The Space Between Us

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In the spirit of recent science-geek inspired thrillers like The Martian and Gravity comes the (probably inevitable) YA entry into the genre, a premise of quite literal star cross’d love.

We open on an Elon Musk/Richard Branson archetype, Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), talking up a forthcoming mission to colonise Mars and give humankind the boost it needs towards the stars.

But there’s a hitch when mission commander Sarah (Janet Montgomery) discovers halfway there that she’s pregnant. Without the facilities to properly care for a baby and new mother in the ship – let alone Mars – the mission looks doomed, but Shepherd insists they press on.

16 years later, and with his mother having died in childbirth, Gardner (Asa Butterfield) has a close friend and confidant in mission tech Kendra (Carla Gugino), a love of the colony biosphere and its plant life, and as normal a life as anyone can have if they’re the first human being born on another planet. He also has an instant chat friendship with a streetwise, orphaned teenager back on Earth, Tulsa (Britt Robertson).

When the chance arrives for Gardner to visit Earth for the first time, he’s intrigued, nervous and excited at seeing all the things he’s only ever read about or watched in the video archives – everything from blue sky to the proximity of strangers.

But Kendra and Shepherd have bigger worries – after growing up in a different chemical environment, gravity and everything else there’s a chance Earth might reject Gardner like a transplanted organ, a particular property of his Mars-born heart putting him in real danger.

But the rules, conditions and demands of his return are too stifling, and when Gardner lands he tracks Tulsa down and they go on the lam together, falling tentatively in love as Kendra and Shepherd track them down before it’s too late.

If you were more interested in The Martian than The Fault In Our Stars, you’ll find the first half of The Space Between Us more exciting. The production consulted several astronauts and experts and it shows.

It’s set in the very near future and director Peter Chelsom has cleverly made the spacecraft and Mars habitats look like something designed by NASA rather than some sci-fi obsessed production designer who’s filled it with whooshing silver doors.

Technology like driverless cars, carbon nanotubes, plastic laptops, Gardner’s little wrist projector/communicator and reusable rocket landing pads are also recognisable science if you’ve followed the exploits of SpaceX, Google, wearable tech, etc lately.

After Gardner and Tulsa go on the run, the film loses some of that science-informed backdrop, changing into more of a generic chase thriller with two young lovers breaking all the rules without really knowing how much danger they’re in.

Playing Gardner as a quiet, reserved, nervous boy, Butterfield gets a bit lost against the background, but it’s Robertson in full swing as the talkative tough girl that captivates the screen (no surprise if you’ve seen her in Mr Church or Tomorrowland).

There’s some great design and visuals and a good premise, and for most of the running time it doesn’t look or behave anything like a YA love story, but it ultimately can’t avoid the trappings of the genre.

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Drew Turney
An Australian-based film critic and celebrity interviewer now based in Los Angeles, California.