Science Fiction goes to the frontier with Prospect; a new take on a story about people struggling to make their way (and money) in untamed lands. The story may not be entirely fresh, but the setting and world-building makes this a Sci-Fi film to keep on your radar. Come inside to check out my full review!
I’m always on the lookout for good Sci-Fi movies on the horizon, so when I had the chance to check out Prospect (which debuted at this year’s SXSW), I was curious to see how it would go. Based on a short film (which also debuted at SXSW a few years ago) of the same name, Prospect is the first feature-length film distributed by Gunpowder & Sky's new sci-fi label, DUST. The premise is fairly simple, and takes the idea of expanding to new planets back to the days of the “Wild West” so to speak.
The movie starts off with Cee (Sophie Thatcher) and her dad Damon (Jay Duplass) as they travel to an alien moon on the outer reaches of known space. Down on their luck and seeking to turn their fortunes around, Damon is hoping to score big by harvesting gems (which come from alien eggs). They have to mine enough gems in a short period of time before the space station they arrived on loops around and departs and leaves them stranded on the poisonous planet.
Racing the clock and dealing with the inhospitable terrain isn't their only worry, however. Out there on the fringe, there's no governing body or civilization to be seen and everyone is out to take care of themselves. It's a lawless place where only mercenaries and other prospectors can be far more hostile/deadly than the planet.
This is the problem Damon and Cee run into when they encounter Ezra (Pedro Pascal) who's after the same gems and looking to score big. I'm going to drop a minor spoiler here, which I don't normally do. However, it comes pretty early on in the film and pretty much shapes the story going forward...so there's not much way to talk about the movie without mentioning it. It's not going to ruin your experience, but if you want to watch it 100% fresh, you may want to bookmark this and come back later.
Still here? Okay. Ezra is another desperate prospector, leading him to capture Damon and forcing him to give up his gems and upcoming work. As Cee tries to rescue her Father, a fight breaks out and Damon ends up dead. On her own, Cee must find a way back off the planet. With her ship out of commission, however, she's forced to work with Ezra to find a way off planet in time.
Their dynamic forms the crux of the film's tension and overall plot; for even as Ezra tries to warn Cee about the harsh life on the fringe and the perils of trusting anyone, they HAVE to trust one another to make it out alive. Along the way, they'll face down cultists, mercenaries, and their own shortcomings.
Despite the science fiction setting, it very much has a Western feel to it. The premise/setting is meant to be evocative of the gold rush back in the day where those seeking fortune push to the limits for the ultimate score. The story itself isn't all that unique and it's something we've seen in Westerns before: young 'kid' must find a way to trust shifty dude and along the way they both learn something along the way.
While the premise, and character arcs, aren't necessarily anything new, what makes Prospect standout is the setting and stellar world building the filmmakers have done. Prospect fully embraces the idea of the "used future" Sci-Fi setting, in that nothing is presented as brand new. Instead of highlighting the tech, the characters and film treats everything as if it's nothing special, even though it's definitely unique. Moreso, elements of the history and background are casually mentioned in dialog, making it feel as though this has been the status quo for quite some time.
There are hints of prior battles/wars, and the current state of galactic politics but nothing is specifically spelled out for audiences. While this could easily be frustrating in some circumstances, Prospect handles it deftly. By trimming unnecessary exposition and keeping the focus of the story centered on the character's experiences, the world building feels natural and almost immediately invests you in it.
Between this element and the solid performances from Thatcher and Pascal, Prospect serves as an excellent example of how to take a simple story idea (one that's been done) and elevate it into something that feels unique/fresh. It makes for an engaging watch and one that’s difficult to pull away from. For me, it felt like visiting one of those old-school science fiction novels from the 60s/70s. It’s pulpy fun with interesting characters and moves things along quickly.
The only issue I really had with the film came from Cee’s reaction to her father’s death. She just kind of gets over it. Hell, immediately after his death when she runs back to the ship, the next sequence is of her laughing and ‘playing’ around inside the ship. Even when confronted with her father’s killer, she gets over it rather quickly and her trepidation in trusting him has more to do with her own safety than any lingering resentment. It’s clear from the start that Cee and her Dad don’t exactly get along, but with her mother gone, it’s obvious Damon’s about all she has left in the galaxy. So it’s strange that ultimately she shows more empathy and devotion to Ezra than Damon.
It’s not necessarily a huge thing, but it seems like such an odd oversight in a film that relies on you believing in the relationship between these two characters. It was a little off putting at first and took me out of the film. I don’t think it detracts from the overall experience (and enjoyment) of the film, but it’s something that threw me for a loop early on.