Cinophile: EVENT HORIZON

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Forget what you’ve heard: Paul W.S. Anderson is far from the worst thing to happen to movies. Quite the contrary.

Yes, he isn’t likely to win any of the artsy awards bestowed on his near namesake, but Anderson has nonetheless delivered on some memorable movie experiences. He was behind two of the best video game movie adaptations and also breathed new life in the Deathrace world. There have been a few duds too, but it is hard to argue that we’d not be poorer without Anderson’s contributions.

For one, we’d never have Event Horizon, the creepiest space horror this side of Alien.

The spooky tale of a ship possessed was an instant cult hit in its day, even though a badly executed marketing campaign left the majority of audiences disappointed. Over time the film has outlived its critics and is definitely worth watching again.

A rescue crew is sent to the orbit of Neptune, where a ship once thought lost has returned. The Event Horizon was testing a faster-than-light drive when it disappeared. The rescuers show up to find an empty vessel. At least, there is nobody on board. But something is definitely wrong…

Reviews of the day remarked how the movie oozed atmosphere, but was let down by its story and cast. Perhaps that suggests how people felt at the time, but Event Horizon has definitely outgrown those qualms. The cast is believable and varied, some responding more rationally to the nightmarish visions they experience, if those are even visions. This is also not the typical Hollywood motley crew – yes, there are some cliches, but it’s all pretty subtle. At the very least you can enjoy Laurence Fishburne doing his best ‘keeping it together’ captain and Sam Neill has his full range of those aloof/goofy/psychotic faces he does so well.

The story is a fun horror yarn about demonic dimensions and insanity, while the special effects are impressive and actually set a bar in its day. A sequence where a gas cannister bounces through the ship during a hull rupture was marketed to death. Today we’re used to seeing that kind of thing done with computer graphics, but in the mid Nineties it was a huge deal.

But the real winner is Event Horizon itself, a ship was built with clearly no practical intention, other than for staging the finale. The whole thing looks plain evil: the normal crew and medical quarters at best give flashbacks of Alien, while the bridge has an unnerving cross-like window. The ship’s horror crown jewel – the dimension-jumping Core – would be right at home in Hellraiser. Anderson is not really a subtle director and Event Horizon does not break away from his style.

It’s not a question if the ship is evil, just how evil it is. This largely contributed to the disappointment of the time: people went in expecting more from the movie and weren’t rewarded. But Event Horizon has aged very well and is better than before. If you haven’t seen this classic in a while, go dust it off and remember: they may not hear you scream in space, but there will be plenty of time for that in Hell.

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The original story was pitched to the studio Paramount as “the Shining in space.” It was written by Philip Eisner, who was suffering from depression and a serious bout of writer’s block. This emotional state would end up playing a big role in the movie’s glib and unrelenting atmosphere.
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The space suits worn by the actors weighed up to 30 kilograms each. Sitting down wasn’t possible due to the backpack, so to avoid back strain the actors used special ‘hanging poles’ to latch onto between takes. Each suit shows the politics of a future Earth: US flags had 55 stars, the European flag had 22 stars and the Australian flag replaced the Union Jack with the Aboriginal flag.
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The original movie ran for 130 minutes. Paramount ordered cuts be made, large chunks of which were very gory sequences. Some of the pieces can still be seen in the film, but they flash past very quickly. Other missing scenes include the rescue crew on a previous job. Director Paul W.S. Anderson regretted making the cuts, but unfortunately the original version no longer exists, though rumours persist that a VHS copy is floating around somewhere.
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The design of parts of the ship have been called ‘cybergothic’, which is quite apt: the long corridor that connects the ship’s two parts was inspired by the cathedral of Notre Dame. The engines also resemble rotated church towers. Other strange additions include a door with spikes and the ‘meat grinder’, a nasty-looking corridor that apparently has something to do with magnetic shielding. In contrast the rescue ship is heavily inspired by the type of design seen in movies like Alien, helping amplify the Event Horizon’s otherworldliness. Yet the ship also still conforms to one of two popular science fiction designs used for human ships.

 Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: January 26, 2015

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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