PROSPECT Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The algorithms are in Alexander Wallace's favor.
There is always something to be said for simply watching or reading whatever some unthinking algorithm decides to give you. At a certain point, human beings are somewhat predictable, no matter how much we may dislike admitting it, so I have consciously decided to on occasion consume unfamiliar things those unthinking lines of code decide to give me for variety’s sake.

To my great pleasure, the algorithms sometimes work out in my favor. As they did with Prospect, the 2018 science fiction film that showed up on Netflix one evening.

If I had to compare this to any other piece of media out there, I’d say the first season of The Mandalorian. It’s a space opera setting (although mostly without the mystical element that pervades Star Wars) with a strong focus on people just trying to make their way in the galaxy. The overall aesthetic can also be compared to the original trilogy; there’s that sense that this is a ‘used future’ where the machines are grimy and dusty and are prone to fail at the most inopportune moments.

The movie is set on a lush forest moon that is in many ways a reimagined version of the American frontier (as has so often been done in science fiction; I can’t blame it for being popular, because it’s a setting rich in storytelling potential). There is no epic quest here; there is only little people trying to make their way in this cold, uncaring universe. The main character, Cee is given a heartfelt performance by Sophie Thatcher. She is joined by a sterling performance by Pedro Pascal (who provides yet another connection to The Mandalorian) as Ezra, another hardscrabble prospector who Sophie has to work with.

The worldbuilding on this small moon is spellbinding; it is a fully realized frontier society brimming with strange people and wild nature. There’s the brief encounter with a small religious group that lives in tents, reminiscent of the early Mormons or various 19th century American religious communes like New Harmony (though I suspect that none of these religious movements were quite as … unnerving as the one in the film). Being a moon where the atmosphere isn’t breathable, there’s a lot about preserving air, and how the outlaws on this planet exploit that to devastating effect. The world breathes even if the people on it don’t.

When there is violence, it isn’t showy. It’s quick and deadly, not unlike that in a Western. The conceit of people only being able to traverse this moon with breathing apparatuses gives the violence a tension to it that could not be done in a setting with widely available oxygen. This is bolstered by the sheer presence of the forest; it’s almost out of a fairy tale, where monsters could lurk behind every blade of grass.

Prospect is a triumph. It's a sterling example of the space western and a similarly sterling example of the used future aesthetic. At less than two hours, it’s a short watch too. In some ways, I wish it were longer simply so I could have seen more of this hard-knocks future. It’s certainly closer in spirit to the reality we’re likely to have in the next century or so, even if we don’t develop the faster-than-light travel that makes the literal setting of the film possible. This is a story about people and the future, and its humanity is its ultimate strength.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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