Where Horror is concerned, this is an "A" movie that has a lot going for it.
A wonderful cast is headed by Lawrence Fishburne (THE MATRIX), Sam Neill (IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, JURASSIC PARK, JURASSIC PARK III) and Kathleen Quinlan (TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE). All the rest of the actors turn in great performances, boosting the script even in its weak spots. This is also a Science Fiction movie as well. As far as Hollywood goes, the Science is reasonably good (that ain't saying much, but it won't make you choke). But mainly first and foremost, this is a horror movie. From the opening scene where we see a butchered, eyeless corpse twirling toward the camera, we know that we are in for a gorefest.
The movie starts out in text format reminiscent of Alien, where we are told that the EVENT HORIZON was a spacecraft that was lost in on its maiden voyage past Neptune and so became the worst space disaster ever.
So now you know.
After a little bit of shock to kick off the movie, we meet Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) who is having nightmares about the Event Horizon and still mourning the loss of his wife. Now the ship has been found and he has been sent on a Top Secret Mission aboard a Search and Rescue ship, The Lewis and Clarke, to go and find out where she has been for seven years.
Unfortunately, this particular rescue ship has a very overworked crew who did not get the leave promised due to the emergency call of taking Doctor Weir out to Neptune. The last rescue attempted that far out resulted in the loss of both victim and rescue ship. This crew is insanely high strung and edgy. NOT the kind of folks with whom I'd want to spend next 8 months in lock up.
The Captain (Lawrence Fishburne) is abrupt and short tempered to his guest, Dr. Weir, and his crew even more so. The only two who appear to have any maturity are the ship's doctor (Kathleen Quinlan) and the First Mate, Lt. Stark (Joley Richardson). As much as the crew dislikes Dr. Weir, they are very fond of, and look out for, each other; so it makes sense how they can operate compatably even in the worst of times. They are not generally assholes, but Dr. Weir is their reason for not getting their well deserved leave. Dr. Weir didn't ask to be put in such a situation, faceless high mucky-mucks simply screwed the poodle on the work billet.
From the beginning you just KNOW that things aren't going to go well. Things don't get any better when Dr. Weir informs the crew of their destination. You see, up 'till now the folks at home were told that the EVENT HORIZON blew up. The real story is different, and the last recorded message of the crew is a bit nasty and unsettling. The true nature of the EVENT HORIZON's maiden voyage doesn't win Dr. Weir any new friends and before we even get to the derelict ship, tensions are going from bad to worse.
At any rate, they get to the EVENT HORIZON, get onboard, and Merry Mishaps Ensue.
The original crew is dead, no surprises there. The twirling corpse should have tipped you off. What is a surprise, and a delightfully gruesome one, is how they died: they behaved like British soccer fans after losing a game to France! Or perhaps French Soccer fans in Columbia! Not a good idea anywhere, but particularly in the confines of a spaceship.
Seeing as how there WAS no soccer game at the time, the crew of the Lewis and Clarke must spend the rest of the movie trying to discover what set off the EVENT HORIZON crew.
It's an interesting, if not fresh, little mystery; one that weaves ancient mythos into the mix. Good thing it does too because the basic plot of EVENT HORIZON is the old cliché of "Science taking man beyond where he was meant to go!" (in fact, this line is actually used in two variations in the movie)
This movie uses a lot of "Bump & Gotcha!" to work its Edge-of-Seat jitters on you. The well-worn time honored Horror movie shtick of the Hand-On-The-Shoulder is used here to good effect; like an old vaudeville joke that you see coming from a mile off, but love to hear all the same. Why it is that, no matter how many times we see it, we always get a goose from the Hand-On-The-Shoulder bit or the Cat-In-Your-Face routine? Even when it is Science Fiction Horror (ALIEN, JURASSIC PARK)? It's just one of life's little truisms.
These are the things that still give us a shock, even in real life.
If you doubt me, then hide in the dark of your house tonight and when your spouse / lover walks by, calling out your name and looking for the light, throw a cat in their face! You see? It really works doesn't it? Isn't life funny?
Anyway . . .
The heart of the Event Horizon is an engine powered by an artificial gravity well. This engine room is more reminiscent of late 19th century designs for futuristic machinery than anything modern. Heavy metal gears, plates and long pointy spikes (that you just KNOW will be used for nasty purposes) make up the engine room. The walkway that leads to the engine room is a rotating cylinder with jutting blades that, as Mr. Justin (Jack Noseworthy: IDLE HANDS, CECIL B. DEMENTED) puts it, "Looks like a meat grinder to me."
The Gun On The Table
Now, as good as this movie is, it fails on these accounts: When a movie gives you the ways and the means, and then does nothing with them, you can't help but feel let down. EVENT HORIZON, from the very beginning, sets you up for a horror film propelled by gore. But this never happens.
Don't get me wrong, there is action aplenty and unexpected twists and all kinds of nightmarish things going on.
But that spikey engine room with the meat grinder walkway! The way that engine room is set up you just know that, SURELY, this will be the set of the grand and gruesome finale. You are sitting in the audience Preparing and Tensing yourself for the gory wickedness that this movie is surely leading up to, AND IT JUST NEVER HAPPENS!
Imagine ALIEN where the creature simply dies on the Nostromo during the blast, or TERMINATOR 2 ending with that skinny robot cop freezing solid, breaking apart, drop the curtain. EVENT HORIZON's ending, while not anti-climatic, is certainly all right turns from the direction the movie was taking us.
Where does the fault lie?
You get the feeling that this was not the writer, Philip Eisner's doing. While he is a little too heavy handed with the flash personalities of his characters, overall the story is balanced with flawless progression, scene to scene. Kudos also to Martin Hunter, the film editor.
Production Designer, Joseph Bennet and Costume Designer John Mollo, threw creativity out the window and settled for a Ron Cobb "used look" that we have become familiar with both from STAR WARS and ALIEN. It's not original, but it works with the story.
Director of Photography, Adrian Biddle, gives us a lush, eye-feast in every frame of the movie. You know by looking at this flick that it was made by high budget talent.
The Techno Industrial score is hashed out well by Michael Kamen, with some techno hip-hop thrown in by Prodigy.
But when you are attempting Horror and Science Fiction together, then you have to have some tight Special Effects people from all sides. After all, you are not simply trying to suspend your audience's disbelief, you are trying to make them care about people that are distanced by both time AND space. Nowhere in a film like this can you rely on people sitting in the dark and thinking "Gosh! I hope that never happens to me!"
Paramount eschewed the overused Special Effects houses of ILM and Dreamworks in favor of smaller studios that really did their job well.
Mass. Illusion, Cinesite (Europe) LTD, and Computer Film Company (London) did a first rate job on the crafts, space, and planet effects. Special Effects Supervisor, Neil Corboulo headed the staff that kept all the separate contractors working together including prosthetics & Animatronics by Image Animation, Weir-Beast EFX by Animated Extras, and a Visions of Hell sequence by Nicholas Wayman-Harris. And it's all chopped up into tiny worthless bits. The question is, why?
Scary movies do not need to be propelled by gore, but when you start your film off with a bloody butchered corpse, you are telling your audience, "Hey gang! This one is going to be gross! NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, type gross!" The movie sets us up and never knocks us down, but leaves us standing there at the end thinking, "That's all?"
Director Paul W.S. Anderson, is of course, responsible. While he gave us an action packed, entertaining movie, he never the less failed to deliver. You see something interesting here and something interesting there and when you get to the reason for it all the answer is unsatisfactory. Anderson saw what the story needed, saw what his Special Effects artists created for him, and backed away from it all. The threatening and deadly looking engine room remains pristine and like a long anticipated, but bland meal, you can't help but feel let down.
This movie isn't bad, but it could have been so much better. Paul should have been given a script more to his liking and Philip Eisner's story should have been given the treatment it deserved.
EVENT HORIZON gets 3 Shriek Girls.
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