Event Horizon (1997) Retro Review

So close. So far.

Before I commence this review we must acknowledge something about the film Event Horizon, something that very likely will affect its reception now until the end of time. After Paul W.S. Anderson screened his original cut of the film to test audiences, the studio demanded that he cut 30 minutes. Reportedly it had to do with the level of gore. It disturbed people. This may be so, but it’s difficult to believe that Anderson cut 30 minutes of nothing but bloody mayhem from his movie. And I find it impossible to believe that one can cut 30 minutes out of any movie without sacrificing a good chunk of story. I could easily be wrong. The original cut of Event Horizon may have just been backloaded with half an hour of people screaming themselves to chunky pieces. Apparently an original cut of the film has been found on VHS, though whether or not it will ever make it to the public eye is unknown. Much like the titular ship itself, we cannot say what Event Horizon could have been. We can only deal with what it is.

This is depressing because the movie comes very, very close to being very, very good. What it winds up as is very interesting, very intriguing. Ultimately, however, its promising start leads into a scintillating middle and finishes with a muddled third act that rushes by making about as much sense as it can before waving toodle-oo and sending Mr. Anderson off to the rest of his film career (though we cannot cry for him; he is, after all, married to the indomitable Milla Jovovich and that, my friends, is not a bad fate – no matter how many bad movies it takes to make that relationship work).

I’d like to say Event Horizon is a brilliantly original idea but it’s not. It was pitched by its screenwriter as “The Shining in space” and that’s exactly what it is. However, as I’ve mentioned time and again, how original your story is counts for little if you can do it in a way we’ve never seen before. There are only ten scripts in Hollywood, after all, and before that I’m sure Shakespeare would tell you there were only ten plays. Event Horizon, though it owes a great debt to both The Shining and especially to 1979’s Alien, is a very cool concept executed with care and – at first – precision. The further we get from the meditative atmosphere of the beginning the more the narrative and the action breaks down. It’s probably due to those lost minutes but, dear readers, I cannot review what I cannot see.

The truth is the movie spoils itself. Half of it is a great concept film. The other half is a bloody mess. The sole consolation is that the set department does amazing work in both parts and I hope they won an award somewhere because the models, massive sets and art design are all fantastic. If as much love went into the script as it did the decor this thing almost would be Shakespeare. As it is, the script’s a rough row to hoe, saved only by the performances of its actors who, for whatever reason, are all totally committed to this sci-fi horror flick. If I’m painting this picture right, you’re getting an idea that for every strike against it there is some saving grace. But it’s what makes Event Horizon such a disappointing failure, rather than a forgettable one. The sets, actors and idea are all great. So are most of the effects. The dialogue and editing are not. I can’t think of another movie whose merits were diced up into such incongruous pieces – which is more than a little eerie when considering the plot of this movie is about a good vehicle that came back wrong. (For the players at home, that is not irony; that is what George Carlin calls a “poetic coincidence.”)

(Or space hell. It could be the machinations of space hell.)

The plot of Event Horizon can be summed up as: Once upon a time in the future, an experimental ship was built to explore the farthest reaches of the universe. With modern technology, that mission is technically impossible. But a physics-defying engine developed by Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill) uses “gravitons” (for the scientifically inclined, a nice touch) to punch a wormhole in space and jump the distance between two points instantly. On its maiden voyage, the Event Horizon disappears. It reappears seven years later and a salvage crew led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) is sent to investigate the ship and discover what went wrong. The answer being, pretty much everything.

All of the buildup for this story is handled cleanly and with care. Weir’s explanation of how the ship works has just enough technobabble to show that the filmmakers care about their concept, and as I’ve already mentioned the gizmos and sets have a great and grungy “used future” aesthetic. But everything starts to go to hell (not in the fun, creepy way) when Capt. Miller starts questioning Weir about what the hell is going on.

It doesn’t take long for the crew to realize something really weird occurred when the Event Horizon made its jump. Capt. Miller, being a good captain, wants Weir to explain. There are, gosh I don’t know, six, seven scenes of Capt. Miller running to Weir and saying, “Hey, what? Why?” followed by six or seven scenes of Weir saying, “Um. No. Can’t talk. Science. Everything’s logical, captain.” It’s like watching six seasons of Lost compressed into a 100 minute movie. There’s literally no reason for these characters not to discuss this problem with each other beyond the screenwriter needing to pad the runtime and exaggerate the suspense. Didn’t enjoy it for six years, didn’t enjoy it for two hours.

And to add insult to hellish injury, Sam Neill’s Weir gets a sad little backstory slapped on to no ultimate purpose. He is tortured by the suicide of his wife and yet still glad to see his life’s work return from space – and then the film just drops him off into the background until it needs him again. The film starts off with Weir as our focus character, but he goes from curious bystander to crazed antagonist in the span of a single scene. His transformation from moody scientist to cenobite is as inexplicable as the state of his eyeballs (missing, sewn up or back in his head? who knows!). For him the shift in quality between the first and second half of the film is glaringly obvious. Fishburne’s Captain Miller takes on the burden of protagonist-duty, and he acquits himself very well. Miller is one of my favorite horror movie leads just for the fact that as soon as he even suspects something’s wrong his response is, literally, “F*** this ship.” He wants to leave, he wants to save his crew, and he does everything he can to make that happen.

Cue another scene of,

MILLER: “Weir, seriously, what the f-”
WEIR: “Um, hmm? Nope. Nothing’s wrong with my ship.”
MILLER: “I saw a dude on fire.”
WEIR: “I need to go rip off a scene from Cube. I can’t help you.”
MILLER: “Fine. But if you see anything weird while you’re crawling around in the guts of your creepy ship, like your dead wife, or like your dead wife minus her eyeballs, let me know. Cause everybody’s been seeing dead people. And that’s not cool.”
WEIR: “I probably won’t see that.”
MILLER: “Science?”
WEIR: “Um. Yeah, cause science.”
MILLER: “Your ship is stupid.”
WEIR: “My ship isn’t stupid. You’re stupid.”
MILLER: “I’m not stupid. This movie might be stupid.”
EVENT HORIZON: “Perhaps I will be vindicated by home video.”
TVTROPES: “Hard to say. You’ll definitely get a cult following from Hellraiser and Warhammer 40K fans.”
PIERCE: “And totally ripped off by 2000’s Supernova.”
WEIR: “So you’re the one person who saw that movie.”
PIERCE: “I’ve seen a lot of terrible movies.”
WEIR: “Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to s-”
MILLER: “Totally ripped off from Back to the Future.”
WEIR: “Don’t be stupid.”
MILLER: “You’re stupid.”

(Exeunt omnes, pursued by a space bear)

Event Horizon (1997)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Paramount Pictures
96 Minutes

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17 Comments on Event Horizon (1997) Retro Review

  1. Speaking of terrible movies with Fishbourne. In Predators, his performance is f***ing exhilarating. He is the one saving grace of that film and so maybe it’s fitting that he’s on screen for ten minutes before being offed.

    • He was also the only person who gave a good performance in that abhorrent Man of Steel movie. He doesn’t get much to do, but he at least does the best he can with his material. Everyone else acts like they’re in a school play.

      • Nothing would please me more than to have regular fist fights like Fight Club so that I can utter, “Stop trying to hit me and hit me!”

        • He does great with great material and he does surprisingly well with meh material. Fishburne has this thing though, I see it in his eyes in really bad movies, where it’s almost like you can see what he’s thinking about the movie even while he’s acting, like, “yeah, shoulda stuck to theatre.” Do you guys know he fudged his age so he could appear in Apocalypse Now?

    • Yeah, I remember reading about him being too young to actually appear in Apocalypse Now… that movie has a lot of crazy stories behind it. Did you know Fishburne was the voice of the bear in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? The “What do I know, I’m a bear?” bear?

      So, what do we call the fan club? My vote is for the Mystic Knights of Shane Black’s Bear.

  2. Okay, let’s collate this:

    The Mystic Knights of Shane Black’s Bear
    The Thrax Brigade
    The Cowboy Curtis Corral
    Furious Styles’ Furious Five (give or take five)
    The Sons of the Silver Surfer
    More Fiats
    The Morpheus Marching Society

    I’m also adding:

    The Fish-tails
    The Believers (as in “He’s beginning to believe [in me, Laurence Fishburne]”)

  3. Casey & I’s buddy was in one of those CSI or SVU shows where he played the badguy for the last couple episodes. In one episode, while wearing a doctor’s surgical mask, he bashes Larry Fishburne in the face with a 2×4. In honor of the great Patrick Koffel, my one link to fame and fortune, I vote we call it: “The Milla Jovavich Fan Club”

  4. I finally saw this movie and now it all makes sense.

    It really makes you wonder what the fuck was happening behind the scenes since it skips a beat (or two, or three) mid-way through.

    You can kinda see how the producers repackaged the film with the totally inconsistent opening credits. I know it’s a minor thing, but the opening credits play like this is going to be a space-action/adventure movie. Not like a space horror opera.

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