Prospect (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Jun 02, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Prospect (4K UHD Review)

Director

Zeek Earl, Chris Caldwell

Release Date(s)

2018 (May 25, 2021)

Studio(s)

Depth of Field/The Realm/Bron Studios/Ground Control/DUST/Gunpowder & Sky (Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: A

Prospect (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

Cee (Sophie Thatcher) and her father Damon (Jay Duplass, Transparent) are harvesters. They’ve rented passage on a sling ship to the Green Moon, orbiting a gas giant in a distant star system, where they have a contract to collect aurelac gems (think pearls, cut from alien oysters). But when their drop pod malfunctions and crashes off course, they must trek through a toxic jungle in spacesuits to reach the job site. And when they encounter a pair of bandits (led by Pedro Pascal, The Mandalorian) things go badly wrong, and Cee is forced to make tough decisions in order to survive.

Produced for just $3.9 million, Prospect is one of the more remarkable examples of indie sci-fi cinema in a very long time. From its script and production design, to the costumes and props, and even the ethereal and edgy score (by Daniel L.K. Caldwell), the film renders a believable and hand-crafted science fiction universe from start to finish. This is a character-driven story, shot mostly on location in Washington’s Hoh Rainforest, so the visual effects would seem to be minimal. They’re also extremely well done, particularly the spacecraft footage early on. Most importantly, though, the performances are terrific. Duplass and Pascal are obviously well known to audiences by now, but young Sophie Thatcher is a revelation. She carries the film beautifully; even with little more than a glance, you get the sense that her gears are always in motion.

Prospect was released in the US on MOD Blu-ray by Gunpowder & Sky in 2019 (reviewed here at The Bits), but the video quality of that disc was really lacking. Fortunately, it was also released on 4K Ultra HD in Germany by Capelight Pictures (we’ve reviewed that disc here as well) and the quality of this edition made up for the difficulty of importing it. But now, thanks to Gunpowder & Sky (via our friends at Vinegar Syndrome), there’s an even better 4K option for US fans of the film.

Prospect was captured digitally in the Redcode RAW codec (at 6K and 8K) using Red Dragon and Red Epic-W Helium cameras with custom lenses. It was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate (with VFX rendered in actual 4K as well) at a 1.89:1 widescreen aspect ratio. It’s presented here on Ultra HD, fully graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 is available). The resulting image is gorgeous, a massive improvement upon the MOD Blu-ray release. In fact, it improves upon the German 4K release as well, thanks to much higher data rates (which average 60-70 Mbps). The combination of the higher resolution image capture, combined with the native 4K finish, results in a tremendous increase in fine detail, much more refined texturing, and significantly greater depth and dimensionality. You can actually make out the small print in the drop pod’s flight manual now (it’s not in English, but you can see it at least). A light grain texture has been applied, which lends the image an organic and film-like appearance. Those of you who own the Blu-ray release will know that the image there looked washed out. That’s no longer the case here; the HDR grade deepens the blacks perfectly and makes the highlights genuinely eye-reactive. Occasionally, the brightest areas of the frame look hot, but this is by design—in space, sunlight is completely unfiltered, so the image is more true to reality. And on the planet below, the occasional hotness enhances the alien feel of the jungle environment. The wider gamut lends greater richness and subtlety to the color palette, and this too is stylized by design, especially on the planet’s exteriors. But in interior spaces (like the drop pod cockpit), skin tones are completely natural looking. I would certainly go so far as to call this a reference-quality 4K image, particularly for an indie film like this. I really didn’t think the German 4K release could be improved upon, but Gunpowder & Sky has managed to surprise me (and I couldn’t be more delighted by that).

Audio is included here in the same English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that was featured on both the US Blu-ray and the German 4K, and it delivers fine quality. The dialogue is clean at all times, staged front and center, while the surround channels add lovely and constant atmospherics. This is a definitely an immersive sonic experience, complete with subtle directional cues, a pleasing sense of spaciousness, and robust low end. Even the film’s score is fantastic—not just the evocative ambient music but also the surprising use of 1960s Asian pop tunes (including Rita Chao & The Quests’ Crying in the Storm, which opens the film perfectly). Optional English subtitles are available.

There’s only one special feature on Gunpowder & Sky’s 4K disc itself:

  • Audio Commentary with Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl

This is the same commentary with the filmmakers that was included on the previous physical media releases back in 2019, and it’s a great listen, not just for fans of the film but for anyone interested in the indie cinema production. You can really hear their passion for this material, their love for this world, and the depth of their knowledge about the science fiction genre in general. But Gunpowder & Sky’s package also includes the film in 1080p HD on a Blu-ray Disc, which also includes the commentary and adds the following:

  • 2021 Retrospective Interview with Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl (HD – 34:31)
  • 2014 Prospect Short Film (HD – 13:58)
  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (HD – 4:33)
  • Deleted Scene: Channel Rat (HD – 3:08)
  • Deleted Scene: Leroy (HD – 4:01)
  • Inside Prospect: Helmets of Prospect (HD – 1:16)
  • Inside Prospect: The Drop Pod (HD – 1:17)
  • Scene Analysis: Merc Camp with Costume Designer Aidan Vitti (HD – 7:12)
  • Scene Analysis: Dust VFX with Visual Effects Supervisor Ian Hubert (HD – 3:16)
  • Scene Analysis: Spaceship VFX with Visual Effects Supervisor Ian Hubert (HD – 4:45)
  • Scene Analysis: Cee Pod Interior with Production Designer Matt Acosta (HD – 2:50)
  • Scene Analysis: Ezra’s Arrival with Production Designer Matt Acosta (HD – 5:15)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:35)
  • Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:03)
  • Bumpers (HD – 2 clips – :17 in all)
  • Spots (HD – 2 spots – 1:22 in all)

Not only does this collection include everything that was on the Capelight Pictures release, there’s some great new material here as well, including a retrospective interview with the filmmakers, the original 2014 short film (that led to the feature version being made), and additional trailers, bumpers, and TV spots. The interview features Caldwell and Earl sitting together in an office and discussing the film, intercut with occasional behind-the-scenes footage from the production (much of which is previously unseen). As with the commentary, it’s readily apparent that these guys just really understand this genre deeply. They talk about things like the in-universe graphic design, the products the characters are using, and the technology—a level of attention to world-building detail that so many other productions just overlook. And the short film features two different actors harvesting aurelac gems in the forest, but again the creativity and ingenuity on display is remarkable. What’s more, the package includes an absolutely beautiful in-world pamphlet called Aurelac Prospecting: Your Guide to Getting Rich on the Green Moon. It’s only 8-pages (front and back) but every inch of it is filled with art and background detail that never really gets addressed in the film itself. It’s just an amazing little touch—hats off to the filmmakers for creating it and to Gunpowder & Sky for going to the trouble of printing and including it! Honestly, I’d love to sit down with these guys and just look through their design archives to learn how everything is meant to function. Hell, I’d buy a technical manual for this story universe!

Prospect is a brilliant little gem of science fiction filmmaking that, despite its low budget, reveals ambition, a grand vision, and a truly remarkable level of talent. Squint and you could almost imagine that this film takes place in the same universe as Alien or Blade Runner, or at least a neighboring one—that’s how good the level of verisimilitude is here. No kidding, I can’t wait to learn what Caldwell and Earl are doing next; I will watch literally anything these guys make. If you love this genre like as do, you simply must see Prospect. And there’s no better way to experience it than Gunpowder & Sky’s new 4K Ultra HD release. Consider it highly recommended.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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