Monday, August 25, 2008

Paul W. S. Anderson’s cinematic heritage: Event Horizon (1997)


Eleven years before he directed Death Race, Paul W. S. Anderson’s Event Horizon already hints at his love for video games, blood, and fetching navigators, as my review written at the time shows:

It’s 2047 or thereabouts. Mankind has been building a space colony on the moon and commercially mining Mars. A big spaceship shaped like a bulbous tennis racquet, Event Horizon, disappeared 7 years ago on the other side of Neptune on its way to the outer limits of space. Now it’s back, and 6 semi-military space people are sent on a top secret mission to investigate the ship’s chilly gravity-less innards.

What happened to the original crew? One of them floats around inside, a “corpsicle” with its skin cut to ribbons and its eyes missing. Our crew, which strongly resembles the gang in Alien, arrives and docks on the handle of the tennis racquet. Lt. Starck (Joely Richardson), the G. I. Jane blond navigator, can only find an elusive orange vapory life form all over the ship. They start to investigate the Event’s various passageways with the help of Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), who designed the ship and explains to them how it bops to the ends of the universe by folding over a magazine centerfold and sticking his fountain pen through both ends.

We also can see a cool gyroscope room (Contact also has a gyroscope), the stargate where a giant encrusted sphere halves and displays a liquid entrance into another dimension. The rest of the rounded room has carbuncle-like metal spikes all over the walls and the whole thing lights up when it’s excited. It’s a regular gothic torture chamber for the nineties.

Then, predictably, things start to go wrong very fast as various members of the crew start to see their long lost loved ones—a child, a wife who committed suicide, a soldier left to burn in zero gravity—come back to haunt them and lead them to their individual colorful dooms.

Event Horizon is basically a Hellraiser horror film grafted onto a top-notch science fiction set design. The actors, especially Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, do good work and the picture looks gorgeous, but director Paul Anderson’s only other feature was Mortal Kombat, and his video game aesthetics start to show in the lack of subtlety in the plot shifts and in the ruthless ways people start to die.

We learn that the original crew flew off to the “ultimate in chaos” in another dimension, a place that looks and sounds a lot like regular old hell—a Marilyn Mansonesque hangout where everyone shrieks in agony with blood streaked all over them and invisible demons pull their intestines out of their mouths. For those of you who like this sort of thing, there’s great photogenic roomfuls of blood, sick eyes-plucked-from-their-sockets scenes, and a gruesome take on what happens to you when you fly out into outer space without protection.

Doubtless, the film makes you tense (I was tense for hours afterwards), but I was ultimately disappointed by the limits of the horror genre when the look of the film and the quality of the acting led me to expect more. Event Horizon is all surface and not enough depth, but certain images—like an eyeless Sam Neill gradually getting sucked out of his command module into outer space—do linger on in the mind.

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