Prospect: Why I Like Nobledark or Grimbright Better than Cheerful and Corrupt
Today’s post started as a simple movie review. Last week I reviewed Rim of the World, which if you missed last week’s post, I felt contained some highly innapropriate innuendo and more importantly served as a bellweather for cultural trends I don’t care for. So I thought I’d review a movie I liked this week as a counter-balance–so I wouldn’t seem like the guy who always disagrees and never likes anything. Thus, this week I set out to do a simple review of the movie Prospect, which like last week’s review, was a film I saw on my wife’s Netflix account. However, I found myself turning introspective as I thought about the review. Why do I like Prospect better? It turns out that a story that could be called nobledark or grimbright is much more in line with what I think is a good story than one intended to draw laughs but which honestly reports a culture with serious problems.
What is Nobledark? Or Grimbright?
The term “nobledark” surged to my mind as I was thinking of a way to descrbe the film Prospect. But then I looked up some definitions and found not everyone agrees what “nobledark” is. It turns out “grimdark” has a clear definition–grimdark is the a type of speculative ficiton story in which there really is no such thing as good and the story is filled with despair. There’s a struggle for survival going on and everyone involved inhabits various shades of corrupt. The saying, “Might is right” matches grimdark very well–and in fact, grimdark has dominated much of fantasy fiction since the 1990s. Think George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice as an example. (Though lots of other stories can be said to have grimdark elements–The Walking Dead has never been completely grimdark, but often isn’t far off.)
So after grimdark became a trend and someone created a label to define it (note, a grimdark mood took over much of fantasy before anyone coined the term “grimdark” to describe it), someone wanted to define its opposite. From my own, doubltless imperfect Internet research, it turns out some people latched on to the term “noblebright” as the opposite of “grimdark.” (Whereas others like the term “hopepunk.”)
Creating the term “noblebright” to define a basically optimistic world with heroic figures led to some people offering two other terms for moods in-between noblebright and grimdark. “nobledark” and “grimbright.”
“Nobledark” would be a story in which there are genuine heroes, but the story world is full of terrors and gritty. An epic struggle for good and evil is ongoing, but the heroes are holding their own. Barely. And “grimbright” would be a world in which there aren’t really any clear heroes and no epic struggle, within a story situation that’s a total wreck, but ordinary people are managing to hold on to some form of hope and make the world a slightly better place. Modern Batman movies probably would count as nobledark and the beginning of The Force Awakens, the part that depicts Rey as a scavenger on the planet Jakku, who is just getting by but manages to maintain hope in her heart–that would be grimbright. (By the way, Star Trek at its most opimistic would be nobelbright or hopepunk–a basically optimistic view of the story world, filled with mostly-good and heroic characters.)
Except, based on some time I spent chasing a Reddit rabbit trail of arguments before writing this article, not everone agrees with those definitions. Some people think both terms are completely unneeded, because pretty much every story that features an unpleasant setting, pretty much every dystopia and post-apocalypic world, would either be “grim” or “dark.” And those stories have been around longer than the terms “nobledark” and “grimbright.” Why not just call them “dystopian” or “post-apocalyptic” or “dark” or “gritty” or whatever? Do we really need to call anything “nobledark” or “grimbright”?
Ok, “they” who say that may have a point. Still, I’m going to borrow these possibly-unneeded-terms for the purpose of this post. Because I like stories that can be called nobledark and/or grimbright and the definitions I found for these terms are handy for my purposes here. I like these kinds of tales way more than grimdark (which I can actually find interesting in small doses, but which gets depressing fast), but also even more than noblebright or hopepunk.
Let’s Talk About Prospect
Ok, with some terminology defined, let’s return to talking about Prospect. I will not give away the entire plot, but a few spoilers follow. Of course.
The Netflix ad for Prospect featured a girl around thirteen years old walking around in a spacesuit with an adult man, somewhere with moss-covered conifers, probably in the temperate rain forest of the North American Pacific Northwest, which does in fact look a little alien. And my immediate thought was, “Ah, another low-budget sci-fi show. Probably is going to be cheesy.” But for some reason, I decided to give it a chance. I’m glad I did.
Prospect Partial Plot Summary (Some Spoilers Included, but Not Everything)
In Prospect, a young teen girl (played by Sophie Thatcher) and her father start the tale in their personal lander, attached to a space station orbiting “the Green Moon” (which in turn orbits a gas giant). Well, in fact the girl is supposed to be in the lander, but is off elsewhere, listening to music. Her father scolds her a bit as she returns and asks her to do some chores.
This sets the expectations that this character, the teenage girl–her name is “Cee”–is more or less the same as other teens, no matter what the story setting is. Though the viewer discovers as the story progresses that she isn’t at all ordinary.
Her father reveals a scheme to find “the queen’s lair”–a particularly rich source for a type of gemstone that will set them for life. It turns out some mercenaries have found the lair and have asked her dad to harvest the gems. The gems are extracted from an alien living organism, rather like pearls, but have to be handled in a specific way, or else they will be destoyed. Which is why the mercenaries need his help. With the catch they only have limited time, because the space station is preparing to leave the Green Moon forever.
The pair, the girl and her father, set out to land their pod near the lair, but the pod malfunctions on landing, so they aren’t one the site. The two set off on foot to meet up with the mercenaries. Wearing spacesuits because of a mold in the air that kills human beings, rather like story “Parasite Planet” in the Worlds of Weinbaum anthology I published.
On the way, the pair run into robbers and take a stand against them. I don’t want to give away too much of this part of the story, but let’s say the girl holds her own, both fighting and retreating when it makes sense to do so. The boss of the robbers, Ezra, winds up replacing Cee’s father on the quest to find the alien gems. (Note that Ezra is portrayed by the Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal, who you may know as the man under the armor in The Mandalorian series.)
By the way, I really enjoyed the way the character Ezra speaks. He’s got that long-sentence 19th Century eloquent but menacing thing going. Really good writing and acting.
Continuing on the way to find the gems, the pair run into a small band of religous cultists, who offer to purchase the girl. She escapes them and attempts to leave the Green Moon, but can’t. She again joins Ezra on the quest for gems and the two of them find the camp of mercenaries and the Queen’s Lair of gems.
Something goes terribly wrong with their plan, but they manage to fight their way to an escape, not only immediate death, but the Green Moon itself, soon enough not to be trapped on the Green Moon forever. During the fighting, and even before the fighting, without giving too much away, Cee proves to be courageous and risks her life to save Ezra–a man she has no particular reason to save.
Before the final scene the story shows Cee interested in a fantastic novel she read once, still caught up in her music when she gets a chance. Still recognizably a young teen–but actually a noble and heroic one, when the situation called for it.
The Gruesome Storyworld of Prospect
In Prospect, everyone is greedy for something. Well, except Cee. Also, it’s one of those gritty story worlds in which people will not hesitate to kill you to take what they want.
Even the gemstone the characters extract in the story requires slicing into an alien lifeform, pulling out a body part, and chopping into an alien piece of meat. It’s clearly a brutal form of prospecting, with no interest in whether the (apparently unintelligent) aliens survive or not.
The Green Moon is beautiful, but deadly. You can’t ever expose yourself to the air, always trapped in a spacesuit or a cleared shelter because of the molds.
Cee is clearly in greater danger as a teen girl than the men are–not only because she is smaller and less experienced, but because of the menace of rape and sexual exploitation. Which doesn’t prevent her from acting with courage when needed.
In spite of her courage, Cee doesn’t quite rise to the level of being a hero, because the stakes are mostly personal. And the villains are not epic. So, on the grid of stories we discussed already, Prospect should be defined as “Grimbright.”
Why I Recommend Prospect and not Rim of the World
Overall, I really like the movie Prospect and recommend it. Note though that the special effects are not as good as the acting and dialog, but are not actually silly at any point in the story. Also, sometimes minor characters seem surreal, especially some of the mercenaries. I would not say the story is perfect, but most of its elements hang together very well. I’d give it an 8 out of 10.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Prospect an 88 percent, but the IMDb rating is 6.2–which is barely better than the 5.2 rating for Rim of the World. Which of course raises the subject of why I like this movie much, much more than Rim of the World. (Because I do.)
A critic might ask of me, is it better to portray a teen girl in danger of sexual slavery than some “harmless” innuendo? Is it better to show a world in which most people are greedy and dangerous than a basically silly world with oblique pornographic references in which many people seem to have good motives? Or in short, how could I possibly object to the morals of the Rim of the World and not to the arguably less-moral world of Prospect? Is this just a Christian fixation on prohibiting sex coupled with a tolerance of violence (as Christians are often accused of doing)?
A Cleaner R Rating for Prospect than the TV14 for Rim of the World
First, a rating as in a story containing negative triggers as commonly defined is not the main reason to like or dislike a story in my opinion. But if we are going to do that kind of compare/contrast, it turns out Prospect is cleaner than Rim of the World in terms of rating. Which might be surprising, because Prospect is rated R. Significantly, it’s not marketed to the young teen market, even though it has a young teen character.
Prospect’s most graphic scenes in terms of violence actually revolve around extracting the alien gemstone, which shows a lump of meat being cut, and a case of a medical amputation, in which little is directly shown. Otherwise, people get shot or stabbed, but the spacesuit covers details. It is by no means a splatterfest. Rim of the World shows plenty of people getting killed as well. Not realistically, but still.
In terms of profanity, Rim of the World walked up to the line of its rating on multiple occasions and used what words it could. Prospect has only one moment of cussing that I recall–not a moment everyone will like, probably, but there in the story for specific reason. And just one moment.
In terms of innuendo, Rim of the World has plenty more than just the three cases I pointed out in my article last week. Prospect contains no innuendos–well, there’s an oblique suggestion the mercenaries might sexually assault Cee if she goes to them alone, but as an innuendo goes, it’s one without appeal.
In terms of sex, Rim of the World features one particular moment of ogling that stands out above everything else, but no actual nudity…but Prospect has no examples of ogling characters or images. Not even when the cultists offer to buy Cee. Just some sexual menace–but that’s clearly shown to be a bad thing, something undesirable.
Not Rating, but Expectations Mark Prospect as More Moral than Rim of the World
In fact, that’s really the key thing. Prospect portrays an awful world and awful people, but never gave me the sense that it was trying to portray that world as normal. We can cheer for Cee because even though she is in danger and given bad examples, she desires to do what is right and in fact partially succeeds. She saves herself–and a stranger whom she has no particular need to save. She is not a perfect person, but her character points to an idea of good and evil–evil exists in the story, even if it is so common that nobody is surprised when it shows up–but the central character is not a part of that evil And in fact opposes evil in multiple ways.
Evil in Rim of the World is the aliens trying to kill everybody, which of course is a no duh bad thing. But nothing about what the main characters do that I find objectionable, whether ogling or making innuendoes or crying because they are going to die a virgin, etc, none of those things are portrayed to be bad. Just ordinary stuff.
We could say Rim of the World normalizes these behaviors and of course it does, but my main reason to object to the movie was because of one of the things one of my critics thought invalidated my point. The critic stated the movie simply reflected the way kids are, awkwardly claiming more sexual knowledge than they actually have. Yeah, but “the way kids are” is main element of what I complained about. I think “the way kids are” in our culture is oversexualized.
Imagine traveling back one hundred and fifty years into the past in a time machine and noting how many thirteen-year-olds would be smoking. A lot would be. While some people of the period would agree with you that’s a bad thing, many would shrug their shoulders and say, “Hey, that’s just what kids do.” You’d immediately reply, “But is that what they should do?”
Likewise, of course there’s an age in which boys especially but also girls are going to have a lot of sexual interest. But they aren’t necessarily going to announce that they’ve already had a threesome with two women as one of the young characters in Rim of the World does. They aren’t necessarily going to think pretending to be sexual experienced is cool and admitting to being a virgin (at 13) is shameful. Yeah, it may be this kind of behavor is in fact normal right now in our culture, but it should not be normal. Or course sexual interest will be normal—but a culture of expectation concerning sex, that having it as soon as possible is good–that doesn’t have to be normal. And having it in ways common to porn–that also doesn’t have to be normal, either.
In fact, I think being a Christian puts me at war with the world in a way. Not a war in which I burn things down and shoot people, but a war in which I oppose the standards of the world and offer other standards, ones I believe God has inspired. Note not all Christian people think that way. Not all fans of speculative fiction are on board with me to be sure.
I like the nobledark and grimbright type of stories because they reflect what I see is reality. The world is not good–it cannot be trusted. But that doesn’t mean it’s nothing but bad. There still is good to be found. But you have to look for it, fight for it even. And we need both heroes and ordinary people to stand against what’s wrong, in both big ways and small.
When I put it that way, it seems like nobledark and grimbright or dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and otherwise dark and gritty stories should be what Christians authors of speculative fiction mainly write. Of course, that’s not how things are and isn’t even true of all the stories I like best. But it’s true of some of them.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Have you seen Prospect and if so, what did you think? What do you think about the categories of grimdark, noblebright, nobledark, and grimbright? Please leave a comment below.
Y’know, you mention the perception that Christians tolerate violence more than sex as if you mean to disrupt that expectation….and then you don’t really do anything to disrupt that expectation. You were allllmost there, and then you refused the jump.
I wonder what it says about you that you prefer nobledark to anything cheery. Why would you prefer people to be afraid of sex? (That’s a rhetorical question. Lord help me, I should stop expecting any real reasoning behind the Christian cultural disgust of sex that isn’t tacked on after the fact.)
So naturally I’m going to compound ungrounded theories based on what little I know about your background and personality.
So you prefer to be in a world with constant struggle? I suppose that’s a relic of your military brainwashing, and I don’t even mean that in a derogatory sense. They brainwashed you so you would be able to function in an unstable and struggling context. In basic training they deprived you of sleep and put you under a lot of carefully cultivated stress in order to condition you into how they wanted you to react, right?
But your sense of identity and meaning were already structured for you. What would it mean if you didn’t have an external struggle to fight against? What do you do for internal ones?
But I know you’re not a meathead and you’ve thought of this kind of stuff before. But you’re not comfortable with the uncertainty, are you? You mentioned your unstructured background and your crappy capacity for making decisions in the past, so that would be a plausible rationale for why you think preexisting structures are more reliable than any ideas that you (and prolly other people) can come up with.
I’ve done some too-personal, careless poking at your marriage to a Mexican national before, so Imma do it again: what does it say about you that you chose someone from a culture with much greater emphasis on gender roles than American culture? Is it the thing with preexisting structures again? Didn’t you have a wife before this one, or am I mixing you up with someone else? I would have a LOT more too-personal semi-rhetorical questions if that were the case.
Also I think I prefer “hopepunk” but it needs a better first syllable(s), for mouthfeel’s sake. Posipunk (positive-punk)? Optipunk (optimist-punk)?
And I suppose it would only be fair if you played armchair-psychologist and published unsubstantiated theories about my personality and personal philosophy. I already know you think of me more or less as a rebellious dipwad who should have already outgrown this stage, but I’m curious about what other things you can come up with about my marriage or how I treat my cats or my deep-seated insecurities. I doubt you can be any scarier than the abyss of my own overthinking.
Brennan I think of as being the rural Midwestern version of bourgeois. Bless his heart, I dunno if you can expect much more from someone with a business degree. He tries, but I want to call him a filthy casual until he puts a lot more hours in. Git gud, noob.
Autumn I think of as being “like me when I was unmedicated” but I am definitely projecting and it’s super condescending of me despite whatever good intentions I want to have about sharing things with you and
broadening your horizonsugh that’s condescending. I have complicated feelings about you and it’s not your fault.
Bourgeois? You might as well point at a bowl of soup and call it a banana. Try again, NUB!
Bourgeois in attitude if not in financials, ya filthy casual
Once again, shows how poorly you actually understand my attitudes and values.
I’ve answered you twice now–and neither time did the answer stay on the site. I’m not sure what’s happening, but the first answer I gave was very long, the second was medium long, but this will be pretty short.
I don’t think you’ve analyzed me very well. I think I regularly express uncertainty about various things–though it’s valid to say I study hard and apply myself because I want to know what is true and seek to know what is true. But I also admit when I plainly don’t know. (AAAND you have very poorly identified formative moments in my life–Basic Training wasn’t all that big of a deal, but other moments were. And other things you got wrong. Etc.)
You on the other hand, seem utterly certain your Progressive stances are completely true. I’ve never heard you express any doubt about any of those beliefs at all. Or much doubt about anything, actually (though you do admit you don’t know everything about me–yet you analyzed me anyway). Yet you say you feel insecure. Hmm. I’m curious why.
Yes, I was previously married. Long story. As for my wife since 2016, she yes is a citizen of Mexico. Also has a master’s degree, speaks English, French (in addition to Spanish), prays devoutly, serves God as an Evangelical, worked at a paramedic for the Mexican Red Cross who performed mountain rescues (though that was twenty years ago). My wife is competent, capable, impressive, adventurous, and also, very serious about her Christianity. An important point is I’m multi-lingual and interested in learning and other cultures and I learn something from her about Spanish or Mexico almost every day. She is “my kind of woman”–not specifically because of Mexican ideas on gender roles, though I’m more than OK with her not believing she is a man. 🙂
I generally prefer stories that are darker or at least more serious, though there are times when I like more lighthearted stuff. One thing that’s extremely important is whether the story feels like it has a decent amount of substance.
Recently I found a very happy story, but I might stop reading it because so far, it feels like it’s main purpose is to be cutesy and not much else. Whenever it looks like a problem is going to occur, it just ends up being a big wad of nothing. Like, the situation gets resolved too easily, or the problem wasn’t actually a problem in the first place. That’s not entirely bad, because lots of people might be cheered up by such tales. But for me it’s starting to get vaguely annoying. Like, the story essentially keeps yanking the reader’s attention to things that prove to be false alarms.
And then sometimes a story can bug me even when it technically does contain significant issues and challenges. Two stories come to mind as an example(both share the same author). I sort of enjoyed them even though they were slow paced and even a little boring at times. But then I started having these little flickers of annoyance toward the main girl char. Like ‘how is she going to handle it when she finally has a REAL conflict with her new boyfriend, one that’s on an important issue that can’t be resolved quickly and might not end with her SO agreeing with her?’
It’s really weird to describe how I feel about those stories, because I wouldn’t say they’re evil by any means, and in many ways they’re fluffy and nice(that doesn’t equal good, I’m just commenting on how the stories seem). On a surface level, lots of people might say those stories represent what healthy relationships can and should be like. And in some instances, they’d be correct. But what I eventually realized was that there was a subtle aspect to those tales that felt frustratingly fake.
Not in the ‘it’s fiction so of course it’s fake’ way. More like there was a weird, vague boundary when it came to what happened and how the chars acted. Like, a lot of the main guy chars were allowed to have their hobbies and interests, but they rarely went outside the paradigm of what ultimately made the main girl char happy. And usually any char that went too far outside that paradigm was very toxic or made to look bad.
After considering the story a while, I realized several things the main girl char did could put her in the category of a Mary Sue(Which isn’t automatically a bad thing. A lot of people write those, especially on accident when they’re new to writing.) I’d say the main girl char wasn’t as obviously obnoxious as other Mary Sues, but there was definitely a subtle aspect of everything in the story revolving and bending around her in some way. Like, everything being designed to make her happy, look good, or make readers feel sorry for her. That in and of itself is fine, except it rarely felt like she had much self reflection and accountability while nearly every char that upset her ended up apologizing or not being a major part of her life.
It’s not that she constantly went around mistreating the other chars, it’s just that when one really pays attention it becomes evident that the story itself isn’t realistic in the sense of giving all the chars full agency/autonomy. It also doesn’t let the main girl char make/own up to mistakes in how she treats people. Or, at least, not as much as the other chars. When she DID take accountability, it was mainly in the sense of ‘I should have known better than to marry that stupid guy.’ So it was still centered on another person’s wrongdoing, not her own or what she could have done to make the situation better. I’m not saying the blame needed to center on her instead, it’s just that she was practically never shown as having a negative effect on her own life or anyone else’s.
IDK, hopefully that kind of made sense. I’m not saying the story was evil, and stories like this can actually be very interesting in the sense that they work differently than real life does. And I can see how people enjoy romance stories like that for the sake of escapism. I actually enjoyed these two tales for the most part, it’s just that now and then they annoyed me with their fakeness and subtle implication that the main girl char was in the perfect relationship because she found someone that made her happy all the time. Part of that just didn’t add up when she talked like she put all the right work into her romantic relationships even though there was evidence that she actually didn’t. It just made it feel like her relationship wouldn’t withstand any serious hits.
So, I dunno. I CAN like happier stories, but they’re very likely to bore me or drive me up the wall if they’re written in certain ways. Then again, part of me actually enjoyed figuring out why those last two stories bugged me, so it’s not all bad. I still learned some helpful things from them, too. Even if I disagreed with them, there was a lot to unpack and analyze and that in and of itself is valuable.
I’m thankful for you T-1, because otherwise T-2 wouldn’t have known to try Prospect when it popped up in my queue. I also liked it, for many of the reasons you’ve outlined. I found it to be a character-driven story with some SF elements, which was perfectly fine; no need for big special effects. I appreciated the reference to pearl-harvesting; I hadn’t thought of it that way when I watched it, but that’s a great analogy. You hit on a solid truth that bears repeating: it’s not that an “acceptable” story needs to shy away from sex, but it aught to reflect the appropriate attitude towards it. Prospect doesn’t imply that sex is bad (I don’t think it really makes any implication), but it clearly does imply that sexual exploitation 1) exists in the story world and 2) is wrong. No handwavium, no “But they are from a different, modern culture”. Critics can argue what “appropriate” means, but I found the messaging of Prospect to be aligned with my own thoughts. Now to update my sales pages with “grimbright”…
Hey, nice to hear from you, Travis. I’ve missed interacting you with. Hope you are well.
Glad you liked Prospect. When I saw the ad for it I was thinking, “This is gonna be cheesy” but in fact was impressed. Definitely worth seeing! (And I’m glad you agreed with me about that 🙂 )