and the truth of Garnder’s father is revealed, in true big-budget fashion, providing very expected and not very surprising results, the lesson Gardner learns so quickly on Earth is that, the world is a cruel place with a very twisted and sad sense of humour.
The Space Between Us is a very alluring and promising film with too many moments that don’t add up. Like so many movies before it, the script written by Allan Loeb is one where dialogue makes up for the action presented on screen, providing, more often than not, convenient narrative solutions that disconnect the audience from its characters, and provide an even greater space between us and a truly original and inventive story.
Night Film Reviews: 5.5 Out of 10 Stars!
What’s your favourite thing about this film? What did you think of The Space Between Us? Too sappy for your liking? Or perfect Valentine’s date night film? Leave your theoretical thoughts below!