Starring Asa Butterfield, Gary Oldman, Britt Robertson, Carla Gugino
Directed by Peter Chelsom
Written by Allan Loeb
Story by Stewart Schill, Richard Barton Lewis, Allan Loeb
Produced by Richard Barton Lewis
Cinematography by Barry Peterson
Edited by David Moritz
Music by Andrew Lockington

“The Space Between Us” is a positive, upbeat, sweet-natured science-fiction romance, and thus the film is highly-recommended, and this movie is a great way to start 2017 in film.  “Space” marks the first truly above-average, quality new film to be released in 2017.

Director Peter Chelsom’s happily sentimental, unapologetically romantic and intentionally optimistic and good-hearted “The Space Between Us” tells the story of a somewhat sheltered and shy teen, wonderfully portrayed by the talented young actor Asa Butterfield, who is raised on Mars his entire life, travels to Earth to

“The Space Between Us” is a beautiful film–smartly directed, written and acted. It’s an interesting, entertaining mix of science fiction, romance, road trip, coming of age and family film genres. The writers reference Wim Wender’s “Wings of Desire” during the movie—Asa Butterfield’s character sees metaphors between that movie’s characters and his own life–but sci-fi fans will see parallels with John Carpenter’s excellent “Starman.”

Butterfield, Robertson, Gary Oldman and Carla Gugino all shine in excellent performances in “The Space Between Us.”  These four actors’ central characters anchor the movie, as the film revolves around them and basically only them, and the characters form a special bond in the story that is touching and moving.  The film’s, and the characters’, basic good heart and positivity helps lift “Space” into an upper atmosphere of optimistic filmmaking, where darker cynicism, scarcasm and negativity are fortunately cast aside for a better, most uplifting overall atmosphere and attitude.  Some might claim an abundance of sentimental romance, but, again, that’s just being cynical—what’s wrong with an abundance of sentimental romance and accompanying positivity?  Far too many modern-day films—and television shows—are unnecessarily dark, violent, depressing, cynical, negative and just downright dour.  There’s too much darkness and depression in the world as it is—especially now, at the start of 2017—so a movie that only strives to be positive and good is a welcome blast of freshness and good vibes.

Butterfield, one of the more grounded, unassuming and down-to-earth young actors working today, plays Gardner Elliot, a highly-intelligent, yet somewhat still-innocent 16-year-old whose mother gave birth to him on Mars in the near future, making Gardner the first human born on the planet.  Gardner’s mother, a trailblazing, intelligent, young and single astronaut, dies during childbirth, leaving Gardner to be raised by a collection of highly-intelligent, hard-working astronauts, scientists, researchers, engineers, physicists and others in a sprawling, enclosed settlement on Mars.  Gardner enjoys his life there, but as the troubling, conflicting teenage years start to settle in, he is overcome by a yearning to travel to Earth—and meet Robertson’s unpredictable, slightly-dangerous and attractive Tulsa, who has been communicating for an extended period with Gardner—and track down his still-unknown father, with whom Gardner has not been in contact with during all of his sixteen years on Mars.

It’s an understandable quest for a sixteen-year-old with a strong itch to explore the strange new world of Earth, meet his longtime crush and find his father.  Officials at NASA, which oversees the Mars settlement with a private contractor, and the contractor’s officials agree to send Gardner to Earth.  However, once on Earth, Gardner realizes he could be prone to yet another somewhat-quarantined life on Earth, as politicians, executives, contractors and others get mired in debates about just what to do with Gardner and how to handle him.

Thus, Gardner escapes his Earth confines and sets out to find Tulsa and his father.  And the NASA and Mars contractors set out to find Gardner—extremely worried about a huge public relations, political and cultural nightmare and meltdown, as they have conspired for years to keep the details about Gardner secret from the public.  Gardner just wants to find Tulsa and his father before the politicians and businessmen can find him, and the chase is afoot.  What follows on the road is exciting, suspenseful, fun, at times funny, at times romantic, at times sentimental, and, as noted, the film becomes a nice, fun, enjoyable mix of romance, science-fiction, comedy, coming-of-age and road trip genres.  The parallels and similarities to Carpenter’s “Starman” are obvious—however, it should be strongly noted that “Space” is in no way a rip-off or copy of “Starman,” and “Space” fully contains enough of its own originality, spirt, aura and atmosphere to maintain itself as an original, entertaining—and stand-alone—film.

Asa Butterfield carries the film, as he’s in just about every scene, and the film and story fully revolve around Gardner.  It’s easy to sympathize with Gardner’s emotions, feelings and quest—imagine living your first sixteen years in a huge enclosure on Mars without your biological mother or father and with increasing yearnings to explore your real home planet—and it’s even easily to sympathize with Butterfield’s easygoing, naturalistic portrayal and characterization of Gardner.  Butterfield is an interesting actor—he does not over-emote, he doesn’t give in to fancy flourishes or overly-dramatic reactions, and he maintains a steady, subtle, down-to-earth manner in his roles and characterizations.  He achieves this, too, in “Space.”  This is smart, because the smarter child actors (and the smarter adult actors, too), rely more on understatement and underplaying for many characters when there’s no obvious need to overplay the part.  Butterfield is also smart enough to not just coast on his movie star good looks, which he does indeed possess, and he actually does act and react in a strong enough manner when the story and scene call for it.  He’s one of those good actors who somewhat hides his acting in his characterizations to the point where audiences are totally fooled, and they don’t realize they’ve actually just watched a good acting performance.  So Butterfield comes through again as actor in this film, and throughout “Space,” he is always watchable, always sympathetic, and his Gardner is a young teen who people can like, support, relate to—and happily cheer on as he carries on his quest for connection and completion, which subsequently get more and more difficult as the story proceeds.

Gary Oldman, as always, shines strongly as one of the founders, leaders and organizers of the Mars mission.  His motivations, actions and emotions are conflicted and complex in the story, but the details of his character cannot be revealed here.  But Oldman’s more experienced, wiser and more mature presence, along with the similar adult and mature presence of Carla Gugino as a scientist who helped raise Gardner on Mars, provides a great contrast and counter-presence to the more impulsive, slightly reckless and somewhat wayward teen actions and emotions of Gardner and Tulsa.  The yin-and-yang between Gardner and Tulsa on one side and Oldman and Gugino’s characters on the other end provide a nice contrast through the story—even if, at the core, Oldman’s and Gugino’s characters are not the enemy, and they are indeed working to help, support and even rescue Gardner and Tulsa from other authority figures.  So it’s interesting that these four characters have a built-in age and experience contrast, but they’re all also on the same side in the story—thus, the story takes a chance of not having traditional evil villains, and instead focuses on four quality, smart and emotional people who you really like and care about.  How about that for a change!   But having these characters to like and support helps “Space” maintain its strong likeability factor.

Along their journey to connect and subsequently find Gardner’s father, Gardner and Tulsa fall in love, have their ups and downs, and learn much about life, love, relationships, and, well, the space that exists between all people—metaphorically, figuratively and literally.  Their arguments, fun times, escapes from authorities chasing them, and their devious, clever methods of continuing their adventure while closely evading police and NASA and contractor officials desperately trying to find them, to save them from themselves and the public, provide some entertaining scenes that are, again, suspenseful, exciting, funny—and sweet.  The growing romance between Gardner and Tulsa is not your average, everyday teen romance, and that, too helps propel the story in an original, enjoyable manner.

Eventually, serious complications occur that—and this is not a spoiler—affect Gardner’s health on Earth, and it is determined that, alas, he literally cannot survive Earth’s crushing gravity because of his years spent on Mars, and it’s determined that the only way to save Gardner is to send him back to Mars.  Thus, there’s that space between people occurring again, as Gardner must say goodbye to his first true love and travel back to Mars.  But Gardner and Tulsa are smart enough that they leave some room for a possible reunion in the future—so all is not lost, and all is not dire and sad. There is indeed some possible room for a future reconciliation, and that suggestion also adds to the film’s overall positivity and optimism.

In the end, “Space” delivers an optimistic message that true love—in all of its forms—can win in the end, and there can indeed be hope for the future.  And the film warns people that sometimes the major aspects of life that people are constantly searching for—family, love, relationships, answers to some of the major questions in life—are often closer to your heart than you may think.  Sometimes, the search for love and family doesn’t have to be complicated and difficult—and the answers may just be staring directly at your mind—and heart.

The only downside to “Space” is the cynical response that some people have to romances—especially romances set in other, fantastical genres such as science-fiction, fantasy, horror, the paranormal or the supernatural.  But perhaps those downer folks just need a little more positivity, optimism—and romance—in their lives.  Perhaps they need a better understanding of true love and all of the consequences that real love brings to a person’s life.  Perhaps they need an understanding of science-fiction and related genres, sometimes, and how the rules of romance can be complicated in sci-fi or other similar genre films and stories.  Perhaps they just need some good ol’, plain ol’ sentimentality in their lives!

If more positive-inclined filmgoers are indeed looking for some positivity, optimism, happiness, sentiment and romance mixed with science-fiction, then “The Space Between Us” is duly highly-recommended.  The film reminds filmgoers that in life, there’s always room for sentimentality, love, family, positive relationships, romance—and quality science-fiction.



John Hanshaw

John Hanshaw

founded WFI in the Fall of 2007. He has worked in film and television for over ten years at such institutions as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), PBS and most recently National Geographic. He has degrees from Amherst College, Cambridge University, and GW Law.