Del and Mladen review ‘Prospect’

Image courtesy of Dust.

“Prospect” Starring Sophie Thatcher, Jay Duplass, Pedro Pascal and others. Directed by Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl. 100 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Del’s take

I’m always a little nervous when Mladen chooses the movie to be reviewed. There’s no telling what he’ll come up with – some giant thing crawling out of the muck to wreak havoc on mankind, most likely. But this time Mladen resisted his misanthropic tendencies to recommend a fine little science fiction movie called “Prospect,” and it’s one I think some of you will enjoy.

The plot is simple: A down on his luck prospector and his teenage daughter travel to an alien moon where a cache of valuable gemstone-like objects awaits. Recover those objects and they’ll be able to pay off their debts and lift themselves from the wretchedness of their current existence. But along the way they encounter a couple of rogues who want to jump their claim. And there’s a ticking clock – the freighter they arrived on will depart in a few days and this will be its final trip to the alien moon with its poisonous forests.

The viewpoint character is Cee (Sophie Thatcher), who loves her father but has grown weary of his ne’er-do-well ways and yearns for the life of a normal teenager. Her father Damon (Jay Duplass) is one quick get-rich scheme away from having to chase every other quick get-rich scheme that comes along. On the moon’s surface they encounter Ezra (Pedro Pascal), who in my opinion steals the show as the murderous but ultimately human claim-jumper, he of a dubious but malleable moral code.

What fascinates me about “Prospect” is the world Caldwell and Earl created to frame their story. Gone is the usual sleek, antiseptic science fictiony setting with its focus on technology, gleaming metal and blinking telltales. The world of “Prospect” is littered with garbage, tchotchkes, an alien alphabet and people who are as trashy and disposable as everything around them – in other words, a world very much like the one we live in.

The plot itself is thin, but it works. More money and bigger talent might have cluttered the story with unnecessary and distracting plot subordinates and crappy special effects, but “Prospect” plods along with relative efficiency, focusing on a single imperative: getting off this infernal moon. I say “plod” because at times the action does seem to wallow in needless internal conflict and naval-gazing. It isn’t a plot suitable for an action movie anyway, but the directors could have slain at least a few of their little darlings and moved things along more briskly, with no harm to the pacing and tone.

Another anachronistic artifact – Ezra’s peculiar diction, a strangely stilted form of speech, almost as if he were quoting from 19th century literature – struck me as distracting and superfluous. It reminded me of the dialogue in “Bone Tomahawk” and I still can’t figure out what purpose it served in supporting the character or story. In “Bone Tomahawk” it lent a weird, offbeat humor to the proceedings, but I doubt that was the intent here. Perhaps it was intended to boost the gain of the vaguely western theme? I dunno.

I loved the look and feel of “Prospect.” It was unique and different, and I have not encountered unique and different in a long, long time. The directors eschewed many of the special effects you might expect of a sci-fi flick and that works to the movie’s advantage, enhancing its grungy look and amplifying the dirt-track poverty of its three primary characters.

I think sci-fi fans will appreciate “Prospect’s” virtues but I’m not sure a general audience will feel the same. It enjoyed a brief theatrical release but from there went to video-on-demand.

I’m giving it a B+. Caldwell and Earl did a lot of things right in making this movie and I look forward to their future efforts.

But Mladen gets only a C+ for choosing it. He should have been choosing movies like this all along and not clinkers like “Ice Spiders.”

Mladen’s take

Del, though praising “Prospect,” has failed to adore this terrific piece of sci-fi sufficiently. B+ my ass. The sleeper film is an A top to bottom, left to right, and diagonally. “Prospect” is intimate sci-fi such as “Sputnik,” “Arrival,” or “Children of Men,” albeit less provocative intellectually.

There are nothing but exemplary performances in “Prospect.” Where Del chooses Pascal portraying Ezra as the show stealer, I give Thatcher’s Cee equal billing and praise.

Ezra is cunning, but abides the thief’s code of right and wrong as a “fringeling” prospecting and “digging” for gems created by living organisms. I wonder if the beasties, which eat limbs if improperly neutralized because accessing their “aurelac” requires sticking arms into their mouths, were modeled on oysters. Like oysters produce pearls from grains of ingested sand that irritate them, the whatevers on Green seem to create fist-sized aurelac the same way. Neat idea.

Ezra is a well-spoken rogue with boundaries. He has a chance to shoot Cee during a tumultuous encounter, but doesn’t. The way he demonstrates aversion to killing a child is wonderful. Nor did he sell her to god-fearing, convoluted-thinking, brazenly hypocritical religionists for a case full of neatly packed aurelac.

Cee’s reaction, measured in facial expression, when the religionists offer Ezra gems for the “girl” is compelling and authentic. It’s as though the youngster was able to imagine herself actually getting sold like property. Thatcher as Cee demonstrates uncanny acting again and again. From getting high chewing laced gum to a subtle hint of calculation and greed when Ezra offers her the prospect of collecting a fortune in aurelac to the way she urges him to keep moving with the wave of the rail gun in her hand, Thatcher is perfectly comfortable with her role as a resourceful teenager with still girlish interests. Why hasn’t she appeared in more movies? Give me more Pascal, while we’re at it. Caldwell and Earl get your asses in gear and make another movie as excellent as “Prospect.” Feel free to use Thatcher and Pascal again. They were a charismatic de facto father and daughter in “Prospect.” I imagine they could be, say, an effective mercenary duo on Earth or beyond fighting for Mankind’s survival. Maybe giving Thatcher the role of a queen reclaiming her kingdom from an alien race known as the Grist. Pascal could be a cyborg playing both sides until he witnesses the horror of Grist assimilating people.

Directors Caldwell and Earl understand that the guts of a movie is the story as captured by a good script. Visual effects can augment, never replace, solid writing and acting. In “Prospect,” the VFX are spot-on. A worn-down hi-tech world is assumed. The sound effects – the thunk of lander latches releasing, the rumble of thrusters, materials vibrating during re-entry, the clanking of “thrower” projectiles sent into hypervelocity motion – are very good, too. A soon-to-be-discontinued commuter line runs to the aurelac moon. Why discontinued? Probably because it’s no longer profitable now that the gem rush has come and gone. Who gives a shit about flora and fauna on Green, or studying it, when there ain’t no more money to be made? As the major points out in the less good, though still worth watching “Ad Astra,” humans are world eaters. Always will be.

“Prospect” is the whole works wrapped into a precise and efficient plot. The whole works includes the score. I paid attention to the soundtrack watching the movie and I listened to the soundtrack as its own medium. It’s very, very good. Have to hand it to composer Daniel L.K. Caldwell. He chose the correct orchestra and boys choir to immerse me in the moodiness of the story.

Yup, this film will be added to my Blu-ray collection. It’s that good.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.