*/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B
starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson
screenplay by Philip Eisner
directed by Paul Anderson
by Walter Chaw Event Horizon approaches the science-fiction idea of a mysterium tremens, hints that it will be about the inscrutability of an alien intelligence--like Lem's and Tarkovsky's (and Soderbergh's) variations on the theme of Solaris, for instance, or that monolith in 2001. But with lowbrow hack Paul W.S. Anderson (then simply Paul Anderson) at the helm, Event Horizon washes out as just another assembly-line jump-scare factory. A particular shame, as with this project Anderson attracted an unusually competent cast, only to ask the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Joely Richardson, Sam Neill, Jason Isaacs, and Kathleen Quinlan to respond to cats-by-any-other-name jumping through allegorical windows. It goes beyond wearisome to actually being insulting. The first hour is spent establishing the brave crew of the Lewis & Clark, setting off to somewhere near Neptune on the rescue and salvage of experimental ship Event Horizon, which disappeared a few months prior. Outfitted with a new "gravity drive" suspiciously like the fold-space/grasshopper spice drive from Dune, the Event Horizon has not only managed to travel beyond our Universe--it has also succeeded in theologically blowing our minds! Weird visions ensue (bad dreams and worse), and then there's the captain's log that our heroes spend the bulk of the film "filtering" before finally discovering that the warnings contained therein are in Latin for a reason. Doesn't anyone in the future watch The Exorcist? Good thing medico D.J. (Isaacs) speaks Latin, or they'd never know what it wouldn't help them to know.
If only it helped us, too, but matters of Heaven and Hell are used for no other purpose than to justify a production design for the ship modeled after the spires and stained glass of Notre Dame. As far as it goes, the ship functions a little like an industrial Regan McNeil: an empty vessel in need of a Catholic guiding principle. Sadly, Event Horizon lacks the imagination to somehow equate ecclesiastical pursuits and cannibalistic blood rites (like Communion, for instance) with deep-space exploration's attractiveness as something that is essential, visceral, in mankind, innate and immemorial. The movie has nothing on its mind when, had it the ambition and courage, it could have dealt with the impossibility for apes to ever understand the ways of a Christian God. There's not even any attempt to discuss the possibility that the visions the crew sees are products of its evolution in the traditions of the Church--that the fate of the ship's passengers is the fate awaiting Babel's children, or Daedulus's son, or Prometheus. There's nothing about ambition in the picture at all. Which makes perfect sense, since the film trades intellectualism for grandiloquence in its sets and neat-for-the-time special effects.
Compare this failure to the studio-engineered failure of Walter Hill's Supernova: Where Event Horizon appears strangled in the womb for its entire second half, Hill's picture, despite the studio-mandated changes imposed on it in post-production, bristles with ideas about who we are and, more importantly, what our dreams say about us. There's an entire thread elided from Hill's picture centred around violence in "old" Earth cartoons--a conversation that would have fit snugly in the mostly-animated Event Horizon, as it turns out, dealing as the movie does with the question of existential representation in a year, 1997*, at the peak of our digital revolution, with The Fifth Element on the one side and a pinnacle (or nadir) of sorts, Titanic, on the other. To apply our veneration of immortal golden calfs, consumed through a televisual medium, to a product of violent fantasy would have been--would still be--sublime.
You look at Event Horizon as you would something that fell out of someone's nose. Scenes are cribbed not from one movie, but from every like movie; a bogey is introduced nonsensically and its conclusion, complete with obligatory final sting, is wearisome. It says a lot that in one special feature on the film's Blu-ray release, when they speak of tension, the clip they trot out to demonstrate "tension" as a theory in practice is of someone startling someone else by placing a hand on a shoulder. The shame of it is that there actually is some tension established in the picture's pressurized, diving-bell setting, but the early sense of the unknown and that tingling romance of atrocity-to-come are knocked down like tenpins as Anderson reaches, over and over, into his empty bag of tricks. Worse, the gore is sedate or obscured in barely-glimpsed jump-cuts for fear that its synthetic Hell is too intense, somehow, for an audience primed for abomination. For a space flick about transgressing religious ideology, there's a remarkable lack of imagination to it. Even the deservedly-maligned Pinhead Goes to Space, or whatever the fourth film in the Hellraiser saga is called, shows more chutzpah in its fright pieces and execution.
Worthless to get into it much, but find booming tenor Capt. Miller (Fishburne) the leader of this ragtag, Alien-stencilled band--the various other roughnecks interchangeable save the jive-turkey handyman Cooper (Richard T. Jones) and the perfunctory egghead outsider Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), on board to offer his expert advice on the demonic goings-on. A haunted ship is a neat idea every time it's trotted out, and coupled with the new elasticity of digital effects possible by this point in the 1990s, it seems a good bet for an interesting genre exploration. The result though is this slick, stupid supernatural slasher flick that also has the misfortune of not being particularly gross and not indulging the prurient in any choice nudity. It's a failure as exploitation, a failure as art, and a failure as entertainment. Genre fans of both the sci-fi and horror branches should be disappointed (and generally were), and because it's so asinine and flaccid, there's absolutely nothing to attract the non-fanatical willing to cut it a break for all its shortcomings.
For as little as there is to recommend the thing, lo, here's a packed Blu-ray presentation of Event Horizon--running at a smooth, beefy 45 mbps with a booming 48khz audio mix to vomit up the soundtrack jangles at regular intervals. The 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is dated by a slight vertical squeeze and some edge-enhancement perhaps applied to provide the image a synthetic gloss that better matches the CGI. Still, it's quite beautiful, though the beauty highlights that Anderson is mainly interested in sexy and not the slightest bit interested in the texture of the medium: any examination of the dark side of the '90s digital revolution would benefit from a discussion of this film, as visually sterile, as it happens, as Tony Randel and Clive Barker's geometric inferno from Hellbound: Hellraiser II. It's cold as a lump of ice--not nihilistic, mind, just a stiff. In the plus column, skin tones are naturalistic, and a kill-HAL sequence stands out for the impressively stable vibrancy of the green corridor. The accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track is smooth as silk and periodically thunderous, but there's a problem with the modulation late in the film, resulting in a couple of swallowed lines.
Demonstrating the format's storage capacity, a previous two-DVD special edition of the film is loaded onto a single Blu-ray disc without any loss of quality to the standard-def supplements (or the HD main attraction). Start with a commentary from Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt packed with useless information and a scary amount of hubris and advanced cunt-ism. For all the references to holy relics and the like, you'd think they were painting the Sistine Chapel. From the start, it's hard to know whether Anderson and Bolt are mates or antagonists: When Bolt introduces himself as producer, Anderson corrects, "One of the producers. I'm Paul Anderson. The only director." Giving him the benefit of the doubt that it's an example of the man's sense of humour, it's seriously unfunny. Bolt seems to be trying harder than Anderson to be jovial, for what it's worth, the latter pontificating on and on about what he's trying to do and what he believes he's done. If you're a serious fan of this film, you'll drink his Kool-Aid. If, on the other hand, you're not an idiot, this shit gets stale pretty fast. A good 30% of the track is spent with Anderson commenting on how great the picture looks, how great the actors are, and how much he was able to startle audiences with his endless jump-scares. To his credit, he repeatedly cites Ridley Scott as the chief inspiration for the flick.
"The Making of Event Horizon" is, at 105 minutes, an exhausting, bloated thing, the lone benefit of which is a chance to view some of the excellent gore effects in segments lasting longer than a fraction of a second. Anderson regurgitates almost everything from his commentary and does his best to act modest, having deluded himself into thinking this movie's something to brag about. Biggest surprise might be that he wanted to remake The Shining in space; biggest non-surprise is that he's a lot surer than anyone else that he succeeded. As you'd probably assume, this feature-length doc covers every single aspect of the production, from set design and construction through to special effects and casting. Bolt reveals that a lot of graphic gore scenes were cut because they made screening audiences uncomfortable, causing me to wonder why it is that people who make graphic gore movies want everyone who is not, and will never be, in their target audience to feel completely at ease. Anderson explains that the thorough failure of the film's first screening was the result of a quiet soundtrack--which may be right, but in being right says that Anderson equates startling people with scaring them. Ultimately, Anderson bitches that the movie released was not his final vision, thus explaining why it's just not very good--although his follow-up films offer a better explanation.
Evidently in a reflective mood, Anderson and Bolt express a lot of regret that they pulled out so many of the unpleasant sequences in the picture, from a quiet intro ghost-written by Andrew Kevin Walker to the death-orgy covered lavishly, I remember, in an issue of FANGORIA. (It's an eyeblink in the finished product.) Truth is, without a guiding, unifying principle--something I don't think Anderson is capable of--no volume of visuals can substitute for a lack of brains. That being said, if it's going to be stupid anyway, might as well go for the explicit; kudos for the introspection, boys. For the record, a goodly number of deleted scenes are warehoused in the documentary. Next, "The Point of No Return: The Filming of" (8 mins.) basically explores Event Horizon's production design in detail for the deeply curious. "Secrets" (10 mins.) includes three greenscreen-laden deleted/extended sequences with optional PWSA commentary that generally attributes length as the reason for most of the elisions. An extended discovery of an eviscerated body is, for what it is, worth the price of admission, however, while a fairly cool image of Weir scaling a ladder upside-down is another too-bad cut and there's no good explanation, frankly, for its removal. (It also proves that Anderson, at least, has seen The Exorcist.) "The Unseen Event Horizon" (3 mins.) is PWA talking over a couple storyboards of un-shot sequences for the film and adds nothing. A video trailer in SD and the theatrical trailer in full HD round out the presentation. Originally published: April 23, 2009.
*A great year for identity displacement in the genre with stuff like Face/Off, Abre Los Ojos, Alien: Resurrection, and Funny Games. Consider, too, the sharp satire of that year's Starship Troopers, the first salvos in the fin de siècles navel-dive in Gattaca, and the good time/memory erasure of mega-pop Men In Black. return