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Film / Prospect

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Prospect is a 2018 Space Western/sci-fi film directed by Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell, and starring Sophie Thatcher, Pedro Pascal and Jay Duplass.

The story follows a teen girl, Cee (Thatcher), living on a space ship who joins her father, Damon (Duplass), on a prospecting venture to a verdant but inhospitable moon in search of precious gemstones. Cee and her father are on a tight clock to find the rumored Queen's Lair mother lode and return to their ship in time for extraction. Along the way, they encounter a smooth-talking prospector, Ezra (Pascal), and learn that they aren't the only ones seeking a fast fortune and a secure ride home.

Based on a short film of the same name, the film premiered at the 2018 South by Southwest film festival. Reviews were positive, and Regal Cinema gave it a limited run in theaters in November 2018. Lucasfilm executives privately screened it, then approved the casting of Pascal and Thatcher for Star Wars TV shows.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Cee is good at using a gun, and also escapes ably from pursuit. In a non-combat example, she also pretty matter of factly amputates Ezra's arm, and he seems mildly perturbed by her attitude while doing it.
  • Affably Evil: Ezra is a bandit, but also very friendly to the person he's robbing.
  • Alien Sky: Shown to great effect, complete with views of the gas giant, when characters reach the edge of the forest.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Ezra's arm gets infected after he's wounded. After they can't get some “juice” to heal it, Cee amputes his arm at Ezra's instruction.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The "juice" created by the locals apparently heals infection caused by the dust in the atmosphere, at least to a certain degree. What it is, where it comes from or what exactly it does all remain a mystery.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Ezra and Cee become this over time, since he's a hardened prospector experienced with the local environment, while she's just a child, even if a determined one. They swap their respective roles after Cee has to improvise the amputation of Ezra's arm, rendering him mostly harmless, while she has to step up into the badass role.
  • BFG: Ezra's first partner has a gun the size of a bazooka.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cee's father is murdered and she misses out on a huge payday, but she manages to return to her ship. Meanwhile, Ezra has lost an arm and is critically wounded, but he's redeemed himself somewhat. If he survives, they will presumably continue their partnership.
  • Blatant Lies: When the locals insist on playing a dreary song on a concertina-like device before trading, Ezra glances awkwardly around the tent waiting for the song to end, then states earnestly, "That was beautiful!"
  • Cassette Futurism: The film features advanced, space-faring technology that has a design aesthetic from the 1970s and 1980s. Most portable devices are bulky and blocky, the protagonists use paper maps and notepads, and their spaceship features analog switches, keypads, tiny monochrome monitors and a general beige and earthtone color scheme.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: To a point. Big ships easily ferry drop pods to and from various planets but getting up and down the gravity well, and back to the shipping lane on time for pickup, is left up to the individual mining teams.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Cee's father mentions a few pointers on how to extract the alien gems, which establishes that making a mistake will destroy the gem. Cee tries to do it herself in the end but fails, destroying the gem. He also mentions that if the chemical agent used to clean the gem touches alien meat, it will cause a tremendous explosion, which is used by Cee to blow away a few mercenaries at the climax.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • When the mercenaries over on the Queen's Lair are first mentioned by Damon, it looks like he's bluffing in order to draw Ezra and his silent associate into a trap, but it turns out that they are real.
    • The prisoner being executed by the mercenaries breaks free during the climax and kills the last remaining mercenary.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: A prisoner has been brought to an alien planet, all for the sake of being placed in a box and slowly suffocated to death. The impracticality of this is lampshaded by several characters.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Characters often refer to fictional places and things in familiar terms without explaining them.
  • Cult Colony: A very tiny one has learned how to survive in the moon's toxic atmosphere.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Ezra refers to his right hand as his best friend and primary weapon, to whom no love was too...intimidating.
  • Death World: The moon has breathable air, but it's saturated with poisonous dust that will quickly kill anyone breathing it or getting it it inside of them. Prospectors need to wear full-body suits and breathe through filters.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Damon, Cee's father, is one of the only two characters in the opening act of the film, but he dies and is replaced by Ezra for the remainder of the film.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The Prisoner escapes his confinement and brains one of the mercs with a rock.
  • Drop Ship: Used to travel from interplanetary ferry ships to the surface and back. Cee learns the hard way that surviving a landing is only half the journey; going back up is a lot harder.
  • Easily Forgiven: Cee pretty easily gets over the fact that Ezra murdered her dad, making a deal with him to get the gems and also not abandoning him later when he urges her to after he's been wounded. It helps that Ezra didn't pull the trigger, and he successfully argues that Damon was about to steal his own harvest of gems when Number Two took the shot. At the end of the film it's implied they'll even stay as partners.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Cee is first seen listening to wild music, gazing out of a window and scribbling in her notebook while sitting in an otherwise stark room, establishing her need for escape from her present surroundings. She later confirms that she writes in her notebook as a means of escape.
    • Damon takes drugs and drunkenly relates holding Cee in his hand when she was born, establishing him as a loving but flawed father.
  • The Faceless:
    • Ezra's first partner is only seen with an opaque mask on. Because the character never speaks, it's not even clear what gender they are.
    • The Sater later also wear masks when outside that cover their entire faces.
  • Fantastic Drug: Damon administers narcotic eyedrops to himself before bed. He also chews some kind of narcotic gum, which Cee eventually finds and samples.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Cee and Ezra. Ezra kills Cee's father, but their fates are bound together, and by the end, Cee rescues him when she could have simply left him behind.
  • Gold Fever: A surprising number of people are willing to risk toxic atmosphere, acidic alien life and betrayal by other miners in pursuit of the alien "gems," not to mention being stranded forever on an inhospitable moon if the extraction window closes. It's never explained what the gems actually are or whether they have any practical function.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Ezra goes from villain to second protagonist.
  • Hired Guns: The mercenaries who initially found the Queen's Lair but lack the expertise to extract the gems.
  • Injun Country: The moon has its own natives called Sater, who live in isolated societies and have a completely distinct culture from visiting prospectors. When Ezra and Cee stumble into their territory, Ezra's behavior is to walk on eggshells, but the natives are also open to trade.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: When Ezra is badly wounded in the final encounter, he tells Cee to go on without him.
  • Loud of War: The female merc blasts music over open radio channels to harrass and confuse other characters.
  • Mercy Kill: Ezra delivers the final blow to Damon. When Cee accuses Ezra of killing him, Ezra says that she is "technically" correct, suggesting that he views the action as a mercy kill.
  • Mutual Kill: Damon and Number Two manage to blow each other away.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: There is a neat trail-of-breadcrumbs setup through the film to make viewers expect Cee learns enough about extracting the gems to do it later on successfully. But when she has to do it in the finale, she fails in a spectacular way, prompting the merc holding her at gunpoint to declare both Cee and Ezra useless and prepare to kill them. The actual goal of the setup is to provide Cee with the knowledge of how to cause the gem sacks to explode with corrosive mucus.
  • Parental Abandonment: Cee's mom is apparently dead, since she and her dad discuss her early on in the past tense while only the two of them live aboard their ship. Her dad is soon killed too.
  • Pet the Dog: The first indication that Ezra might not be completely irredeemable is when he tells Cee to blame him for the death of Damon rather than herself.
  • Quick Draw: Ezra has one with a railgun "thrower" pistol.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Characters tend to have a slightly old-fashioned and flowery manner of speaking. Ezra's speech is grandiose even in comparison to the rest.
    Ezra : You are lucky I'm not immune to intrigue, but be careful you don't overplay this technique.
  • Show, Don't Tell: The film features very little exposition to explain things, preferring to let viewers figure things out and fill in the gaps themselves.
  • Show Within a Show: Cee is a big fan of "The Streamer Girl" young adult novel. She lost her copy of the book but had read it so many times that she was able to write the storyline into her own journal.
  • Space Western: Prospect takes its cues from the gold rush era of the American West, down to its grizzled miner Ezra's quick draw and drawl.
  • The Speechless: Ezra's first partner never speaks. When Ezra meets Damon, he says that it's good to meet someone who talks, implying that his partner is unable to speak.
  • The Stoic: Downplayed. Cee isn't very emotional, showing little reaction even at her dad's death, and gets over Ezra killing him pretty easily. She does show rational fear sometimes, but is mostly quite unflappable when faced with dangers.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Cee's dad comments that she looks just like her mom when they're in the ship early on now that she's grown into a young woman. Later we see a brief picture of her mom with Cee as a baby, which does appear to show her with similar looks.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Ezra's first interaction with Damon and Cee is to try to rob them, but it soon turns out that they will only get the gems and get off the planet if they work together.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Ezra is understandably disturbed by teenage Cee's utterly calm demeanor as she amputates his infected arm with a bone saw.
  • Used Future: On top of the Cassette Futurism, the retro technology seems to be somewhat old and dated even by the standards of the setting. Since we're dealing with cash-strapped people on a distant frontier, this is to be expected.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The moon natives with whom Cee and Ezra try to trade ultimately contribute nothing to the plot save the opportunity for Ezra to refuse to sell Cee as a slave.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The ending is very open and doesn't resolve a number of things:
    • Damon's debt is still unpaid, so what will Cee do about that?
    • Ezra has been critically wounded. We don't know if he's going to survive on the spaceship.
    • What happened to the native family?
    • What's to become of the prisoner who broke free of the mercenaries?
  • Wild Wilderness: The green moon, with its lush but toxic forest, has triumphed over mining and colony efforts by the film's time period. The very few remaining inhabitants either desperately want to leave or desperately want to make someone else stay. Distant and deadly enough to be an option for ritual execution. Anyone living on the Olympic Peninsula might find it more familiar than foreboding.