The Space Between Us Review

AN UNINTERSTING MARTIAN BOY

MEETS EARTH GIRL TALE


 

Over the years, Hollywood has bought up the right to many popular “Young Adult” books (some call it “Teen”) in the hopes of trying to accomplish what the Twilight film saga did (i.e. bringing by bestselling book / series to life, while bringing a big dollar amount at the box office for the films). From the paranormal fantasy tale of Cassandra Claire’s Mortal Instrument series with City of Bones to the more adventurous story of Suzanne Collin’s dystopian saga that spawned The Hunger Games movies or the more heartfelt real-life drama of John Green’s novels with Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, this YA adaptions (there’s been plenty more of these page-to-screen films) have been met with mixed results, ranging from box office success to flat out bombs. Now, in an interesting movie, director Interestingly, director Peter Chelsom, with Europa and H.Brothers studios, presents a film that very much follows in the veins of those YA “book to movie” feature (but an original tale) with the film The Space Between Us. Does this movie find its mark or is its sappy picture with too much teen melodrama?

THE STORY


Set some years in the distant future, space pioneer guru Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) plans to establish a fully-fledged colony on Mars, working to send a team of NASA astronauts, including Sarah (Janet Montgomery), to help make his dream a reality. Discovering she’s pregnant while in en route to East Texas (the name of the Mar’s settlement), Sarah deals with the maternal development of her fetus in zero gravity, while Nathaniel and his team figure out how to keep the news of pregnancy quiet from the public. When Sarah dies in childbirth, the child Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is raised secretively raised on Mars by his fellow astronaut team, including Kendra (Carla Gugino), growing into a curious teenager looking for information and answers about his mother. Along the way, Gardner befriends Tulsa (Britt Robertson), an orphan teenage girl on Earth, via online, soon finding an opportunity to travel to Earth with the hopes of meeting her, while also locating his father, with only an old picture and a symbolic ring to help find the mystery man. Unfortunately, while his internal organs aren’t conditioned for Earth’s gravity and atmosphere and with Nathaniel and Kendra looking for him (who escape from his captivity at NASA), Gardner embarks on a whirlwind journey with Tulsa as they cross the country, discovering the wonders of Earth and prepares himself to find the parent he’s never met.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Much like what I said above, I’ve had mixed thoughts about some of the YA film adaptations of late. Of course, I loved The Hunger Games movies (as well as The Maze Runner films), but I felt that Twilight movies were overrated and just bad (I never finished watching Break Dawn: Part 1 or even watched Part 2 of it). Then there’s the Divergent movies, which started out strong and just ended (presumably ended) prematurely before concluding its final chapter (see no word on whether or not they’re going to do a TV movie to wrap up the feature film’s story). The rest are mixed bag that range from good to mediocre, but maybe that’s just me as I never got into the more teen melodrama films like The Fault in Our Stars. Personally, I preferred Paper Towns over that movie. Anyways, this bring me back to this movie The Space Between Us. As I said, it definitely seemed like a YA “page to screen” film, which is the vibe I got when I saw the movie trailer for the film. However, I didn’t expect this movie to be super awesome as my impressions from the trailer were pretty low. Still, I ventured to the movies (on its release date) to go see it. What did I think of it? Well, sadly, my suspicions were right as The Space Between Us is a pretty flimsy movie, with a bland script, uninteresting characters, and a less-than engaging story to tell. Basically, the movie reaches for the stars, but fails to grasp it lofty ambitions.

The Space Between Us is directed by Peter Chelsom, who previous work includes the films Serendipity, Shall We Dance, and Hannah Montana: The Movie. As I said above, the film has a teen drama sort of vibe throughout the entire film, which (in a weird way) plays to strength of those feature films and Chelsom presents the movie in that way as he basically establishes that from the get-go. The story itself is about a young teen’s journey to find answers about his past (which will help him move forward) and how he finds himself in today’s world. This also means find love and budding relationship with his female partner. Also, playing to the film’s strength is the classic battle between two characters or rather there instrumental “polar opposite” persona, finding Gardner’s innocent optimism going up against Tulsa’s blunt cynicism. It’s a classic recipe for confrontation and reflection of two people and Chelsom seems to embrace that ideal, finding teen drama angle the best way to present the film’s narrative. Lastly, on a technically level, The Space Between Us is presented in a pleasing manner from camera angles, to cinematography shots, to costumes, and to film editing. The film’s visuals, while won’t rival any blockbuster feature, are adequate and put too good use, which means that they’re not superb, but neither are they shoddy.

Unfortunately, The Space Between Us falters greatly in several categories, which hinders the movie from being anything but mediocre / passable (and that’s being kindly). Where did the movie go wrong? Well, first of all, while I said that the movie plays to the strength of a teen “page to screen” film, it also has its weaknesses. Instead of crafting a story with depth and insight, Chelsom and the film’s screenwriter Allan Loeb just play to the standard fanfare and predictably of recent teen dramas or teen “book to film” adaptation. Also, the film’s narrative and its characters (more on that below) comes off as a bit cheesy at times, which doesn’t bode well for its more dramatic poised moments. Basically, it’s what you would expect to see a teen “coming of age” story, with plenty of questions about life (and the world around us) as well as a sappy romance between two completely opposite teenagers. Mix into a futuristic element as well as a “road trip” plot beats and you’ll get this movie, but to a lesser degree that what its pulling from. And just a friendly reminder… Loeb did the screenplay for 2016’s Collateral Beauty and we all know how much that particular movie fell “under fire” due to its story, which hints back to the story in The Space Between Us.

Next, the film’s pacing drags. The beginning starts out quite interesting and had my attention, but, as the story progress into the second act, I began to feel bored with the movie as we (the viewer) get bogged down the too many teen angst with Gardner always asking “What’s your favorite thing about Earth” to almost everyone he meets and Tulsa “flipping out” over Gardner’s actions. It all just becomes really redundant. In addition, the movie is pretty “light” and by light I mean that there’s not so much gravitas towards its plot or rather the movie itself. Yes, there are some serious moments in the film, but its undermined by the way its handle, which comes off as being “less impactful” to what it wants to convey. A prime example of this is twist that comes at the end of the film. It’s interesting, but not “hard hitting”. If I’m being honest, the film sort of felt like a TV movie that should’ve been produced and broadcasted on channels like ABC Family, Lifetime, or Disney Channel. In short, The Space Between Us just doesn’t rise to the challenge as a theatrical film and should being conceived as feature meant for the small screen and the not the big one.

Cast in The Space Between Us has some recognizable faces in the movie, but, while their acting performances are overall good, the characters they’re portraying are not, a result due to the script weak story. Playing the main character in the movie (Elliot Gardner) is actor Asa Butterfield, who many will recognize from Ender’s Game and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As I said, Butterfield’s acting is not in question, but rather the weak character of Gardner. He does his best to give Gardner some life as he sort of looks the part of a wide-eyed innocent teen, but the movie’s constricted script makes him hollow and a bit underdeveloped, despite him being the main protagonist character. The same can be said with his co-star Britt Robertson some will recognize her from 2016’s Tomorrowland, as Tulsa. Again, Robertson’s acting is fine, but the character isn’t anything new or original than what we’ve seen before. In addition, the romance between Gardner and Tulsa is a bit chunky and predictable, making it hard to believe that the pair fall in love with each other by spending a couple of days together. Then again, this is sort of geared towards teens, who will probably find it somewhat relatable to them (I guess).

Unfortunately, the supporting cast is pretty much the same. Seasoned actor Gary Oldman leads the charge as the “big ticketed” actor in the movie, in a way to anchor it. Playing the character of Nathaniel Shepherd, the mastermind behind the East Texas expedition and the one who is enlisted in finding Gardner on Earth, Oldman lends his acting talents, but even he comes up shorthanded due to the lack of character substance in the narrative. Ditto on actress Carla Gugino, who plays Kendra Wyndham, a sort of parental figure to Gardner on East Texas who helps Dr. Shepherd throughout the course of the movie. Other noteworthy actors who appear in the movie are B.D Wong as NASA executive Tom Chen and Gil Birmingham as Shaman Neka.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Gardner Elliot journeys to Earth to experience life and finding some answers in the movie The Space Between Us. Director Peter Chelsom newest charts a unique course with a somewhat interesting tale of placing a new sci-fi spin on the “boy meets girl” narrative. Unfortunately, the movie just never goes anywhere, feeling a touch cheesy in its lighthearted moments and too much “teen drama” syrupy in its more serious moments. Couple with a weak script, a familiar path, and flat characters (despite a few talented actors), make The Space Between Us quite the bore of a movie. Personally, it was pretty bland and dull and followed the standard beats for a teen “coming of age” tale. So, of course, this means the teens will most likely get something out of this as a sort of “date night” kind of film. However, for everyone else, it’s definitely a skip. In short, The Space Between Us is just another forgettable movie that, despite its noblest of intentions, just falls flat and runs out of steam before reaching its final destination. If you’re looking for a deep, passionate tale of finding yourself and of youthful romance that has a splash of creativity, just watch (or read) The Fault in Our Stars or Paper Towns. You’ll be glad that you did.

2.5 out of 5 (Rent It / Skip It)

 

Released On: February 3rd, 2017
Reviewed On: February 8th, 2017

The Space Between Us  is 121 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for brief sensuality and language

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