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Event Horizon (1997) postitions itself as a Sci-Fi / horror / suspense feature, clearly trying to outdo previous contenders in the category, in particular Ridley Scott's highly successful, genre-bending Alien from almost twenty years before. The director describes it as a haunted house movie in outer space. Tech contributions are impressive across the board. The model, matte and CGI special effects are splendid and the gore effects are top notch as well.
Event Horizon's talented cast is clearly capable of making the best of whatever material they're given. Unfortunately, the script is an impossibly derivative mess that raids other shows. This isn't eclecticism, it's pastiche. Overly familiar ideas have been clumped together the way a plumber gathers up parts in the hardware store.
The spaceship Event Horizon is dispatched to the outer planets to reconnoiter with a previous expedition, that has turned up suddenly after going missing for seven years. The intrepid but surly crew barely has the patience to listen to scientist William Weir's (Sam Neill) explanation of what's going on. The silent mystery ship carries a fantastic experimental relativity portal, through which its crew intended to travel to Alpha Centauri by folding space. As nobody on the ship seems to know anything about relativity, Weir explains the procedure by folding a piece of paper -- "folding space", get it? The condescending visual aid reminds us of the scientist in It Came from Beneath the Sea demonstrating how an octopus swims by making a balloon buzz around the Navy meeting room.
No sooner do the spacemen investigate the mystery ship than everything goes straight to haunted house ridiculousness, and stays there for the remaining ninety minutes. The "lifeform" detectors see no individual survivors but report that a general, fluctuating reading is emanating from all over the ship. Nobody worries about what that might mean. Mutilated corpses are found, and splattered human remains cover one entire wall of the bridge. Nothing to get upset about, it appears. Crew members then begin experiencing strange visitations. Weir is "haunted" by Claire (Holley Chant), a lover who killed herself. Med Tech Peters (Kathleen Quinlan of American Graffiti and Apollo 13) hallucinates her young son back on Earth, suffering from terrible wounds. Tough-guy Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) is tormented by a phantom from a long-ago accident, a "burning man" who blames Miller for deserting him.
Poor Justin (Jack Noseworthy) has the unenviable "young ensign" part -- he gets sucked into the still-functioning relativity portal (which Weir claims isn't functioning) and comes back as a catatonic wreck. Naturally, nobody acts on any of these dire "hints" that something cree-eepy is afoot, and Event Horizon becomes a carousel of horrors. The mystery ship is possessed by unknown demons; the previously benign Weir becomes the agent for whatever horrors lie beyond the portal to Alpha Centauri.
It needs to be emphasized that Event Horizon is no direct-to-video cheapie. The design and lighting are excellent and the acting is terrific; the direction of Paul W. S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat; Resident Evil; Death Race) isn't bad. But the undigested story elements are a sloppy mess, clearly tailored for an audience that doesn't care what's happening from one moment to the next as long as there's a steady stream of hi-tech eye candy and grossout gore.
The "steals" are incredibly blatant. The basic framework is 2010: The Year We Make Contact, crossed with a generic Clive Barker Lovecraft rip-off -- at one point Sam Neill even sports a horror makeup as painful-looking as the cenobite Pinhead from Hellraiser.
Most of the haunted house riffs are so overused as to be generic, although director Anderson cites The Haunting as a key influence. But Sci-Fi movies often live or die on the merit of their concepts. Event Horizon's time-space portal is a dull repeat of items from Dune and Stargate, and its rotating gyroscope design is derivative of the colossal construction in Contact. The visitations by phantoms from the past conjure memories of Tarkovsky's Solaris and Ib Melchoir's Journey to the Seventh Planet, not to mention Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. As interstellar contact with Alpha Centauri yields only a nightmare of horror, Event Horizon takes a familiar conservative tack: egghead scientists like William Weir just cause trouble. We'd be better off if he was simply eliminated.
What Event Horizon most resembles is a dumbed-down version of Philip K. Dick's book The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Howard Hughes-like space explorer Eldrich takes off for a distant star and disappears for ten years. When he returns, we don't know if it's Eldrich possessed of super powers or the aliens using an Eldrich hologram. But whoever partakes in "communion" with the man from beyond (too much to explain) finds that his reality is forever altered -- and under Eldrich's total control. Like most Dick novels, Stigmata would be a tough adaptation problem. But Anderson's picture is predictable exploitation on a big budget. Banks of instrumentation erupt in sparks, and people are turned inside-out. These aliens have no more imagination than the average Inquisition torturer. Our motto: "Disembowel it, and they will come."
Event Horizon's horrors from beyond space want to spread chaos -- Hell -- into our planetary system. The relativity gate is therefore a garden-variety Hell Portal as described by Lovecraft, et. al., dressed up as a space opera. We love the film's cast and want to care about what happens to such likeable folk as Fishburne, Quinlan and Neill; and that's not mentioning the fringe benefits of Joely Richardson (Lt. Stark), Richard T. Jones (amiable Cooper, rescue expert) and Jason Isaacs ( the surly space pilot, late of the Harry Potter movies). But where's the great movie they deserve?
Perhaps Event Horizon is the $50 million big-studio answer to the exploitative 1950s cheapies like It! The Terror from Beyond Space. But as a horror film it only treads water, and it's a giant backward step for Sci-Fi.
Paramount's Event Horizon is a dazzler on Blu-ray; Adrian Biddle's sharp images show off the impressive sets and Effects Supervisor Richard Yuricich's intergalactic visuals. The pleasant director Anderson is a major presence on all of the extras, which cover the film's origin and making in full detail. The enormous sets filled several Pinewood stages including the giant James Bond stage; for the most part we're looking at real settings for the ship interiors and practical miniatures for the exterior scenes.
Besides a commentary, five "making of " featurettes are accompanied by a longer "filming of" docu. Anderson comments on a storyboard construction illustrating an unfilmed sequence, as well as three deleted scenes. A trailer and a video promo are included as well. Event Horizon isn't Savant's idea of a good time in space, but fans of the film will find Paramount's Blu-ray to be a stunning home video presentation.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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