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Prospect (2018)

Directed by: Christopher Caldwell & Zeek Earl

Written by: Christopher Caldwell & Zeek Earl

Starring: Sophie Thatcher, Pedro Pascal, Jay Duplass

Hello! Welcome to what I’ve regretfully called Discount Robots and Time Machines. I’m Dave. Make yourself at home. There are biscuits on the table.

We’re here to talk about independent science-fiction and fantasy films. Don’t get me wrong; I love big, tent-pole blockbusters where everything on-screen is reduced to its component atoms. But I have a soft spot for films whose budgets wouldn’t cover hiring Chris Hemsworth’s personal trainer. That’s where I think you’ll find the interesting stories filled with new ideas.

Normally I stumble across them mentioned in articles, or if I’ve disappeared down a lunchtime Wikipedia rabbit hole where I’ve been trying to find that actor who was in that thing, y’know? Yeah, I lead a pretty exciting life. And now’s never been a better time to watch them. As with indies of other genres, they’re much more accessible now they’re distributed on streaming services and the DVDs are available to buy online.

So, let’s get cracking, shall we? Our first film is Prospect, the 2018 debut feature from Christopher Caldwell & Zeek Earl starring Pedro Pascal, Sophie Thatcher and Jay Duplass. Here’s the blurb on the back of the DVD case:

A teenage girl and her father travel to a remote alien moon, aiming to strike it rich. They’ve secured a contract to harvest a large deposit of the elusive gems hidden in the depths of the moon’s toxic forest. But there are others roving the wilderness and the job quickly devolves into a fight to survive. Forced to contend not only with the forest’s other ruthless inhabitants but with her own father’s greed-addled judgment, the girl finds she must carve her own path to escape.

The future will not be silver jumpsuits, protein pills and sleek starships. It’ll be dirty and dangerous, with spacecraft cobbled together by welding two crashed ones together.

There are no Skywalkers or Kirks in Prospect. These are characters who are struggling to just get by. Nomad prospector Damon (Jay Duplass) can’t even afford a spaceship. He and his daughter, Cee (Sophie Thatcher), hitch a ride on the interstellar equivalent of a Megabus.

As they descend to the moon’s surface in a lander, operational instructions read from dog-eared manuals, we feel the grime tarring the switches and the grease smeared over helmet visors. The attention to detail, along with snippets of dialogue, hints at a wider universe these people exist on the fringes of.

Once on the surface, Ezra (Pedro Pascal) turns up and things go south pretty quickly. Pascal is a great actor – let’s face it – he’s a man who can give a nuanced dramatic performance while wearing a metal bucket on his head in The Mandalorian. But Thatcher does a lot of the emotional heavy lifting, starting a wide-eyed, terrified child and gradually showing the steely resolve that lies beneath the surface.

As with The Mandalorian, Prospect gives off a space-western vibe. The rich, lyrical dialogue Pascal is given makes him sound like a Forty-Niner during the California Gold Rush. Rather than any science-fiction films, I was reminded of the Coen Brother’s version of True Grit.

And all this was done on a budget of less than $4 million. Before production began Caldwell and Earl set up a workshop of designers, carpenters, mechanics and cosplayers to build the props and costumes needed to create a slice of this future-world that feels lived in.

Since the film’s release, the two director/writers have struck a deal with Amazon Studios to create a sci-fi series. It’ll be interesting to see whether they expand the Prospect universe or go with something new.

Anyway, was it worth watching? Yes, indeed. It’s not an action-packed laser-fest, but it draws you into a new universe for 90 minutes. And isn’t that what you’d want from sci-fi?

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