In this interplanetary adventure, a space shuttle embarks on the first mission to colonize Mars, only to discover after takeoff that one of the astronauts is pregnant. Shortly after landing, she dies from complications while giving birth to the first human born on the red planet – never revealing who the father is. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Gardner Elliot – an inquisitive, highly intelligent boy who reaches the age of 16 having only met 14 people in his very unconventional upbringing. While searching for clues about his father, and the home planet he's never known, Gardner begins an online friendship with a street smart girl in Colorado named Tulsa. When he finally gets a chance to go to Earth, he's eager to experience all of the wonders he could only read about on Mars – from the most simple to the extraordinary. But once his explorations begin, scientists discover that Gardner's organs can't withstand Earth's atmosphere. Eager to find his father, Gardner escapes the team of scientists and joins with Tulsa on a race against time to unravel the mysteries of how he came to be, and where he belongs in the universe.
Every once in a while, a title that lies within warn-out genre will come out of nowhere, defy expectations and knock your socks off. The Space Between Us is not one of those.
The Space Between Us is the type of movie that doesn't trust its audience enough to leave anything out. It doesn't just show you everything, it tells you everything that you could possibly need to know about its story, its characters and the way they feel. The resulting effect leaves you emotionally detached and unable to experience their sentiments for yourself.
The teen "science fiction" (I use that term loosely here) movie begins with an Elon Musk-esque character named Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) explaining his vision of the future to a room filled press and important figures in the technology world. Thanks to a partnership with NASA, he's about to send a team to Mars on an exploratory and terraforming mission. Like the futuristic Earth of Interstellar, humankind has depleted the planet, so it's time to abandon this rock and move to another. While Shepherd will run the mission from Earth, his lead scientist/astronaut Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) will head the mission from Mars.
Once there, we learn that Elliot foolishly got herself knocked up prior to leaving Earth. Unable to turn back and deliver her child on Earth, she gives birth to the first human Martian and dies shortly thereafter due to complications. Cut to 16 years later and we meet Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), a teenager who has spent his entire covered-up life on a Mars base. NASA opted out of making Elliot's baby a public matter, so the knowledge of Gardner is confined to those on Mars and a select few on Earth. Instead of sending him home to live a normal life on Earth, he's confined to the Martian compound and brought up by a mother figure named Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino).
Raised by scientists, Gardner is quite the savvy teen. His unique body may have issues of its own, but that doesn't stop him from sneaking around and fulfilling his own agenda. Knowing computers well, he's found ways to bypass physical as well as computer security. With a backdoor into the web, he makes a Skype-able pen pal with a cute high school girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson) in Colorado.
When NASA finally wises up and decides to "bring him home" (which is the tagline to The Martian), Gardner couldn't be more ecstatic – but when he finally arrives on Earth, NASA and Shepherd find reason after reason to keep him quarantined (a la Flight of the Navigator). They believe his medical condition could ultimately leave him unable to live on Earth, but nothing's going to stop Gardner from experiencing life on Earth. With his already-demonstrated resourcefulness, he breaks out, steals clothes and money, and makes his way to the only person on the planet that he can trust – Tulsa.
One thing that I didn't expect from The Space Between Us is the amount of character development given to Tulsa. While Gardner, Shepherd and Wyndham are flat and lifeless, Tulsa's character is very well fleshed out. We learn about the struggles from coming up in the foster system. We even see how bad her home life is. Even though it's almost identical to her character in Tomorrowland, Robertson's Tulsa works more so in The Space Between Us than it did in the other. It's as if the writers actually understood and wrote for this character. I wonder, had Tulsa been the leading character and the story unfolded through her eyes, if The Space Between Us would have been a much stronger movie.
Once Tulsa enters the picture, the story picks up, but it still isn't good. She and Gardner head out on a road trip involving stolen cars and resisting arrest. In hopes of finding Gardner's dad, their cross-country scavenger hunt to uncover his identity takes them to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and the California coast. As they do so, little do they that the clock is ticking. Gardener and Tulsa believe the bad guy scientists simply want to put him back in quarantine, but they're really trying to track them down because Gardner's body - heart, in specific - can't hand Earth's atmosphere and gravity, so unless he gets back into space or back to Mars, his enlarged heart is going to explode.
Aside from Tulsa's character and little bits of sappy romance here and there, there's really not much merit to it. It's baffling to see four strong actors come together for such a poorly executed movie. If anything, it's a case study for how bad movies get made.
The Space Between Us has a lot of potential. Perhaps with a better team of filmmakers, it could have been a teen romance worth celebrating. As is, it's just another bad teen movie.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Universal has given STX's The Space Between Us a combo pack release that includes a Region-free BD-50, a DVD and a Digital HD copy of the movie. The discs are housed in a two-disc eco-LITE vortex keepcase that slides vertically into a glossy cardboard slipcover. A commercial for Universal Studios and 30-second spots for The Bye Bye Man, Before I Fall, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone and A Dog's Purpose play before the standard Universal main menu.
The Space Between Us arrives on Blu-ray with a conflicted video quality. On one hand, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is near-perfect – and I'm talking perfect, like reference quality – but on the other hand, the movie's cinematography, production quality, and overall look is like that of an NBC drama. It's sad to see something that looks so generic, look so good.
The movie kicks off with an STX reel that, if it was going to, would feature banding – but it doesn't. Following a few other production reels, we get a shot of hundreds of stars peppering the deep black void of space. The camera slightly pans from side-to-side, resulting in a wonderful effect that causes the stars to appear as if they're in 3D. Being a 2D movie, it left me impressed. Colorization is also impressive. Blue computer screens offer a familiar vibrant glow. The Las Vegas strip setting offers an array of colors that spans the entire gamut.
Aside from the bad CG animation and effects, the entire film features a strong amount of detail. It's non-stop. From ridiculously detailed facial features and texturized articles of clothing to thousands of specs of confetti falling in a pretty slow-motion shot and specks of dust hovering beneath a bright hospital operating room light. The level of detail is awesome.
The solitary flaw that I could find comes from one piece of bad CG. When a spaceship lands vertically and smoke billows around the landing pad, banding can be seen within it. Based on the fact that the opening STX reel didn't have banding issues, I'm assuming that the bad CG is to blame for those visible here. Nonetheless, banding is present within the movie.
The Space Between Us features a solid 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that brings its unbelievable tale to life. Each element carries a strong quality that causes the movie to sound much better than it should.
The music of The Space Between Us may be inconsistent in style and unfitting for the tone, but it's not lacking in terms of mixing. No matter the style, both the original score and the pop songs used throughout sound great. Emitting from all channels, music swells and fills the entire space.
While the dialog is consistently clean, clear and focused, the effects mixing really impresses. Boisterous moments, like rocket launches and the sensory overwhelming Las Vegas strip, are the most noticeable. When rockets blast off, LFE takes off and ripples across the room. Shaking and rumbling effects blare from each of the channels. In Las Vegas, as Gardener is overwhelmed by the wild Vegas nightlife, tons of effects are layered together to paint a lively soundscape. Passing cars, honking horns, chatting pedestrians, and ringing slot machines are spread above light scoring. But as obvious as those elements are, the environmental ones are just as worthy of praise. For example, while in the Mars station, the sounds of generic scientific machines can be heard bouncing around. Beeping systems and mono radio transmissions add a nice ambiance.
Alternate Ending (HD, 3:01) – If this film is guilty of anything, it's the high count of Gary Oldman speeches and monologues. This alternate version of the lead-in to the film's final scene features yet another. The final minute of this three-minute scene is identical to that of the theatrical cut, only without the voice-over.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 13:44) – Five scenes are included, most of which are alternate versions of existing scenes and all of which can be viewed seamlessly thanks to the "play all" function. The first features a six minute alternate intro to the film with – you guessed it – yet another Gary Oldman speech. All five are throw-aways a desvered to end up on the chopping block.
"Love" Featurette (HD, 4:28) – The clip-heavy EPK-ish featurette serves the sole purpose of reiterating that the movie is a love story.
Feature Commentary with Director Peter Chelsom - Chelsom's commentary is pretty good. In fact, it's so good that it sounds like he's a describing another movie – a movie that's much better than this one. It has some pauses here and there, but he discusses everything. You'll learn about how the script made its way to him, why he ended up taking it, how he locked in a concept, how that concept changed every aspect of the shoot, as well as his philosophies and processes on directing.
Although theatrical reviews of The Space Between Us were brutal, deep down inside, I still wanted to like it. When made well, I enjoy the occassional good teen drama – but The Space Between Us not only lacks in terms of a teen movie, but it's also a piss poor science fiction movie. The disc qualities are so strong that they feel wasted on a such a poorly written and badly filmed movie. If you're like me and still have a little hope in this teen drama, you owe it to yourself to reconsider.