The Space Between Us is a cluttered mess. The Space Between Us is full of holes. The Space Between Us is a title — and a movie — that’s easy to mock.
The Shepherd and the Gardener
It starts with a shaky premise and then it pretty rapidly implodes.
It’s 2018 and Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight Rises) is ready to send astronauts to Mars and start a colony unimaginatively named East Texas. His star is Sara Elliot (Janet Montgomery, Our Idiot Brother), but in short order, while en route, she figures out she’s pregnant. Bad timing. Bad PR.
Making matters worse, she dies during child birth. Really bad PR. Nathaniel wants to chalk it up to a faulty spacesuit and hopes civilization will quickly forget about it. Surely this wasn’t the life endangerment Elon Musk recently referred to when talking about his intentions to launch a mission to Mars in the near-ish future.
Pick it up 16 years later and that child, Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield, Hugo), is on Mars messaging and chatting with a high school girl back on Earth. She’s a rebel nicknamed Tulsa (26-year-old Britt Robertson, Tomorrowland). Tulsa hates people and life in general, par for the teenage course. But she’s got a soft side; it’s exposed when she starts playing a song she wrote on an electronic keyboard at Walmart.
Yeah. Okay. Within minutes of the movie’s start a silly premise is introduced. Follow that up a few minutes later with instant communications with Mars. That’s 249 million miles of data relays going back and forth in real-time communications.
But... Okay... Fine. It’s a contrivance to make the next silly premise happen.
Gardner watches Wings of Desire — the Wim Wenders masterpiece from 1987, a black-and-white bilingual movie in German and English set in Berlin and featuring Peter Falk in a lead role. Like Damiel in that film, Gardner wants to be an angel who falls to Earth and fall in love. Gardner also watches, rather inexplicably, vintage movies from the 1950s. That’s how he learns about chivalry; he’s also been schooled about the old Edison and Tesla rivalry, but he apparently never saw an image of a horse before landing on Earth.
Okay. He’s got brittle bones, given the differences in atmosphere between Mars and Earth, but let’s cut to the chase. The kid makes it to Earth in about 7 months (cough... hack... implausible...) and... gosh... he falls in love with the girl, who pretty quickly returns the favor.
After watching The Space Between Us, it seemed almost mean-spirited to not at least kinda sorta like it (in a “I’m sorry your movie turned out really lame” way) because it is so goofy and completely ignorant of its own ineptitude. But it doesn’t age well, either. The brutal, honest assessment is that it sucks, like a big black hole. It’s a kitchen-sink movie in which the garbage disposal doesn’t work. It’s all clogged up with chopped-up bits from other movies, particularly movies from the 1980s.
The trio of writers (whom we can thank for other messes like The Dilemma and August Rush) and director Peter Chelsom (Hannah Montana: The Movie) seem to be infatuated with ‘80s movies sensibilities. Think about E.T., Starman, Star Trek IV, Gremlins, Back to the Future and so many others. (Shoot. The Black Hole was released in 1979.) Unlike those movies, however, this one’s a miserable failure.
The Space Between Us has fish-out-of-water elements that simply don’t work. Setups are made, but the payoffs fail. And it cherry picks its own logic and sense of time and space.
It’s 2034 in the movie, but a lot of the tech can be picked up in the stores of today. And when a movie lacks a compelling, unique vision of what the future will look like, the technology almost always goes to clear glass. Transparent screens factor into desktops and handheld devices. But they completely and utterly ignore the need for privacy and security. It looks cool, but it’s completely impractical.
At least Oldman can comfortably take a snooze behind the steering wheel of a self-driving Volvo (that looks a lot like a car of today).
After landing the girl, Gardner moves forward with his next mission: finding his dad. The resolution is a mind-blowing disappointment.
This cross-country journey could’ve been a platform for observations about teen angst, teen love, social media and the carelessness which some people bring into their adult lives. Instead, it’s an exasperating mess that gives pause to the implausibility of the sheer storytelling contrivance behind the unattended motor vehicle.
Lacking euphoria or any other emotional pull, The Space Between Us isn’t worth exploring.