Color, 2018, 99 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by Christopher Caldwell & Zeek Earl
Starring Pedro Pascal, Sophie Thatcher, Jay Duplass, Andre Royo
Gunpowder & Sky (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 4K/HD/NTSC), Capelight (UHD & Blu-ray) (Germany R0 4K/HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Given Prospectall the money studios tend to throw at science fiction movies, especially Prospectin the wake of the resurgence of Star Wars, one aspect that can't be bought is individual imagination. That resource is thankfully all over the 2018 indie Prospect, which started life as a 2014 short film from writer-directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl and ended up being considerably expanded and revised for feature length. Along the way they picked up two notable actors, The Mandalorian's Pedro Pascal and Transparent's Jay Duplass, though it's really a primary showcase for young Sophie Thatcher through whose eyes the entire story unfolds. Shot on location in the eerie and vaguely unnatural-looking rainforest at Olympic National Park in Washington, it's a film loaded with meticulous and fascinating details that reward repeated viewing while also providing an entertaining western-style story set in another world.

While landing on a forest-covered moon to forage for gems bred inside Cronenbergian underground growths, Damon (Duplass) and his daughter Cee (Thatcher) have a significant difference of opinion about the dangers involved and the possibilities of getting stranded -- especially when some seemingly minor malfunctions afflict their pod. On the surface they manage to discover one gem, which is enough for Damon to insist they carry on to the original dig site where they could potentially strike it Prospectrich -- if they can get to the mercenaries who hired him to dig at the potential lode at a site Prospectcalled the queen's lair. Along the way they encounter two other prospectors including Ezra (Pascal), resulting in a standoff that will alter the course of the entire mission.

Best seen with as little foreknowledge as possible, Prospect works on a number of levels including an effective coming-of-age story for a young woman who, as we gradually find out, has had to seek out any semblance of a childhood wherever she can find it. The creation of an entirely different culture makes for an intriguing backdrop as well with everything from pop music to candy wrappers to insignias rendered given just enough of an alien tone to keep you on your toes trying to puzzle out what the world back home (if such a thing really exists) might be like. The story also does a fine job of building up a good rapport through the tricky relationship between Cee and Ezra, which goes through several evolutionary steps along the way including a moody nocturnal climax that verges on Mad Max territory at times.

Given a limited theatrical release in 2018 through independent distributor Gunpowder & Sky's Dust sci-fi imprint, Prospect hit on-demand digital, Blu-ray, and DVD the following year (as well as UHD and Blu-ray in Germany), with a longstanding run on Netflix as well soon after. The film managed to build up a modest but dedicated cult following along the way with its handcrafted, tactile world making it a fine companion to thoughtful sci-fi films like Moon, Ex Machina, and High Life. ProspectThe best way to see the film is easily the 2021 UHD and Blu-ray set released by Gunpowder & Sky distributed through OCN Distribution, Vinegar Syndrome's sister company. ProspectPackaged in a rigid slipbox and slipcover with a set of trading cards and an Aurelac Prospecting booklet (limited to 2,000 units), the release touts a brand new higher bitrate encode than any previous release. The results are certainly impressive with the UHD maxxed out to take up the bulk of the disc space making the most of the native 4K photography with a terrific level of detail throughout. The HDR is more subtle, offering some nice gradations during the effective shots of toxic dust floating through the air and really bursting to life with some gold-heavy shots of sunlight pouring through trees. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 English track (which features optional English SDH subtitles) pulls a fun trick by starting off as mono for the opening moments (a la Equilibrium) before slowly immersing you in the surround channels. Rear activity is limited but startling when it counts, including some fun disorienting aural effects during the last 20 minutes and doing justice to the striking score by Daniel Caldwell. (Also, those subs come in really handy for some of the invented slang terms peppered throughout the dialogue, sometimes difficult to make out under those helmets.)

Extras on the Blu-ray include an audio commentary with Caldwell and Earl, as well as a 2021 video interview with the pair (34m31s). Between them you get a thorough account of how the film came to be from the short film stage onward Prospectincluding the aperture tricks used to make the background look a little more alien, Prospectthe back injury and cold that trooper Pascal had to contend with during the shoot, the creation of backstories for even fleeting and seemingly mundane pop culture elements, their reactions to the film's fan following, and the challenges of shooting in a location that isn't exactly conducive to hauling in lots of generators and lighting equipment. (The commentary's also on the UHD, which is otherwise dedicated to the film itself.) The original 2014 short film (13m58s) is also included and makes for a fascinating comparison, pretty much covering the same narrative ground as the first 20-ish minutes of the film but ending on a far darker note and featuring more of a concentration on the environment's insect life. Also included are a short behind-the-scenes featurette (4m33s), "Channel Rat" (3m8s) and "Leroy" (4m1s) deleted scenes, and two "Inside Prospect" bite-sized making-ofs, "Helmets of Prospect" (1m16s) and "The Drop Pod" (1m17s). You also get four "Scene Analysis" bonuses, essentially mini-commentaries over footage from the film: "Merc Camp" (7m12s) with costume designer Aidan Vitti, "Dust VFX" (3m16s) and "Spaceship VFX" (4m45s) with visual effects supervisor Ian Hubert, and "Cee Pod Interior" (2m50s) and "Ezra Arrival" (5m15s) with production designer Matt Acosta. Finally the Blu-ray rounds out with the theatrical trailer, an early teaser trailer, and a batch of spots and bumpers.

Reviewed on August 15, 2021.