The Reassessment Files Look at EVENT HORIZON (1997)

EVENT HORIZON (1997)
A Reassessment File
Review by: Paul McMahon

eh - poster two

There was a stretch of time after I got my own place that I reveled in free weekends. Such weekends didn’t happen often, but when they did I would celebrate by hitting the video store to load up on movies. Usually I crammed six movies between Friday night and Monday morning. I first saw EVENT HORIZON during the last of one of those marathons.

The movie didn’t stand out for me back then. It struck me as excessively weird and illogical in its execution. I’ve always regarded it as a broken film that should’ve been a whole lot better. The production values were impressive, however, and though at the time I wasn’t filtering my cinematic opinions through a ratings system, I imagine that if I had been, I’d have given it half a star. At the time, I walked away and didn’t give it another thought.

Fans of the movie exist, though. I’ve met a few of them. One or two were quite rabid in their defense of it, which made it a prime candidate for a reassessment. I toyed with the idea for a while, and recently stumbled across a copy buried in a $5.00 MOVIES box at the front of my grocery store. I took it as a sign that the time had come.

(Disclaimer: As with other Reassessment Files columns, this movie came out so long ago that I feel no need to avoid spoilers. If you haven’t seen it in the past fifteen years, I recommend you check it out before reading on.)

The movie kicks off with a text backstory detailing the history of the space ship EVENT HORIZON. She was launched in 2040 to “explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy,” but disappeared just beyond Neptune. We’re told it’s 2047.

Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill—star of one of last year’s Reassessment subjects, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, 1994) suffers a nightmare featuring the EVENT HORIZON and awakens surrounded by dozens of photos of the same woman. “I miss you,” he tells one of the pictures, and we know immediately his mental train’s running with at least a few wheels off the track. He boards a rescue ship, the Lewis and Clark, and the movie’s characters begin tucking themselves into stasis for the long trip to Neptune.

To float in stasis grav tanks, perchance to dream.

To float in stasis grav tanks…perchance to dream.

Once “the Clark” reaches its destination and the crew awakens from their grav tanks, Captain Miller (played by Laurence Fishburne, who recently completed a stint as Dr. Langston on CSI, and is cast as Perry White in the upcoming MAN OF STEEL, 2013) calls a meeting so Dr. Weir can fill the crew in on the real story behind the Event Horizon. “… it’s the culmination of a secret government project to create a spacecraft capable of faster-than-light flight.” Making this impossibility possible is Dr. Weir’s “Gravity Drive,” a device he himself designed and built. Problem was, when they activated it back in 2040, the Event Horizon disappeared without a trace. Now, apparently, it’s back and stuck in a decaying orbit around Neptune.

The Clark attaches to the Event Horizon and some of the rescue crew board to search for survivors. There are none. In some areas of the ship there are greenish blobs floating in the zero gravity. “There’s been a coolant leak,” says Justin (Jack Noseworthy, U-571, 2000) as he makes his way toward the engine to restore power. The Gravity Drive, a spinning gyroscope of metal plates, seems to liquefy and then sucks Justin inside. This causes an explosion that rips through the Lewis and Clark’s hull, compromising its atmosphere. The entire crew is ordered to suit up and board the Event Horizon. Meanwhile, Justin reappears from the gravity drive unconscious and unresponsive, though his vital signs remain stable.

The Gravity Drive:- round and round and round it goes, and when it stops, you're in hell.

The Gravity Drive:- round and round and round it goes, and when it stops, you’re in hell.

Work begins on trying to repair the Clark for the trip home, but when the gravity drive begins draining power from the Event Horizon, Dr. Weir climbs into the bowels of the machine to attempt a repair. As he tries to locate the problem, he hears a woman’s voice calling his name, and then the lights go out. “Captain Miller? I’ve got some problems here!” he yells. The lights blink back on and the woman from all the pictures at the beginning of the film is only inches away from Dr. Weir. “Be with me, Billy,” she says. “Forever!”

The cast is impressive. Laurence Fishburne is a former Oscar nominee for his portrayal of Ike Turner in 1993’s WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT. He gives a stellar performance here, as you would expect. Kathleen Quinlan (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, 2006) plays Med Tech Peters. She is also a former Oscar nominee for her work in 1995’s APOLLO 13. The rest of the cast includes Joely Richardson (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, 2011, as well as the TV show NIP/TUCK), Richard Jones (COLLATERAL, 2004 and SUPER 8, 2011), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER series), and Sean Pertwee (DOG SOLDIERS, 2002). All of them give great performances.

The movie is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson of RESIDENT EVIL and ALIEN VS PREDATOR fame. Apparently, Mr. Anderson turned down the opportunity to direct 2000’s X-MEN, opting instead for this “The Shining In Space” tale and the chance to deliver an R-rated horror movie. He handles the material very well, building suspense throughout while delivering subtle homages to popular haunted house movies, including THE HAUNTING (1963), Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980), and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979).

For my part, I accepted that re-watching the film with an eye toward glimpsing what people like about it would create the possibility that I would change my mind. I did not expect that my opinion would change as much as it did. I have completely re-written this column five times now. Every time I think it through, I find that I like the movie even more. I’ve watched it three times in the past week, letting other chores and expectations fall by the wayside.

I do recognize where EVENT HORIZON fell apart for me fifteen years ago. By the time Weir enters the workings of the Gravity Drive, other members of the crew have been reporting strange occurrences. Weir has scoffed at all of them, insisting that their experiences are imaginary. The moment fear enters his voice inside the Gravity Drive, we get that “Told You So” tingle because the skeptical fool is being confronted with the same phenomena he’s been discounting all along. In the very next scene, though, he’s back to insisting that nothing unusual is happening. Such an unexplained and illogical character turn leads to questions, such as: Has Weir been taken over by the ship? Has he been driven completely mad? Has he suffered such a traumatic shock that he’s blocked out the experience altogether? Or, remembering the nightmare that woke him in the opening shot, does he have some kind of psychic link with the ship? I think this psychic link is what the writer and the director were going for.

Also, with today’s technology it doesn’t take much to pause the film during the “glimpses of hell” montage so you can gape and squirm at the brilliant and intense practical make up effects that zip past the screen. Much of it betters horror images being released today.

This film surprised me completely. I remembered it as something very different, and I find myself wondering how I missed so much goodness back in the day. Maybe cramming so many films into a single weekend wasn’t the best choice after all. Be that as it may, I’m changing my rating of the film to an embarrassing degree.

Original assessment: half a star.
Reassessment: 3 and a half stars.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m going to watch this at least once more before I move on to the next film.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

eh - poster one

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2 Responses to “The Reassessment Files Look at EVENT HORIZON (1997)”

  1. Paul- I went through a very similar path with this film. I was not a fan at first viewing when it had its theatrical release. But upon re-watching in recent years on cable premium channels, it is one of my deep-space favorites along with films like Solaris, Sunshine and 2010.

  2. Wow, what a huge discrepency. This was the first film I saw in a theater by myself, and I wasn’t impressed. Now I have to go back and rewatch. (It helps that I’ve forgotten everything about it).

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