Event Horizon


Let us turn, o dearly beloved, to Event Horizon, with Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neil, both of whom should have known better.

Spoilers abound, though none so spoiled as the screenplay.

This is another of those movies of which it can be said, "if you've seen one you've seen them all." What you'll have seen by the time Event Horizon is over includes the Kubrick version of The Shining, any number of Hellraiser movies, Alien, Forbidden Planet, and The Amityville Horror, just to name a few of the specific films it ripped off.

We start off with a dream sequence, in which a fellow named Dr. Weir (played by Sam Neil) dreams of a derelict spaceship, and of his wife. And here we see the first use of the really-cool Empty Eyesockets effect. I suspect that it's CGI. Whoever made this film (the director's previous credit is Mortal Kombat (read the book by Martin Delrio!)) really liked that effect. This may be the first use you'll see in this film -- it won't be the last.

Well, soon enough there's a call, and by golly, the ship Event Horizon has been found! And Dr. Weir is called on to go out. Is Dr. Weir a relative of Major Weir, I wonder? No, that would imply that the writers were familiar with supernatural tradition from somewhere other than the horror films of the last twenty years.

Pretty soon he's on board the Lewis and Clarke, a deep space rescue craft, with a crew of mixed Brits and Americans, wearing USCG shoulder insignia. These guys are supposed to be the best of the best, but you wouldn't know from the way they piss and moan and shout at each other, question the captain's orders, and generally behave more like the Dirty Dozen before Lee Marvin got done with them than any sort of elite team. We're told that the reason for this is that they were called in off leave. Well, shucks. How long have these guys been in a military service? A week?

So, anyway, off we go to Neptune, where it seems that the Event Horizon (a clever code name designed to deflect suspicion away from the fact that this ship was using an experimental black-hole-gravity drive) has just reappeared after being missing and presumed lost for the last seven years.

Hi ho and away. Dr. Weir has another dream while locked in the Aliens II style transit pods, and we get the empty eye socket effect again. We also begin to notice the Really Loud Music Just When You're Supposed To Jump trick. This will move from annoying to really annoying to positively annoying before the flim is over.

In Neptune space (where the Event Horizon is now located), Dr. Weir explains how this gravity drive works, using a piece of paper to show how you can take two widely separated points and put them close together just by folding the paper. This is something that anyone who's been reading SF since, well, at least the 1950s is very familiar with. But the crew here looks on in wide-eyed wonder as if they'd never run into the concept before. We also get some As-You-Know-Bob dialog about black holes in general.

And here's the Event Horizon. It's orbiting Neptune. In fact, it's right down in the thick, murky, turbulent atmosphere of Neptune. This made me wonder why the thing was still orbiting, rather than, say, crashing into the surface of Neptune. But then it came to me—this was supposed to look like the surface of that planet in Alien.

Too bad no one on this crew had seen Alien, because if they had they would have wondered about the automatic distress call that no one can decipher coming from the ship. To the surprise of everyone except the audience, it eventually turns out that this isn't a distress call, it's a Warning! (To make sure the warning got through loud and clear, the crew of Event Horizon sent their message in Latin.)

Well, nothing ventured and all that. The Lewis and Clarke mates with the Event Horizon. Do they take it under tow, return to Earth space, and do their investigation there, with help minutes away if they need it? Nah, these guys are brave! Do they send a remote-controled robot aboard the Event Horizon to scout around and get the log? Nope! These guys are strong! They go aboard themselves! And do they use the buddy system? Not a chance! These guys are stupid! (Watch for those loud crashing chords of music.)

We get to see the engine, though. It looks like a very large armillary sphere (think Alchemist's Laboratory), it's apparently made of riveted cast iron, and has decorative baroque acanthus leaves in brass all over the surface. Just one look, and you can tell that There Are Some Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. This is the containment vessel for the black hole. There's apparently some kind of liquid in there. I was hoping it would turn out to be amniotic fluid from aborted babies or something like that, but they never specify what it is. That was a lost opportunity.

This ship was designed, apparently, not by the guys who design space ships now, nor by the guys who design McDonaldland Happy Parks, but by the guys who design crumbling gothic castles. Maybe it would have looked cheerier if someone turned on the lights, but no one does that, either.

Well, before you can say Predictably, the ship comes alive, and starts to cause the crew to hallucinate. To make a long, but tedious, story short, pretty much everyone dies. The music crashes. People's faces get wrapped with barbed wire. The eye sockets are empty. We even have the Creatures from the Id from Forbidden Planet wandering through.

Now the writers could have played a bit with the If Your Eye Offends You Pluck It Out theme, or with the Oedipus Tears Out His Eyes In Grief and Shame theme, or with the Odin Gives His Eye for Knowledge theme, but these guys weren't that literate.

What happened, you see, is that when the crew tried out their instant gravity drive, they went to A Dimension of Pure Evil, and they brought some of it back. If that sounds familiar, you're right. It's the background plot to the computer game Doom.

And the whole thing rings false. There are a couple of bits of folklore involving cursed ships in the European folk tradition, and you ignore them at your peril. People know, deep down in their cultural souls, what's true and what isn't, even when dealing with things like ghosts, vampires, and UFOs.

The first is the Jonah motif. Some person or thing causes bad luck, and once you get rid of it, you're okay. Now if I were doing this, I'd say that Dr. Weir was the Jonah, and what needed to happen was to toss him out an airlock. Captain Miller (Fishburne, whose character is so one-dimensional that if he turns sideways he vanishes) won't do that, because he had once left a shipmate behind and had sworn that he'd never do such a thing again. There's your dramatic tension. This would be a promising direction to go. Naturally, the scriptwriters missed it.

The other thing in the world of derelict ships are the ghosts of dead sailors who try to get their shipmates to join them. I've got some good, true stories about that. Again, the one they would want to have join them is Dr. Weir, who designed the craft, and didn't go along and get killed. Once they get him, they should have no more interest in others. Again, this is a lost opportunity.

Further—once you've determined that you're in the presence of Pure (if unmotivated) Evil, there are things that you can do about that. I was waiting for someone to say "I don't know about you, but I'm lighting a candle to the Virgin right now!" Didn't happen.

What we wind up with is a film with good sets (even if they belong in another movie) and effects, with a script that consists of bits taken from a wide variety of earlier, better, films, and performaces that were phoned in by actors who usually do much, much better. In other words, an Unholy Mess.

On the bright side, there were two bare breasts. So often you see R rated films these days with no breasts at all. (I don't know why you go to the movies, Bucky, but I know why I go.) Nevertheless, wading through the rest of the film just to see them wasn't really worthwhile. (Oh, yeah—the bare-breasted lady had empty eye sockets. You mean you didn't suspect? And yeah, we had another crashing chord of background music.)

If you enjoyed this review, please consider making a donation:

More reviews.