Prospect is a Grounded Science Fiction Film That Will Leave You Wanting More

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Science fiction has a special way of laying bare the human experience. We have always struggled with certain base impulses that prevent us from working together for a common good. Successful science fiction understands that the space ships and laser guns are second to the human experiences that ground the story, and create a link to the problems that we have always faced in the past, and will face in the future. Prospect, new on Netflix as of this week, is one of those science fiction stories that takes the human element seriously, and creates a really fascinating and grounded science fiction world.

Written and directed by Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl, this film was released in 2018, and is based on a 2014 short film of the same name and directors. The story features Damon (Jay Duplass) and his daughter Cee (Sophie Thatcher), as they travel to a remote alien moon with the coordinates for a large cache of gems ripe for the picking in the middle of a dense jungle. Cee and Damon quickly discover that they are not the only ones on this moon trying to strike it rich. Ezra (Pedro Pascal) and Number 2 (Luke Pitzrick) are also searching for the treasure. They strike a deal in which they will share the treasure, on the condition that Ezra and Number 2 will give them a ride off world. The tentative alliance leads to adventures across this moon as they seek out the hidden gems.

One of the first aspects that struck me about this movie was how gorgeous it was. Damon and Cee land in a jungle full of towering trees above, and strange foliage under foot. The planet they are orbiting is often visible in the sky, setting up some gorgeous shots of a massive world just above them. Space in science fiction will always be fertile ground for visually striking imagery, and this movie understands that very well.

This film is in large part a coming of age story for Cee. She is forced to recon with her father’s shortcomings while working towards a common goal. His greed and fixation on the gems put her in direct danger. She is trapped in a drop pod with him for months at a time while travelling and witnesses him using numerous substances to deal with the stress associated with their line of work. They have gone on hundreds of adventures together through the known universe, harvesting a variety of resources. Damon only supports Cee’s interests as far as they concern the mission at hand and tries to push her to learn skills more central to their job. The father-daughter aspects are well developed, and give the feeling of a complex, long standing relationship, of which we are privileged only a glimpse.

The moon they are on contributes both to the broader world building, and to the threat that surrounds them. The air is unbreathable, filled with some toxin that will kill you if you are exposed to it in any way. The characters do not always have the tools or preparation to deal with everything the planet throws at them, creating a sense of danger from the environment as well as the other sentient life on the planet.

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The movie uses dialogue between the characters to flesh out the world around the movie and give and interesting slice-of-life feeling to the movie. Damon and Ezra discuss politics from other worlds, as well as other jobs they had done. At times Cee reveals some hidden knowledge she picked up from harvesting different resources. There are other larger things going on around them that our characters are a small part of. This is the work of successful science fiction. To bring us into a world on the human level and show how actual people are going about their lives with science fiction woven throughout.

The dialogue is also written in such a way to emphasize the many moments of negotiation throughout the film. It is clear from the beginning that it is extremely difficult to survive and prosper on this planet with a group, and nearly impossible to do it alone. The main need to negotiate with the natives of the planet, as well as their team members, to have a successful expedition.  This plays into one of the films main themes: that humans are cooperative creatures who survive best when we work together. In the absence of trust between the characters, they are always working with or against each other for their own goals. The film makes it clear that the ones that find it easiest to trust others thrive, and the characters who operate on secret motives are the ones who find it hard to survive.

This movie is also about greed. All the characters are traveling through space trying to get rich, which generates much of the mistrust and ulterior motives. Damon is driven by greed to keep going on the mission, even when he has enough gems to pay his debts, because his greed won’t allow him to stop. This movie understands that there are desires central to the human experience, and that greed is one of them. Although I am very glad that it is set in space, this is a story told time and time again throughout our history. This connection to a base human desire makes the movie feel rooted in experience rather than a speculative future, which again is the work of successful sci-fi.

-Patrick Bernas