Prospect is an elegant sci-fi film that prioritizes world-building

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Science fiction tends to be an expensive genre. Bringing the elaborate worlds of Star wars, the futuristic dystopia of Blade Runner 2049, or the alien planets and creatures of Extraterrestrial the lifetime franchise costs a lot of money, which naturally encourages studios to give the green light to films that appear to be familiar blueprints. And that leads to different versions of the same story being told over and over again.

This is why independent, low-budget sci-fi films are such a vital creative playground, especially for aspiring filmmakers. Projects like Shane Carruth’s Primer and Duncan Jones Moon are able to take creative risks that their big-budget brethren can’t, resulting in films that rethink what the genre can do, while creating sci-fi worlds that feel grounded and real. Perspective, the feature debut by writer-directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl, hopes to join this tradition.

The film began life as a DIY short that the filmmakers finished with the help of a Kickstarter campaign in 2014. A story of a young girl and her father gathering a valuable resource about an alien world, the short footage is inspired by his costumes and design. Classic 1970s sci-fi films, but reproduced them on a shoestring, with the filmmakers shooting in the rainforests of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The feature film adaptation spans the premise, adding actors like Jay Duplass in Multi-Trait, Game Of Thrones‘Pedro Pascal, and Thread‘s Andre Royo to the mix, while staying true to the aesthetic inspirations of the original short. The finished product isn’t as striking as the best independent sci-fi movies, but it nonetheless establishes Caldwell and Earl as filmmakers to watch, able to do a lot with very little.

Duplass plays Damon, an interplanetary prospector taking his teenage daughter Cee (Sophie Thatcher) from one world to another in search of profit. Although the deadlines are never discussed, they live in a sort of future world where space travel is common. They seem to live from hand to mouth, but they manage by searching for a rare material that helps them pay off their loans and spaceship rentals. But Damon thinks their luck is about to turn: he has teamed up with a group of mercenaries to dig up a massive deposit of materials at a place called “the queen’s lair”, and cutting them off will allow the couple to quit prospecting life.

While walking through the alien forest to the location, however, they encounter Ezra (Pascal) and his partner (Luke Pitzrick). Both seem shady and unscrupulous from the start, and of course things go downhill quickly from there. Eventually, Cee finds herself forced to ignore her best instincts, teaming up with Ezra to complete the mission amid the uncertainty of an alien world.

The simple premise works perfectly for the tone Caldwell and Earl wanted to set. The world of Perspective is grounded and subdued, more of an indie drama that simply takes place in space than the genre of lyrical adventure common to sci-fi franchises. For their scenario to work, the world must feel inhabited and blue collar.

The aesthetics and design of the film’s production do a lot of work in this regard. The spacesuits Damon and Cee wear, the capsule they use to get to the alien moon, the weapons they carry – everything Perspective it looks like it was used, reused, repaired, then reused. The film was clearly influenced by the scrap-tech approach presented in the original. Star wars, associated with the kind of hands-on design approach artist Ron Cobb used in his work on Extraterrestrial. Perspective Looks like a movie that could have been shot in the 1970s, but that doesn’t make it look dated. If anything, the physical costumes and practical effects of Perspective feel especially welcome in a world where an abundance of CG imagery is still the norm. It also highlights the issues. These are real people, exploring a world where real danger exists at every turn, whether it’s a physical object like a deteriorating air filter or a bloodthirsty mercenary.

The performances are appropriately understated, with Duplass setting the tone by playing Damon as a father so focused on exiting from below that he cannot recognize the practical warnings his daughter continually tries to throw out. Pascal is a little less efficient, however. He exudes charisma as always, but his character is written as an overly wordy so-called Southern gentleman that Ezra’s constant speeches start to become a distraction. He appears as a futuristic cousin of Eugene from Josh McDermitt from The walking dead, tackling even the most banal subjects with a language so elaborate and flowery that it borders on comedy. It’s a shame too, because when the film is more sober, Perspective effectively uses language to convey the total banality of prospecting in this universe. The characters casually throw out references to catching up with “the slingshot” at home or the dangers of working “on the sidelines.” Like the visuals, the laid-back, lived-in approach to worldbuilding creates the feeling of an entire universe that lurks just beyond the edges of the frame, a universe that will continue to live and breathe no matter what happens. to Cee and Ezra.

Photo: Gunpowder and Sky / DUST

But the film is based on the performance of Sophie Thatcher as Cee. In her first feature film, she brings to her performance a combination of determination and youthful naivety that is essential to all of the film’s work. When the movie begins, it looks like Cee is just young, overly worried, and eager to get home. But by the end of the movie, it’s clear that she’s the only adult in the room, the one person who can hold on to her moral compass as the Wild West nature of prospecting reduces everyone to crooks. or thieves.

Perspective is a collection of successful and carefully refined elements, all of which are meticulously put together in the service of a vision that absolutely connects – and a story that ultimately doesn’t. Difficult to know what to remember from the film. Caldwell and Earl do a remarkable job of putting viewers in Cee’s shoes, but in the third act it feels like the film is working through the superficial movements of how to solve the plot machinations, rather than to really grapple with the emotional ramifications of what happened to Cee and her father. It is the story of a young woman forced to grow up under the most difficult circumstances, and as Cee learns to reject loss, revenge and regret in the name of practice, the very real human cost of these choices remain almost entirely ignored. . It finally makes Perspective feel hollow. It’s an intriguing film that has a lot to say about design and aesthetics, but little about the human condition. Not all movies need this, but in Perspective, it looks like a crucial missing piece.

Caldwell and Earl’s ability as visual storytellers, however, cannot be denied. On time, Perspective – like the short film it came from – is likely to be seen as a calling card, an example of what a talented director duo can do with limited resources and a specific big picture. For their second feature, however, it might be wise to worry less about design and visuals, and more about characters and storytelling. Movies like Primer and Moon continue to stand out not only for their construction of the world, but also for the questions they ask and the ideas they leave the public tossing around in their heads. Perspective is impressive, but in this very crucial way it is still a bit short.


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