Starfield, Bethesda’s latest RPG, represents a wide arc of science fiction tropes. Its epic scope and alien superpowers evoke space operas, but it grounds its aesthetic in NASA-punk. The subgenre gets its name from the broad appreciation and love we all felt for astronaut stuff back in the days of the space race. You could pitch dozens of films as Starfield movies, but Prospect is a rare entry that captures much of the same look and feel.
Different Budgets, Similar Dreams
Prospect is a low-budget sci-fi movie that came to South by Southwest in 2018. It was written and directed by Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell and put together for under $4 million. In contrast, Starfield‘s budget fell somewhere between $200 and $400 million. That would put the game into the top 10 most expensive games ever made, if true. Prospect was celebrated for beating some of its blockbuster movie peers, while Starfield enjoyed absurd expectations thanks to its budget. Through technical wizardry or immense financial backing, both works of art depict the beauty and hostility of life in deep space.
Most of the similarities between Prospect and Starfield are aesthetic. They take a lot of design notes from the Apollo era of space travel. Most of the characters wear suits that resemble the 60s Extravehicular Mobility Unit. Compare them to something you’d see in Cowboy Bebop to see the difference. Clean, white walls and classic beige panels decorate most of the ships’ interiors.
These choices reflect a few things. NASA-punk may be the least “punk” of the movements with that term attached. The space race era was optimistic, competitive, and, above all else, communal. Before a few rich monsters handled space travel, everyone felt like part of this shared dream. Starfield encourages players to embrace that joyous exploration. Prospect argues that it’s only worth doing with the right company.
A Starfield Side Quest as a Movie
Prospect garnered a lot of attention early this year when The Last of Us came to HBO. It’s because Pedro Pascal, perhaps the biggest star of the moment, plays another version of his favorite role. Pedro Pascal tried out the reluctant dad routine in Prospect five years before Last of Us and a year before The Mandalorian. He portrays Ezra, a deep-space criminal who encounters Sophie Thatcher’s responsible teenager, Cee, and her dad on a hostile planet. All four are searching for a valuable resource. Negotiations break down, and Ezra shoots Cee’s father dead. Ezra and Cee are trapped with limited oxygen and no functioning ship. They’ll have to rely on each other to get off-world. I’d pitch it as a decent premise for a Starfield side mission.
Prospect‘s power is in its characters. Though Starfield caught some flak for its animations, its writing has earned due praise. The simple horror of being stuck somewhere that wasn’t meant for you with someone who hates your guts is perfect. Prospect doesn’t pit Pedro Pascal and Sophie Thatcher against each other. It ties them together, tosses them into a bad situation, and insists they figure it out. Its structure is short and straightforward, with plenty of room for the character’s sharp edges to poke holes.
The epic scale of Starfield can make individual struggles feel meaningless. A story like Prospect‘s demonstrates the heartrending impact of a few people trying to get rich or get by. There are a million stories like that in Starfield. Prospect offers a powerful narrative that would have worked just as well in the Old West, the distant future, or the zombie apocalypse, yet it best fits into NASA-punk optimism.
Prospect delivers an extremely impressive short space adventure with excellent performances and a beautiful coda. As a Starfield movie, Prospect provides a thrilling, contained experience. Fans of the game will love the film’s aesthetic, writing, and presentation. I would argue this film is perfect for anyone who likes intelligent sci-fi, clever filmmaking, or Pedro Pascal. Amazingly, Prospect is available free on a variety of streaming services. It’s on YouTube, Tubi, Plex, Amazon Prime, and more. Prospect is a masterful journey into a subgenre that is rarely explored, and those who loved it in Starfield will love it again there.