I am not a very good travel companion, and most of the team at Geek Say What? can attest to this. This is not to say that I’m some sort of recluse or agoraphobe (although the idea of constantly applying hand sanitizer is appealing), but more of a person who enjoys his luxuries and amenities. For example, I am very conscious of how my current style and clothing coordinates with the clothing choice of others; Cole and Alix have another name for this, but the amount of clothing I’m going to pack is conversely measured by how much they let me pack. There are so many other challenges when faced with being away from home for an extended period of time, but I think I tend to focus on the “problems” that are petty in nature.
To counteract this attitude, I subscribe to the belief that there are two certainties when I leave my home: an immediate and persistent discomfort, and the inevitability that I will be better because of it. I do some of my best work when I’m exploring unknown territory (in real life or in fiction), and whether I’m exploring Winterfell and beyond the Wall or the new sushi place in another city, I try and draw from those experiences to build a tougher and more productive “me”. This is why I think that, for the most part, the idea of Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell’s PROSPECT works.
A brief background on the short film project: Shep Films (the company run by Earl and Caldwell) were able to debut a short film called In The Pines during South By Southwest. The budget came to the unexpected total of three thousand dollars, in order to showcase that these two could tell a compelling and immersive story with little to no budget. A subsequent Kickstarter was developed to build on what they really wanted to produce: a hand-made science fiction series that focuses on “texture” - what they believe is the strongest indicator of being fully immersed in a world you’ve never been to.
In truth, I do believe that they are a little heavy-handed with themes. The story is supposed to highlight a father and daughter on a strange planet, collecting extremely valuable products in order to sell back home for excessive amounts of money. I did enjoy how they portrayed the “prospecting” feel of the short film, but the theme of the strained relationship between the father and daughter felt shoehorned, and at the very least could have been portrayed in a more creative way. Viewers experience the father learning something new about his daughter, but as the scene progresses the dialogue and direction feels increasingly stilted and ingenuine. To be honest, Earl and Caldwell fell into the idea of “telling” the audience instead of “showing” the audience, and it is very difficult to regain your suspension of disbelief when you’re taken out of the story.
Speaking of suspension of disbelief, the storytelling has a hard time keeping your disbelief in a place where they need it to be. Suspension is important in any kind of story, but there are especially important in science fiction, mostly because the audience will never experience these settings first-hand. So when aspects that are minor to the theme take me out of my experience, consider my jimmies rustled. The most glaring portion of this is when the daughter hunts down the bandit that has injured her father and taken their payload. The combination of her proficiency in arms training, the strategic use of foliage and terrain, and the cold and calculated demeanor associated with taking a life aggregated into something very unbelievable. When the details of the story are unbelievable, how am I supposed to appreciate the “49ers of space”?
The creation of what Earl and Caldwell have coined “texture” is undeniable, though. An easier way to think about this concept would be tone, but calling it tone takes away from the beautiful and unsettling ambiance that they’ve built with naturally occurring settings and carefully crafted props. There exists this combination of retro-futuristic costumes and attitudes in the story, while the jumbled, unorganized look of the bandit really lends to pioneering feel. Earl and Caldwell have really captured the spirits of the Explorer and the Cowboy aspects of the spaghetti Westerns of old, while the forest feels familiar and unfamiliar at the same time with every new location.
The scene direction and camera work lend to the goal of the story as well. Guerilla-style shooting feels frantic and uncomfortable, and instills the feeling in the audience that we’re not supposed to be seeing this. It lends well to the idea of intrusiveness in the story; as the father and daughter are not supposed to be on this alien world, so too are we not supposed to be experiencing their struggles that are spurring us to watch the next minute, and the next. The viewer comes for the exotic landscape and science fiction, but stays because they’ve stumbled into someone else’s problems; personally, I want to watch not for the triumphs that she may experience, but the possibility of her failing, and specific camera shots indicate that there is a very definite chance of this happening.
Earl and Caldwell have sent us packing to another world with PROSPECT, and while there are some scripting issues, promises to be a labor of love from people who appreciate the science fiction and film mediums. Whisked off into a world of alien planets, lawlessness, and familial bonds, PROSPECT aspires to be a coming-of-age tale that is worthwhile and thought provoking. And, as promised, I’ve gained some new insights when I ventured out of my comfort zone to watch this: that people can and will do incredible things in dire situations when their life in on the line. And also that, even in the future, duct tape solves everything.