The premise starts off in a promising manner. Seven years have passed since a ship called the Event Horizon went into deep space to explore the far reaches of the universe and then completely disappeared off radar; now, in the year 2047, Earth has received a signal from the missing vessel near the surface of Neptune, and a crew of individuals, led by the headstrong Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), has been sent off to investigate. This approach, science fiction gurus will remind you, is one of the classic setups of sci-fi horror, to be matched in most scenarios by a building sense of tension as characters prod the quiet corridors of said vessel until it reveals some very disturbing secrets. The movie is fairly in line with that sentiment, except the secrets it chooses to divulge might as well be conveyed in Morse code for the good it will do them.
The most important character aboard the rescue vessel is Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), who created the unique technology aboard the Event Horizon, and is coming along out of an apparent necessity to decode the ship’s intricate language in order to access hidden files. What makes the technology distinct as opposed to other space vessels is the Horizon’s ability to bend space and time in order to travel far distances in a fraction of a second. Weir explains this in more elementary terms by punching two holes at opposing ends of a poster and folding it so that the holes match up. You and I get it, but it’s obvious that no one on board this ship ever passed a physics class.
The ship itself is massive and quiet, with a crew that has long since perished, and contains mysteries that are… what, exactly? The movie has about as much clue as we do. If the writer, Philip Eisner, drew inspiration for his screenplay from any single picture, it would easily be Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.” Similar to the planet in that film, the ship here seems to cause dark memories within the new arrivals to manifest themselves, eventually causing some to become insane or, worse yet, fatalities in some kind of space game for blood. Weir is adamant amidst all of this that the ship has been to some very dark corners of the universe and has returned with amazing stories, but the film dangles this information in front of the audience without any inclination to resolve it with an answer. The reason: I sense the movie is more interested in exploiting its players in the same way that the “Hellraiser” films did: by torturing them to no purpose of dramatic enhancement or tension, but just for, you know, the heck of it.
The opening scenes are its best assets. The camera hones in on a ship as it glides its way between stars while an eerie quiet resonates around it. Neptune practically sashays into view like a giant blue orb vying for screen time, providing a glimpse into the scope that the cinematographers have in mind. They are the real stars here, and for 96 minutes their cameras peer into corridors and over vast empty spaces like hopeful tourists waiting for something monumental to happen. Sometimes we are privileged enough to see things that would shine in a film more deserving of the images, like a hallway leading to the ship’s core that looks like a meat grinder twirling in constant motion, or a metallic gateway into other dimensions that may contain more riddles than it lets on. My question: how in the world could any filmmaker look at what these special effects wizards are capable of executing, and squander away their efforts so passively? This is a movie with the visual spine of something enthralling, wasted on a screenplay that is bare bones on exposition and even weaker on supplying us with information that would allow the images to resonate.
The movie was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who would later go on to unleash material onto the theater screen even more infuriating than “Event Horizon,” including “Alien vs. Predator” and the “Resident Evil” series. I hated those movies for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the same primary problem that kills this one: they were too concentrated on flashy cuts and images and not enough on anything else. Someone with the forethought to care about potential futures in the movies ought to have seen this project, the first in a long line of miscalculations, as a desperate cry for help on part of the director, who no doubt meant to make a good movie even on a passable escapist entertainment platform. What was he thinking the rest of the time? One law of cause and effect suggests that if no one bothers holding a mirror up to a bad habit the first time, the habit will become part of a destructive pattern.
Written by DAVID KEYES
Science Fiction (US); 1997; Rated R for strong violence and gore, language and some nudity; Running Time: 96 Minutes
Laurence Fishburne: Captain Miller
Sam Neill: Dr. William Weir
Kathleen Quinlan: Peters
Joely Richardson: Lt. Starck
Richard T. Jones: Cooper
Jack Noseworthy: Justin
Produced by Jeremy Bolt, Colin Brown, Nick Gillot, Lawrence Gordon, Sarah Isherwood and Lloyd Levin; Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson; Written by Philip Eisner