The Space Between Us had a difficult journey making its way to the screen, almost as hard as the film’s main character Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield). The film, which was supposed to open in the fall of 2016 probably for awards consideration, was given an inordinate amount of advance screenings and then … abruptly delayed until February 2017, probably due to the mostly negative reviews the film had garnered leading up to the original release date.
So does The Space Between Us really deserve that 17% rating it has on Rotten Tomatoes? Well … I won’t say it’s that bad but it is a major disappointment. The story concerns a manned outpost on Mars, East Texas, the brainchild of Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), a mash-up of Richard Branson and Elon Musk. A new team of astronauts, lead by Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery), are making the months long journey when Sarah learns she’s pregnant, putting the mission and the entire project at jeopardy if they scrub and return to Earth. Shepherd and his team reluctantly decide to allow the mission to continue, keeping the pregnancy top secret. After arriving on Mars, Sarah gives birth … and promptly dies.
The film glosses over how the people of East Texas cared for Gardner — the place certainly was not stocked with formula — but the teen is now conversing with a girl on Earth (and I suppose communications have improved so much in this not too distant future that everyone can converse from Earth to Mars in real time), the only friend he has of the same age, and he’s beginning to have romantic feelings for her (he tells her he has a rare disease and he’s in a bubble in a New York penthouse). But Gardner hatches a plan to get to Earth, and after a failed attempt at stowing away, he is granted permission to travel. He also wants to find the man in a photo with his mother that he believes is his father. Gardner gets to Earth then runs away to find Tulsa (Britt Robertson), and the two gallivant across the country in search of his father. Except Gardner is from Mars, so his physiology is not suited for Earth and health complications arise, leaving us to wonder if he will live, fall in love and find his dad.
This story is ripe for drama and romance but there is something missing that allows the viewer to really connect with these characters (although perhaps teens may be more forgiving and fall in love with Gardner’s goofy awkwardness and Tulsa’s scrappy survivor). The performances of Butterfield and Robertson are fine, as are the main adults (Oldman and Carla Gugino, as Kendra who was Gardner’s surrogate mom on Mars). One of the problems is that no one on Earth knows of Gardner’s existence, so it takes a really, really long time for Tulsa to believe he’s not just a bit crazy. He knows Nathaniel and Kendra are after him, but there’s no major manhunt and no reports on the news to make Tulsa think he’s telling the truth. There are also too many convenient plot devices thrown in to help the pair continue their journey — who unpacks their bag at a diner, including a tablet which the kids need to figure out where they are, and then leaves it all unattended on a table to go to the rest room?! And then we get an infuriating last minute twist as to who Gardner’s father is that just screams “irresponsible!”
But aside from the bad storytelling, the performances are fine and the production as a whole looks fantastic. Really stunning are the amazing CGI effects of rocket launches and Martian outposts. For a film with a $30 million budget, the realistic effects look like they cost twice that amount and easily blur the line between what’s real and what’s not (on the Blu-ray director’s commentary he mentions how the CGI was aided by shooting actual locations and blending the two). This is the first feature director Peter Chelsom shot digitally, and the results look fantastic on Blu-ray, sharp and colorful. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix also gives your sound system a nice workout with voices front and center and the surrounds used to great effect for sounds ranging from rocket liftoffs to crashing ocean waves.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray include an “alternate ending,” which is really just a cut scene of an assembly speech back at East Texas; Deleted Scenes (many of which are just extensions of scenes in the film, one of which actually explains the whole manual docking moment at the beginning, and another shows where Gardner’s “I Wuz Here” graffiti originated); and the “Love Featurette”, which is a standard promotional package for the film. Of most value is the Director’s Commentary in which Chelsom gives some nicely detailed information of what went into the production of the film, pointing out many specific things such as the actors and effects as he watches the film. His commentary is also helpful in explaining the “alternate ending” which is presented without any other context. Chelsom’s commentary actually makes the film much more interesting, especially if you want to know about all the minutiae that goes into a production.
The Space Between Us may appeal to a certain demographic as far as the story goes, and film buffs will enjoy the commentary and the excellent Blu-ray presentation. But is it worth a purchase? That is a decision we’ll have to leave up to you.
UPHE generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray copy of the film for reviewing purposes.