Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #87
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: August 15, 1997
Country of Origin: United Kingdom/United States
Box Office: $47,073,851
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Jeremy Bolt
Screenplay: Philip Eisner, Andrew Kevin Walker (uncredited re-write)
Special Effects: Clive Beard, Neil Corbould, Paul Corbould, David Williams, Trevor Wood
Cinematography: Adrian Biddle
Score: Michael Kamen, Orbital
Soundtrack available on London Records
Editing: Martin Hunter
Studio: Paramount Pictures, Golar Productions, Impact Pictures
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Noah Huntley, Sean Pertwee, Peter Marinker, Holley Chant, Barclay Wright, Robert Jezek, Emily Booth, Teresa May
Suggested Audio Candy:
 Orbital “Event Horizon”
 The Prodigy “Funky Shit”
I would imagine it to get mighty boring up in space. Sure, on lift off, it must feel like all your Christmases have come at once and, for the first few days of drifting through the cosmos, you’re likely having too much fun with defying gravity to realize that tedium is beginning to set in. However, after a good month of being confined in a tight space with three middle-aged Russian men with chronic flatulence and only vacuum sealed irradiated meat to snack on, I would imagine the novelty will have begun to wear off. They don’t call it the ocean of emptiness for nothing you know. Personally, the prospect of investigating the distress signal of a mysterious vessel on the outskirts of the solar system would be too exciting to pass up by that point. Anything to break the monotony is a plus right? When farts are no longer even vaguely amusing, you know things are getting desperate.
In 1979, Ridley Scott sent the crew of the Nostromo into deep space and the results were off the chart. Alien was a major commercial and critical triumph and the sci-fi/horror sub-genre was well and truly nailed. Inevitably it wasn’t long before others started to attempt at emulating his success. There have been gallant cut-price offerings (Bruce D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror, William Malone’s Titan Find), big-budget nearly men (Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, Christian Alvart’s Pandorum) and, of course, the bottom feeders (Lance Lindsay’s Star Crystal, Fred T. Gallo’s Dead Space) and, while all have attempted the unattemptable, none have quite measured up to their innovator. In 1997, Paul W.S. Anderson entered hyperspace with $60m in his pocket and some fairly bold plans to go where no man had gone before.
On paper, it was looking decidedly positive. That kind of money stretches pretty far and, with a solid ensemble cast boasting the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson and Sean Pertwee, Anderson had lift off. The English director had impressed with his debut feature Shopping and followed this up a year later with his first studio effort Mortal Kombat so, while still relatively wet behind the ears, he seemed primed for this particular expedition. Indeed, he has gone on to enjoy a reasonably lucrative career, if not critically then at least commercially, with numerous Resident Evil entries, AVP: Alien vs. Predator and Death Race keeping him more than busy. This didn’t have quite the weight of expectation attached as the aforementioned although, with such a handsome budget entrusted him, much was still riding on the fresh-faced filmmaker.
The premise positively screams opportunity. It is 2047 and rescue ship Lewis and Clark is dispatched to investigate and salvage an experimental craft named Event Horizon which has re-emerged, after falling eerily quiet during its maiden voyage to Proxima Centauri seven years prior. On arrival, several crew members venture on-board and commence their search for survivors, but there appears no sign of life.
However, there is the small matter of a giant blackened orb, made up of rotating spheres and liquid mirrors, hovering with intent in the ship’s gravity core. Moreover, while the abandoned voyager isn’t exactly heaving with vital signs, one of its workforce has made an appearance on the bridge, albeit with eyes gouged out and some way past resuscitation. In the history of blatant warning signs, this one’s right up there with rows of puckered up alien oviums.
Once our first lemming marches from a hazardous height under the iniquitous spell that the orb places him under, vague concern becomes grave reservation and the discover of the ship’s video logs. Now, hell isn’t the simplest setting to recreate but the region this playback teases us gets my vote for reasons to start familiarizing yourself with the good book. A literal orgy of debauchery and blood-drenched overkill is presented and in terms positively gushing with certainty. Things are looking decidedly promising for Anderson’s film at this point as, after gathering momentum through such a well-orchestrated build up, it knows precisely how to incapacitate its audience and does so in magnanimous fashion.
This is a desperately disparaging state of affairs for top dog Captain Miller (Fishburne) who, mindful of a previous terminal botch which he still holds himself responsible for, is determined to ensure his current team remain safe from spoil at any costs. To make his task even more thankless, his chivalry and dedication is tempered by the somewhat erratic behavior of fellow crew member Dr. Weir (Neill). After facilitating some nightmarish visions of his own and being seduced by this impending darkness, Weir has begun to devise his own blueprint for carnage, unbeknownst to his fretful comrades. Event Horizon is tantalizingly poised to traverse this blackened realm and continues on its credible course as the closing at approaches.
However, for me this is where it comes a cropper like the wayward vessel of its title. After such an enlightening glimpse of what is in store, Event Horizon never quite delivers on his portentous proposal. While the film hints at much, it lets itself down by not exploring its fascinating concept deep enough. While marooned in space Cooper (Richard T. Jones) attempts to raise our spirits by keeping things jovial, darkness is what we’ve readied ourselves for and, after being provided plentiful reasons to be fearful, it just isn’t forthcoming. The jaw-droppingly vile domain that revealed itself to us fleetingly is never capitalized upon and we’re left with a hollow oath and the bothersome blathering of a now fully postal Weir to disguise the bitter disappointment. Neill is a most capable actor but his grating harbinger of sorrow comes as scant consolation for such cruelly dashed hopes.
On the plus side, Fishburne leads from the front admirably and, in Miller, we have ourselves a hard-nosed master and commander. Despite a repeat performance of his last compromised expedition looking increasingly probable, he stubbornly refuses to let the ship sink and is provided with able seamen in Quinlan, Richardson and Pertwee. The interiors have a vaguely gothic flavor to them and director of photography Adrian Biddle makes full use of their light and shade. It is also worth noting that over thirty minutes of footage were cut on request of Paramount and this accounts for a number of omissions that test audiences found a little too gruesome to stomach. Heartbreakingly, one such streamlined scene offered a far more enduring vision of hell and has long since fallen into its own wormhole.
By the time the end credits roll, perfectly complimented by The Prodigy’s Funky Shit, we are left with a casserole of emotions seasoned with what might have been. On one hand, Event Horizon offers solid entertainment, features numerous standout moments, and more gore than we’ve been accustomed to from the sub-genre, despite any eleventh hour tampering. But there is a major downside in that the apex it reveals is never scaled and, the nightmarish hell beyond the curtain, never fully exposed. Like a long distance runner, it suffers a sprain on the penultimate bend and, as it stumbles across the line battered and bruised, we are pulled back with the void in touching distance. Worse still, in space no one can hear us scream.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Anderson revels in putting his cast to the sword in a melange of grisly manners and Event Horizon exceeds its expected grue quota with plentiful vivisectionist splatter. The blood orgy is marvelously macabre (think of the shunting scene from Brian Yuzna’s Society at warp speed) and also deeply affecting. Alas, it’s hard to shake the aggravation of the cruel carnival being so callously cut short.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2016)