Within the first 10 minutes of Peter Chelsom’s ambitious romantic sci-fi The Space Between Us, we learn that a small collective of astronauts are relocating to Mars to begin a new life for mankind. Then we find out the captain of the aircraft is pregnant. Then she has a baby, on Mars, and then she dies. This complex series of events is overwhelming, and happens before we’ve even had time to settle into our seats, and sadly, it’s a sign of things to come, as a convoluted endeavour that vies to fit far too much in to its already protracted running time.
Fast forward 16 years and the baby that was born is now a curious teenager called Gardner (Asa Butterfield), who has been denied a trip to Earth his entire life for his bones are too brittle to last the seven month journey. His birth was kept a secret by NASA, as head of the operation Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) felt it would destroy the entire endeavour, and so nobody knows of his existence on Earth – except for Tulsa (Britt Robertson), who he speaks to online daily. So when finally declared old, and healthy enough to make the trip, it’s Tulsa he strives to track down first, hoping to convince his only friend to help him find his father, going simply off a picture he carries that had belonged to his mother.
The film share similarities to Room, in that at its core it’s a study of a young boy experiencing the world for the very first time, and we adopt that blissful perspective, allowing the viewer to appreciate all of the smallest, seemingly most trivial things we take for granted every day (like the rain), and yet means the world to this youngster. But instead of feeling hopeful and inspiring like Room managed, instead this feels contrived, mawkish and overtly saccharine – particularly when the romance takes precedence over the narrative.
The Space Between Us is an interesting, if complex premise that has the makings of a potentially brilliant piece of cinema, and yet it’s just so predictable and frustratingly cinematic. It may seem somewhat pedantic to point out, but it’s small little details that deter the viewer, like when the tall, skinny teenager steals clothes off an elderly man to help him blend in and escape from NASA, and though much shorter and broader in stature, the clothes fit absolutely perfectly on their new owner. Or when Tulsa is flicking through the radio when the pair are camping together, and it just so happens to land at the start of a quirky indie number that is perfect for their late night fondling.
But while the film begins in a unique, striking way, as we progress it just grows tedious and hackneyed, abiding stringently by cliché, and falling hopelessly into unwanted, generic territory. Effectively, this grand, ambitious premise of having a boy raised on Mars eventually just becomes your archetypal romantic tale, one big convoluted way of setting up this coming together between two teenagers. It’s as if Nicolas Sparks has written a sci-fi – and honestly, it’s just as bad as that sounds.