The press release that accompanied this indie sci-fi film heralds it as the best since Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009). That film, a decade ago, reminded us exactly what sci-fi is all about. Taking a human circumstance, and imagining what toll the future takes upon it. Prospect (directed by Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl) comes close, but lacks a certain something that would elevate it from Sci-Fi indie curio, to indie classic.
Initially, the film tells the story of Cee (Sophie Thatcher – Chicago Med) and her father, Damon (Jay Duplass – Transparent) on a mission to complete one last contract harvesting gems. These gems are valuable, and are harvested from an unspecified lifeform. The ultimate prize, of course, is the payload from a Queen of said lifeform, which can set a prospector up for life. Cee and Damon, after a troubled landing, realise that time is against them if they don’t return to the mothership promptly, but the damage to the ship is too great. Despite the obvious closeness of Damon and Cee, there is certainly a hint that there are unresolved tensions that need to be addressed. Unfortunately, soon after landing, the pair realise that others are on the planet, and inevitably, they fall foul of Ezra (Pedro Pascal – Game of Thrones). Its at this point the film becomes interesting. Cee witnesses an argument between her father and Ezra, with the former meeting his end at Ezra’s hand. We then witness a combination of road movie, coming of age movie, and step-parent movie, all in one narrative.
Prospect’s strength is in the performances from Duplass, Pascal, and Thatcher. All of them play the intensity of the characters at just the right pitch to keep it believable. Apart from a little jargon, its easy to forget that this is a sci-fi film at all. It is very successful at telling a small, interpersonal story in a SF setting – akin to Silent Running (Trumbull, 1972) – without the need to resort to blockbuster CGI set pieces. That said, the mothership that Cee and Damon initially launch from is an object lesson in effective CG. Whilst impressively detailed, the space station never steals the show, but makes its scale and presence felt with necessary gravitas.
So, the story of Prospect is solid, and the performances are superb. Where it falls down is in the creation of the world. Cee and Damon have a series of conversations about their lives, but these do not necessarily inform the viewer about the universe they inhabit. Instead, they serve as teasers, making you want to understand more of this world. It is this lack of world building that stops Prospect from being a true indie classic. It’s a shame, since much of its genre stablemates will do that worldbuilding much more effectively, but with less convincing performances, or more brutal CG.
The direction is solid, and there is a faultless execution of the piece. The 100 minute runtime means that unlike certain films, you actually feel that more time should have been spent explaining a little more about how this world works. Pedro Pascal is currently working on playing the lead role in the new Star Wars vehicle, The Mandalorian, so it is likely that Prospect will remain the most sci-fi piece he will have worked on in his career. If Disney want to do Sci-Fi properly, then may be they should be looking here. In terms of similar films, this is very much a personal SF piece – in addition to Silent Running, I would also liken it to Enemy Mine (Petersen, 1985).