The trailer introduces us to the concept: the first human is born on Mars but he ends up wanting to go to Earth, ostensibly to visit a girl. That was my impression from my initial viewing. But I like science fiction and I like romance so I was curious if the writers could manage to blend the two together into a coherent film. They come very close to succeeding and despite some flaws, I did enjoy this film.
In 2018, the Genesis mission is being sent to Mars to explore the potential for humans to be able to live on the planet. The team of astronauts is sent with Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) as the leader of the mission. While in route to the planet, they discover that Sarah is pregnant. She gives birth to her son and dies of complications. The men who sent her up, Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) who was instrumental in putting the program together and Tom Chen (B.D. Wong) Genesis director, choose to keep the birth a secret for fear of losing funding for the program.
Sixteen years later, her son Gardner (Asa Butterfield) spends his time on Mars learning from the scientists sent to the planet, talking to a girl from Earth over his computer, and trying to learn more about his mother. He is restless and has few connections, other than Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino), an astronaut that serves as a mother substitute for him and his robot Centaur who has limited artificial intelligence. While he’s struggling to connect, his friend on Earth, Tulsa (Brit Robertson), is struggling with making friends, having grown up in foster homes and is waiting until she is eighteen to strike out on her own.
Gardner discovers a photo of his mother with a man and wants to find out who his father is. The only problem is that as he’s grown up on Mars, his bones are frailer than most humans due to the diminished gravity and he could die if he leaves. Kendra takes action as she realizes he needs more connections than those on Mars and the scientists perform surgery on Gardner to allow him to survive the trip, metal plates to keep his bones from breaking and physical therapy to build up his muscles for the increased gravity on Earth. He makes the trip but soon runs away, meeting with Tulsa. The two form a romantic bond as they search for Gardner’s father and explore Earth’s wonders before Gardner’s body fails due to the pressures of Earth’s gravity.
This movie does have some really incredible elements that are successful. To begin with, I appreciated the cinematography for this film. Most of the locations that Gardner and Tulsa visit are filmed at the actual locations. I know because I recognized at least three of those places from personal experience. I also loved the scenes set on Mars. Both the scenery and the overall technology was realistic and the equipment was believable for the progress of time and changes in technology over the course of sixteen years.
As a romantic science fiction film, the acting between Asa Butterfield and Brit Robertson is crucial to the movie’s success. This is where this film soars. There is a deep intimacy and intense chemistry between the two actors, especially compelling because of their ages. Asa manages to blend weird with sweet and Brit, to borrow from another reviewer, plays rebel with a cause very well. The romance is believable because the writers don’t have the two leads jump into the romance but have led us to the moment by introducing the friendship early on in the film. The blend between the romance and science fiction is done well, giving us a reason for both the romance while the science fiction is more than just backdrop for the story.
Not only do the two romantic leads portray their parts well, but so indeed does Gary Oldman who plays a man conflicted by the choices he’s made and Carla Gugino is believable as a mother figure for Gardner, cool and calm at her job but passionate over her charge, warm and loving. Pretty much all of the acting in this film is well done and I appreciated the care taken with the characters. I also enjoyed the subtle humor throughout the film with lines like Gardner telling Kendra that she was the best mother he never had. The movie explores the ideas of connections between humans, what it means to be human and these aspects are beautifully done.
The blend of technology and science elements are also richly detailed. There is a significant amount of research put into the explanation of Gardner’s condition, brittle bones, which is not only realistic but truly a condition that astronauts can suffer when living under lower gravity for too long a period. This is one reason for the rotation of scientists on the space station. Not only was this well researched but the blend of technology on earth felt real, not even but consistent with changes that would have happened over the next twenty years.
The story was connected and everything in the movie had a reason for being in the story. There was even a twist that caught me by surprise, but there were also some inconsistencies that pull the viewer away from the story. For example, a plane blows up crashing into a wooden barn. The barn should have been completely destroyed but we see the barn mostly intact a short time later.
There were also scenes that are contrived, used only to advance the plot and are far too convenient, pulling me out of the natural flow of the film. His mother is the only female astronaut sent up. The fact that she died giving birth is not inconceivable but why is she the only woman? Even given that she is the lead astronaut, it seems strange. In addition, Gardner finds a USB drive of his mother’s and miraculously it works on his computer despite the changes in technology we’ve already been shown. His mother is able to find a pressure suit that fits a woman nine months pregnant. These tiny issues pull you out of the story.
Despite these elements, I did enjoy the movie. The romance was well crafted and the acting of the two main characters was engaging and completely believable. I especially was pleased with the scientific research done of Gardner’s brittle bones. Most people who like science fiction will overlook some of the hand waving that is done in order to build the story. The message of connection and the emotional richness between Gardner and Tulsa is a thing of beauty. If you like romance and science fiction, you will enjoy this and you will find the intimacy compelling.
Rating: 4 stars
In this interplanetary adventure, a space shuttle embarks on the first mission to colonize Mars, only to discover after takeoff that one of the astronauts is pregnant. Shortly after landing, she dies from complications while giving birth to the first human born on the red planet – never revealing who the father is. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Gardner Elliot – an inquisitive, highly intelligent boy who reaches the age of 16 having only met 14 people in his very unconventional upbringing.
While searching for clues about his father, and the home planet he’s never known, Gardner begins an online friendship with a street smart girl in Colorado named Tulsa. When he finally gets a chance to go to Earth, he’s eager to experience all of the wonders he could only read about on Mars – from the most simple to the extraordinary. But once his explorations begin, scientists discover that Gardner’s organs can’t withstand Earth’s atmosphere.
Eager to find his father, Gardner escapes the team of scientists and joins with Tulsa on a race against time to unravel the mysteries of how he came to be, and where he belongs in the universe.
Cast: Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield, Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson, BD Wong, Janet Montgomery.
Screenplay: Allan Loeb
Story by: Allan Loeb, Stewart Schill, Richard Barton Lewis
Directed by: Peter Chelsom