On the surface, Prospect is about Cee, a young girl (played by Sophie Thatcher) and her father Damon (Jay Duplass) trying to harvest precious gems on an inhospitable alien planet. They’re foiled by a band of fellow prospectors (led by Ezra, played by Pedro Pascal). In essence, it’s Wild West frontier prospecting, but in space.
I wanted so much to liken this premise to the film itself, to suggest that beneath the surface lies a hidden treasure of a film. I just can’t – at least not fully. Don’t get me wrong, there is much to enjoy. The film hearkens back to Wolfgang Petersen’s Enemy Mine, although here the relationship between Cee and Ezra is never as interesting as that of Jeriba and Davidge. Distrust turns just a little too quickly into co-dependence. For an indie film which relies on character more than CGI, it would just have been nice to have more of it. The run-time could easily have been extended to allow for a more gradual development of the obdurate alliance of its protagonists and this would have made the film feel more complete. Given that world-building is its greatest strength, both in the visuals and throwaway references to the mundanities of the unspecified future in which events take place, I could easily have spent 15 more minutes with Cee and Ezra.
I mention world-building because the sci-fi glitz in Prospect is quite different from what we’re used to: the USCSS Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s Alien was peculiarly clean for what was essentially a tractor in space; conversely, the spaceship in Prospect looks like it was salvaged from a scrapyard. and this isn’t a slur at their comparatively modest budget. The dirty instrument panels and frayed upholstery only add to the atmosphere, you could quite believe the Nostromo would have had Elysium-esque Healing Machines in every corridor; that anyone died at all was honestly a bit of a stretch of the imagination. When the ship in Prospect rattles and beeps furiously on re-entry, the idea of it simply exploding is entirely plausible. Everything looks used and worn.
The stage is set seamlessly, and the characters are cast perfectly, for a gritty story about the human condition. We just never quite get that story. Cee is an unshakably pragmatic teenage girl who becomes a young woman right before our eyes. She’s had to exist in the shadow of her father’s plight to free them from the burden of their financial mire and she’s hardened as a result. Ezra is disaffected and underhanded, but in Cee’s company he softens. Their relationship is fraught with tension. The film suffers because it tries to integrate some of the action that typifies the bloated genre in which it exists. Prospect doesn’t need futuristic rail-gun shootouts. It just needs these two characters to be alone, accompanied only by Daniel L.K. Caldwell’s haunting score.
Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl have created something truly unique though: a low-tech sci-fi drama that isn’t reliant on billions of dollars of CGI and set piece after set piece. Rather, it is a portrait of grief, distrust and contrition. It is wonderfully performed, even if Ezra’s embroidered eloquence is a little bit much on occasion. Besides which, Cee’s brooding introversion is a lovely counterpoint. The choice of music – which includes recordings by Ilona Balina and the late Rita Chao – is obscure and emotionally jarring. We’re set on the fringe of the universe, and which exists on the periphery of mainstream sci-fi, and it’s one I heartily recommend watching. This is a grounded antidote to the endless bombardment of effects-heavy shlock fans of sci-fi have to endure almost constantly and with Prospect, just for a little while, we get to sit back and enjoy a film about people rather than spectacle.
The soundtrack is available from your usual music suppliers, and the composer’s earlier score to the original short film is available for free from his Bandcamp site. It too is worth grabbing. Note, however, that the album doesn’t contain any of the songs you hear over Cee’s headphones or elsewhere. Good luck tracking them down!
There will be a special public screening of Prospect at the Prince Charles Cinema on 11th April, serving as a launch for the Sci-Fi London Film Festival, and it’s released on 22 April on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital: https://amzn.to/2WbDeXl