You should know that I had to choose between The Space Between Us and Rings and, even now, I think I picked the better movie. That 11% seems a little harsh for a movie that is a fairly benign love story trying to appeal to teenagers. I mean, so what if the science was shoddy and the plot was scattershot and the characters didn’t make much sense and nonsensical artistic decisions were made and Gary Oldman was overacting and…oh. Oh no.
(SPOILER ALERT. Let’s face it though – you aren’t going to go see a sappy, teenage, sci-fi, romance movie in early February, so read on, my friends.)
From the start, you know this movie isn’t really serious because of the way it handles the premise of “child born on Mars.” Rather than just starting with a child being born on Mars, the film goes out of its way to introduce you to the first astronauts going to Mars and the CEO, Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), of the company sending them. That word “first” is key because the team leader, Janet Montgomery (Sarah Elliot), gets pregnant right before they leave Earth. It’s not the worst thing a movie has ever asked the audience to swallow, but do you really think the first astronaut to Mars is going to risk being scrubbed from the trip by having unprotected sex mere days (or even the previous night) before lift-off? The odds are much better that she’d be wearing the chastity belts from Mad Max: Fury Road (yes, I meant for that to be plural).
Suffice it to say, they find out she’s pregnant about two months into the trip to Mars and somehow had the foresight to pack an ultrasound machine. Huh, that’s weird. Anyway, Nathaniel decides to keep the kid a secret for fear that revealing him will kill their funding. This is patently absurd for so many reasons, not the least of which is they can’t turn the ship around. Yes, a trip to Mars is exciting for Earth’s population, but imagine how much attention you would get by announcing a child would be born? They had a ready-made Truman Show. When they get to the planet, Janet dies during childbirth, but it’s okay because they send a surrogate mother, Kendra (Carla Gugino), to take care of the child, a boy named Gardner (Asa Butterfield), whose name I am not making up.
You aren't my real mom.
Speaking of names, the base on Mars is called East Texas. Are you kidding me?!! What sad, unimaginative writer came up with that turd?
Fast forward sixteen years and, with the help of Mars’ low gravity, Gardner has grown into a tall, lanky teenager. No, taller and lankier than usual teenagers. He’s also super smart and ridiculously bored, so he does what all bored geniuses do…instant messages with a friend. Seriously, he figures out how to bypass the communications security and starts Skyping with a high school girl, Tulsa (Brit Robertson), whose name I also did not make up.
Science note: for you science nerds, here’s an example of some of the terrible science exhibited in this film: there is no time delay in the conversations between Tulsa and Gardner, even though it takes between four and twenty-one minutes for light to travel between Earth and Mars, depending on their relative positions. Neil deGrasse Tyson just did a spit take.
After some Martian teenager shenanigans, the company decides to bring Gardner to Earth, but still won’t tell anybody about him because that would ruin the second half of the plot. After arriving on Earth and receiving a battery of medical tests, Gardner escapes from the compound using the old hide-in-the-back-of-a-truck maneuver, even though the compound had been put on lockdown. I guess lockdown means barely checking the back of a shipping truck and allowing it to leave before finding your secret Martian kid. Then, Gardner makes his way from Florida to Montrose, Colorado (don’t ask), finds Tulsa, and convinces her to help him find his father. The rest of this film is a combination of the father quest, the budding romance between Tulsa and Gardner, and Kendra and Nathaniel trying to recover Gardner before Gardner dies. Oh, didn’t I mention that? Rather than stick with the idea of keeping Gardner a secret from the world and using that as the figurative countdown clock, they throw in that Gardner’s heart is way too big and that Earth’s gravity is going to cause his heart to fail.
16 years trapped on Mars = A.I. gets invented.
Science note: I could not find any research pointing to whether or not a Martian human would have a larger heart than normal, but Earth’s gravity would cause heart issues in that the heart would have to pump much harder than it would have in Mars’ low gravity. It’s more likely the heart would be the same size, just weaker. Also, the movie takes the time to have its astronauts deal with his weak bones in specifics (they strengthen them artificially), but then has those same scientists not bother to check or even worry about his organs or heart? Remember, these same guys brought an ultrasound machine on a space mission.
Where this movie really goes off the rails is in the decision to make Gardner’s quest about finding his father. The fun parts of this movie are Gardner discovering and seeing things for the first time. Oceans, trees, dogs, horses, caterpillars, warmth from the sun. All are endearing moments that remind us of everything we take for granted, though in the most Disney of ways. This movie should have been about Gardner just wanting to explore Earth while simultaneously falling in love with Tulsa (and vice versa). Don’t get me wrong, the love story is a large part of the movie, but it’s always overshadowed by the quest. Ditching the trite father angle doesn’t change the movie. Gardner is still going to die (unbeknownst to Gardner), Kendra and Nathaniel are still trying to rescue him, and we still get the love story and exploring plot. But, now it feels more natural.
You know I grew up on Mars and this is where you bring me?
The kicker of the movie is the big reveal that explains a bunch of things while simultaneously wrecking the movie. I won’t give that away, but you’ll end up repeating the phrases “oh, that makes sense now” followed by “but then why didn’t…” It also creates a MacGuffin that wouldn’t have existed in my version of the film. And if that’s not enough, the movie commits one last trauma to the groin of science. Recall that Gardner is dying because of the gravitational effect on his heart? They solve this problem by strapping Gardner into Nathaniel’s personal rocket shuttle and blast out of Earth’s lower atmosphere. I’m no physicist, but if 1G was slowly tearing apart his heart, wouldn’t 11G’s liquefy it? You’re right – I’m thinking way too hard about this film.
Like I said, at first glance the movie is kind of cute, but it’s a movie you won’t want to watch more than once. Outside of Gardner, the characters are 1.5-dimensional, the plot can’t get out of its own way, and the attention to detail is spotty at best. But 11%? I guess.
Rating: Ask for nine dollars back and always use birth control before going to space.