Should I Watch..? 'Event Horizon'
What's the big deal?
Event Horizon is a sci-fi horror film released in 1997 and was directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. The film concerns the sudden reappearance of an experimental spaceship having been presumed lost and the efforts of a rescue team to work out what went wrong. The movie stars Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson and Jason Isaacs. The film had a disruptive production as it was only ten months between being green-lit and being finished - an unusually short development period given the amount of special effects required. Sadly, the film was a box office bomb with domestic earnings in the US far below the film's estimated $60 million budget. Critical reaction was also mixed but the film has since become a cult favourite after much success on the home video market.
What's it about?
Seven years after apparently being destroyed in an accident, the starship Event Horizon reappears in orbit around Neptune and begins broadcasting a disturbing distress signal. The crew of the Lewis & Clark are assembled and dispatched into deep space along with the ship's designer, Dr Weir, in order to rescue any survivors and attempt to establish where it has been all this time. When they arrive, Dr Weir briefs Captain Miller and his team as to the nature of the Event Horizon - a secret government project to develop a ship capable of travelling vast distances by distorting space-time.
However, it appears that they are too late. The ship is drifting without power but it still displays erratic life-signs. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Miller and his team board the Event Horizon and begin searching the ship from top to bottom. After finding evidence of a massacre, tensions begin to rise and it soon becomes apparent that something has come back with the ship and is toying with them psychologically.
Dr William Weir
Richard T. Jones
Paul W.S. Anderson *
Release Date (UK)
22nd August, 1997
Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
What's to like?
At first, things are looking up for Event Horizon as it displays a reassuring touch when it comes to classic sci-fi cinema. The sets all have a "lived in" feel and functionality that's a world away from the clean-cut sets of Star Trek. As the story progresses, the mystery deepens further and it becomes an unsettling psycho-thriller. Clearly borrowing elements from the likes of the original Solaris and The Shining, the film wears its heart on its sleeve and comes across as a rare thing - a science fiction film with actual science.
Fishburne delivers a role with all the calm coolness you'd expect from the future Morpheus while Neill's twitchy scientist seems simultaneously to have the key to the mystery while also being ignorant of it. Like another of this film's influences Alien, the crew feel like they've known each other (or at least tolerated each other's company) for ages thanks to Pertwee's earthiness, Richardson's well-spoken deputy or Jones' wisecracks. The film's designs are to be complemented - the spaceships look fantastic floating in orbit above Neptune while the Gothic spookiness of the singularity drive is a chilling masterpiece. Yep, Event Horizon sure was looking good. And then the wheels came off in spectacular fashion.
- Paramount originally planned to release Titanic as their big summer movie but when production slipped back to December, they quickly gave this movie the go-ahead on the assumption it would be ready for release by August 1997. Hence, the film's short shooting schedule and reducing editing time.
- The original version ran for over two hours and was so much gorier that some test audiences fainted. Anderson was ordered by Paramount to tone it down but anyone hoping for the original cut will be disappointed - bad archiving means that the original edit was since been lost.
- An event horizon is the theoretical boundary of a black hole where the gravitational pull is so strong that nothing can escape from it, not even light. Given the ship's engine, the name is more than appropriate.
What's not to like?
In short, the final third. The film spends so much of its time building and building up to this enormous climax but it never arrives, leaving you confused and frustrated as it ends up being some sort of space-bound slasher film. It doesn't offer any real explanation as to the unfolding chaos nor any satisfactory conclusion to the story - the film just ends. Worse still, it leaves behind a multitude of questions and unresolved plot points. It basically doesn't explain itself and reverts to being a silly horror film with graphic violence, ridiculous levels of gore and predictable 'ghost-train' style scares. It looks like Anderson was recreating his favourite moments from Hellraiser but the studio made him cut most of it out.
I can't fault the film for a lack of ambition but given all the hard work to make this feel like a proper sci-fi film and not just some cheap gore-fest in space, it would have been nice if the editors had left some exposition in there for the rest of us. For example, the film makes no attempt to explain why Weir suffers hallucinations long before the rest of the crew do when they arrive at the Event Horizon. By the time that Peters goes running after her son and Millers battles a burning man, I couldn't keep up with it and the film left me behind. I so wanted to be amazed and enthralled with the ending after such a good build-up but by the time the credits rolled, I couldn't help but feel like I'd been mugged.
Should I watch it?
Event Horizon takes its cues from classic sci-fi and horror films but blends them into an incoherent mess. Technically, the film is impressive and shows a depth of thought behind sets and cinematography. But it can't quite sustain its story-telling until the end and soon descends into a blood-soaked farce. However, given Anderson's career so far, I reckon this is probably his best film to date although that damns it with faint praise.
Great For: gore hounds, production crews
Not So Great For: haters of electro music, the easily scared and squeamish, over-worked editors
What else should I watch?
The fact that Event Horizon could and should have been a classic is largely thanks to its multitude of inspirations. The Shining is possibly the greatest psycho-thriller in history (and also isn't afraid of the red stuff), Alien did a remarkable job of reclaiming sci-fi from the blockbusting success of Star Wars and the Russian film Solaris proved so influential that George Clooney starred in a Hollywood remake. Of course, the daddy of them all is 2001: A Space Odyssey which was years ahead of its time in terms of effects, story and design. The fact that it's still debated today proves its power.
Anderson, meanwhile, has had a fairly chequered success rate when it comes to directing movies. These days, he's probably more famous as the husband of Milla Jovovich who he directs in countess sequels to his 2002 adaptation of the videogame Resident Evil. His first such adaptation, the mildly interesting Mortal Kombat, remains one of the more popular movies based on gaming while the less said about his big budgeted update on B-movie classic Death Race, the better.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox