Directed by Peter Chelsom

Screenplay by Alan Loeb

Story by Stewart Schill, Richard Barton Lewis, and Alan Loeb

Music by Andrew Lockington

Cinematography by Barry Peterson

Film Editing by David Moritz


Filmed on Location in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

New Mexico, USA

Malibu and Santa Clarita, California, USA

(If I seem agitated it might be because I have been one paragraph away from finishing this review twice and lost the complete text. Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s my own fault. I habitually save drafts about every other sentence when I’m writing, but this review? I blame the Babadook, mainly because he’s the lamest bogeyman since the Mummy, and I am still pissed.)

Take three. Maximum effort!

Last night I took in two movies to try to understand how the Rotten Tomatoes score for one could be roughly 40 green blobs and the other in the low teens on the green (ketchup?) scale. The new xXx installment– (At least, I think it’s a new one. Uh huh. I checked the release date. It’s considered new.) takes a rewrite of the basic script used in the franchise that is used as flimsy background for the extreme stunts. There is very well done CGI in all of the big action scenes to paste the actors faces over those of the stunt people actually performing the insane tricks the movies are known for, endless acres of green-screen to put together the stunts that aren’t possible, and an almost limitless budget to put together an action movie that will no doubt make hundreds of millions.

The Space Between Us requires CGI, green-screen, and matte painting to create a city on the surface of another planet and a space exploration program that does not exist because these things are crucial to the plot. There are maybe three stunts and those are of the nobody’s-going-to-try-it-and-be-paralysed variety. Most of the special effects budget went into creating a believable, more alien habitat to emphasise its distance in more than time.

Gardner Elliott (Asa Butterfield) is the only real Martian. (That we know of…) Mars is the only home he’s ever known. That’s true of everyone one Earth, excluding the astronauts, of course. But, on Earth people can open the door with causing a containment breach, walk out without a suit that is the product of countless work-hours of research, see all the colours of the planet, and meet new people every time they turn around. Gardner lives in a world where the view out every porthole is a monochrome landscape, the inside of the same buildings are what he sees every day, and only the astronauts who come to stay on Mars can he really get a chance to know.

No wonder his connection with Tulsa (Brett Robertson) has come to be the centre of his existence. It took a computer connection across 173 million miles to find a friend his own age that he can spend an hour a day with and they can groan about their desire to be free and to get out of where they are. And, Tulsa is a beautiful girl. At twenty-six, Robertson has been able to play a sorority sister in The Longest Ride and now, a high school student, and be believable in both. Lucky actress.

Butterfield is only nineteen now, so must have right on target for a boy not quite seventeen. With his fresh-faced youth and luminous blue eyes, he is the very picture of determination and naïveté, wanting to know everything about the planet the everyone, everyone, else is from, but about which he really doesn’t know the first thing. His tall, weedy frame seems impossibly frail at times, just the appearance one would expect of a child who was born and has lived its entire life on a planet with only 38% of Earth’s gravity. At around six feet and not even 150 pounds, it is easy to make him stand out among the other actors in a scene, especially when his leading lady is topping out at 5’3″. Then, he looks like a sea oat swaying in wind gusts, and just as endangered.

Anybody (on any planet or in the audience) can see that Gardner is going to find a way to get to Earth and to Tulsa, even if it kills him, which it seems inevitable that it will. But, not before he gets to experience all those simple things: walking out of the house without causing a containment breach, seeing more colours than he can distinguish, and meeting new people anytime he feels like saying hello. And he will make time for the thing that pulled him all those millions of miles: a chance to finish falling in love with Tulsa, two orphans on separate planets who know how it feels to want to just get out.

Critics have savaged the plot of The Space Between Us, calling it “cheesy” and “clichéd,” and no one expects it to be on the shortlist for a Pulitzer. If you’ve encountered any of the advertising for it you have probably already twigged to the idea that it is aiming at the YA audience, which it should pick up this weekend from the moviegoers too young to get into Split. Also, it cries out to be a date movie; it’s romantic and teary and I’d go see it on a date. Undoubtedly, it is going to be referred to over and over as a chi– but, not by me; I find that phrase demeaning. If you mean a bunch of young, usually drunk guys who feel the need to insert “man,” “dude,” or “bro” in every sentence will make fun of it, you’re probably right, but who wants to go to the movies with someone like that? You’ll end up watching the immortal Monster Trucks or something of that ilk.

So, we can agree that it is not great cinema. It’s a story of first love against a very unusual backdrop. And it’s a tale of two orphans reaching out across space and time from two very different planets and environments: one with eyes wide open in the wonder of it all, one with eyes wide open in the knowledge of just how crappy life can be sometimes. Asa Butterfield has been great since the heartbreaking concentration camp drama The Boy In the Striped Pajamas and the fantastic Hugo; the child started winning awards for his acting before he was ten and he doesn’t let down here. If the script isn’t the strongest, he still does his part admirably. And he is surrounded by a talented cast: Gary Oldman (not really his most shining moment, to be truthful. less volume, more subtlety), Carla Gugino, BD Wong (miss you on L&O), Robertson, and some nice cameos sprinkled in there.

It is not Arrival, but Arrival was in a class all its own last year and Amy Adams still got screwed twice. It was almost as if Steve Harvey were reading out the nominees… What it is however, is an actual story, with a plot and characters and setting and everything and some special effects thrown in to give you that live-in Mars feeling. What some of us would call a movie. It was not a chance for a franchise to string together– Oh! Forget it! The entire concept of an elite ops team built around people because they could do extreme sports is insulting the intelligence even of the kind of people who end up in the Darwin Awards every year for try…ing this lu..di…crous…

Obviously, I was taking the piss there and it’s equally obvious why xXx: Return of Xander Cage would merit a 43% tomato splat and The Space Between Us only a 13 green ketchup stain. Action movie fans better get out there before it leaves the 3D theatres!

And between that and the Super Bowl, there won’t be anyone in the seats behind me on the weekend of May 5th making fun of Baby Groot…

Chickah chickaaaah!