TLDR: it’s a space western, so it’s ok.
So, science fiction movies tend not to be very good. This is because: a) most script-writers are morons, b) most script-writers don’t actually understand the genre. Sci-fi can be very cerebral and highbrow, sure, but the dense and thoughtful prose needed to make it so tends to be confined to dense and thoughtful novels written by intelligent people with day jobs other than churning out pages of garbage aimed at the lowest common demoninator. As much as we love the Federation cycle (I’m sure there’s someone who does, anyway), it doesn’t have the mass appeal of Superman. There has never been a Demon Princes movie, only Flash Gordon. (FLASH! AH-AH!) And there never, ever, on the face of the Earth, ever will be a Dune movie that doesn’t star Sting, shut up SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP.
My point is: if you’re looking at mass entertainment, your model has to be pulp scifi–something written quickly, to be read quickly, with enough technique to make it hang together and enough thought to make it appealing–and no more than just enough, because the object of pulp fiction is to dash off something that meets the word limit, that audiences like, and that you get paid for. More than that though: Pulp scifi is the direct descendent of penny dreadful westerns, and I submit that the purest form of scifi is that which has copy-and-replaced “Injun” with “alien,” “horse” with “speeder” and “wagon” with, “spaceship.”) Or “detective” with “space detective,” or “axe” with “space axe” or “captain” with “space captain.” One of the clearest and earliest examples of this in A Princess of Mars, where the action literally does flow from the hero fighting Red Savages in a barren landscape to fighting Green Savages in a barren landscape.
My ULTIMATE point is, however, that scifi movies tend to be really terrible if they don’t do something of this sort. Alien: horror movie in space. Aliens? War movie in space. Star Wars–fantasy epic in space. Even sf movies that aren’t necessarily set in deep space must appeal to some other genre. Terminator: slasher movie with time travel. Equillibrium: kung fu movie with dystopian trappings.
But the best of the best is always when scifi returns to its roots and does: westerns….in space.
Hence, Prospect. It’s about a man and his daughter who are prospecting. Get it? They’ve been hired to dig for orlac on a far-out planet, but things go sideways when daughter (Cee) and dad are accosted by two other drifters who have lost their ship but are amenable to the thought of a motherlode of orlac before making their way back to the orbiting mothership. Dad and the one who isn’t Pedro Pascal end up dead and Cee makes a run for it, only to find that her ship is nonfunctional (somehow). Pedro Pascal (Ezra) turns up at her ship and proposes a deal: they get the orlac for the original buyers (“the mercs”) together. He’ll protect her and she’ll lead him there, and they’ll both refrain from killing each other if they get the chance. The alliance is distinctly uneasy, but they soon find enough outside enemies to make it much easier to trust each other and work together to get off-planet.
And that’s about it, barring a few twists of happenstance that are mostly spoiled in the trailer, anyway; at 99 minutes including credits, it’s not a long movie. But it is well-done. Sophie Thatcher performs her part very well, and her character was well-written. There’s a scene which shades into brilliance, when she’s describing her favorite novel to Ezra in a manner that any reader can recognize. (“I shouldn’t tell you…in case you read it.” “Seems I must.” ) More, I enjoyed the dynamic between her and Ezra, that they were able to form a partnership wherein neither really holds the upper hand–Ezra’s physical advantages are negated by his injuries, but his intelligence and knowledge give him an edge; and while Cee is vulnerable due to her youth and inexperience, she has a demonstrably cool head under pressure and knows her way around scapels and rocket engines.–and that they do end up saving each other in the end.
Pedro Pascal (AKA, The Mando) walks away with the movie, however. He plays the part with a Southern accent, a moustache, and the proper space-roguish nonchalance that might be more from weary fatalism than confidence…or maybe not. He is slightly hampered by a script that insists upon giving him rather stilted polysyllabic declaimations, but for the most part he handles it pretty well. A lot of his best scenes are mostly wordless, though: when a Mexican Standoff goes south and he’s left staring down the one gun remaining, or when (SPOILER) his arm is amputated. He’s excellent in the one and mesmerising in the other.
On a whole, the design and worldbuilding is pretty solid, too. There’s no running around on alien planets without space suits–everyone is suited up and helmeted, and communications are done over radios. On entering a structure without an airlock, the entrance has to be sealed and the structure purged before helmets can be taken off. There’s even some talk of takeoff weights and trajectories, not to mention thumbing through checklists and manuals.
The movie isn’t ugly, although there also isn’t anything spectacular about it, either. The foresty biome setting didn’t look particularly alien–except for the actors being in space suits–But! That’s OK and even a plus, because at least it wasn’t totally CGI. Being actually outside or on a spacious-enough stage gave an additional layer of realism and grittiness that was very appealing. I didn’t notice the music except for a couple of diegetic tracks playing on Cee’s headphones; I also didn’t regret the lack — there was enough going on to keep my attention absorbed without music blaring at me all the way.
IMDB indicates that this movie was filmed for 4 million dollars, which is impressive however you look at it. On the other hand, Box Office Mojo indicates it made 22,000$. I don’t really see how this movie could have been a hit without a huge and dedicated marketing campaign, but….that’s really a genuine shame.
Admittedly, this movie is not without cons. Taking the tropes of one genre wholesale and not adapting them intelligently leaves you with, well, stupid results. Such as far-future medicine that has no options between “just a flesh wound,” and “it’s going black, cut my arm off.” Or mining alien egg-sacs by hand (and only by hand) with a highschool chemistry lab and vibroscapels. Or execution-by-box-on-an-alien-planet (which even the script acknowledges is weird and convoluted, but lampshading stupidity doesn’t make it not stupid; only justifying an apparent stupidity does. That was stupid.) But the good in this movie far outweighs the bad, to the point where I’ll gladly and highly recommend it to anyone who likes good, minimalistic, quiet but well-paced, nicely-shot movies which don’t sustain brilliance but do manage to achieve it in flashes.
Rated: five bold offers out of five.