We begin with the first expedition to colonize Mars, in 2018. Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) has been planning it since he was 12 years old and now, a joint project from NASA and the private Genesis corporation is sending a team not just to explore Mars, but to live there for four years, in a settlement called East Texas. With the depletion of resources and abuse of the planet, Mars is the best chance for humanity to continue. “Mother Nature does not negotiate.” The night before launch, Shepherd presents the crew, lead by Sarah, who captivates the crowd with her gallantry and confidence. “Courage,” she tells them, “is fear that has said its prayers.”
All goes well at first, but it turns out, about halfway to Mars, that Sarah has committed a reckless misjudgement. She is pregnant. Nathaniel, worried about losing funding for the project, keeps it secret. Sarah dies giving birth and the baby is raised by the scientists on Mars, without anyone on Earth knowing about him other than Nathaniel and a couple of his colleagues. “East Texas runs on money, science, good faith, and PR,” Nathaniel says. He will not risk the mission. And the child, gestated in zero gravity, might not be able to survive the trip home or life on Earth.
By the time we see him again, Gardner (Asa Butterfield, still soulful, and quite the beanpole since we saw him in “Hugo”) is a teenager. His only friends are an astronaut scientist named Kendra (Carla Gugino), who treats him like a lab assistant, and a robot sidekick.
In some ways, he is just like teenagers on earth, moody, uncommunicative, very interested in meeting a girl, determined to find his father, and determined to test whatever boundaries there are. In some ways he is different. He knows very little about the most basic elements of life on earth. And, because he is the first human to grow up in the 62 percent lower gravity of Mars, his physical development — bone density, heart — has been affected so that even if he did get a chance to come to earth, it could kill him.
But remember what I said about boundaries? And girls? Gardner has been e-chatting with a high school girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson, seven years older than Butterfield and looks it), who lives in foster care in Colorado. He runs away from the NASA/Genesis medical facility to meet Tulsa and asks her to help find his father, with Nathaniel and Kendra in pursuit. There were so many possibilities here, to see Earth through the eyes of someone whose only knowledge of the planet and human interaction involving more than the same five people came from Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire” and old how-to movies about dating. Instead, we get a syrupy love story and chases with a helicopter, a crop duster, and a series of stolen cars.
Last year’s “The Martian” made the science fascinating. “The Space Between Us” tries to make it superfluous, neglecting some basic principles of physics but even worse, some basic principles of logic.
Parents should know that this film includes some mild language, non-explicit teen sexual situation, alcohol abuse, teen mayhem (stealing, reckless driving), some peril, childbirth scene, sad death, and health risks.
Family discussion: What’s your favorite thing on earth and why? What surprised Gardner most? What advice would you give him about how to act on Earth?
If you like this, try: “The Martian” and the film Gardner watches, “Wings of Desire”