Event Horizon (US - BD)
Gabe revisits the best film in Paul W.S. Anderson's filmography in hi-def...
In the year 2047 a spaceship called the Event Horizon appears in a decaying orbit around Neptune, and a search and rescue ship called the Lewis and Clark is quickly dispatched to search for survivors. Aboard the Lewis and Clark is the Horizon’s creator Dr. William Weir (Sam Neil), who informs the crew that the official story behind the disaster of 2040 was a lie. The public was told the Horizon exploded, but in reality Weir had created a hyperdrive system that utilized a mini-black hole. The question is then posed—where has the Event Horizon been for the last seven years, and what has it brought back with it?
I was fully immersed in the world of silver age horror when Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon was released, and saw the film based on Fangoria magazine’s healthy recommendation alone. I was still a kid (seventeen), and not as interested in film history, or even other genres at the time. Gore and terror ruled my world, and the video store was running out of new options. Anyone discovering horror in the mid-nineties knows how rare real horror was on the big screen at the time. It was a dead zone for mainstream gore, and Event Horizon (and as an aside, interestingly enough, Alien Resurrection) was like a rare bird, spreading its claret-red plumage for all to see.
The problem is that I’ve learned I can’t trust my childhood self, even on the cusp of adulthood. I can barely trust my opinions from last year, frankly. I tried watching the film again with a much more critical eye years later. In the back of my mind this time were Paul W.S. Anderson’s follow-up films (I don’t need to remind you, I’m sure), and a vastly improved backlog of motion picture knowledge. This time I could really recognize the bad lines, the cheap scares, and most importantly, the stolen ideas. Interestingly enough I still honestly like the movie. Hindsight has actually made me fonder, because everything about the film is so unlikely. There’s almost nothing similar in the mainstream at the time (except, again, Alien Resurrection), the special effects are fantastic given their age, and the sci-fi and horror elements are surprisingly hardcore, even by our more violent modern standards.
Event Horizon, like many effective horror films, is largely image based. Many critics have rightfully teased the film over its somewhat ratty narrative, which is basically thrown out the oxygen-pressurized window in the last act. But Alien has narrative issues, and most of us don’t hold it against Ridley Scott, so I’ve always figured I owed Anderson the same courtesy. Concerning indelible images, Event Horizon is awash with visceral kicks. It’s been forever disappointing to me as a genre fan that Anderson hasn’t managed to pay off with another visually impressive film yet, despite several sad attempts. The images are, of course, lifted from other films for the most part, but the re-appropriation of haunted house imagery is more or less the point of the entire film.
I believe it is the familiarity of the film’s images that makes them so indelible in many cases. There’s a reason horror stories have been effectively the same since the beginning of storytelling, and that reason is ingrained fears. The most effective of these familiar images are not the deftly lifted camera angles and lighting schemes, but the more subtle set additions, specifically the gothic and religious iconography spread about the Event Horizon. I believe it’s these timeless bits that give the film—an ultimately silly and unoriginal film—its surprising longevity. The terrors of Hell and damnation will never grow old if placed in the right context.
But the ripped-off bits are hard to miss, and finding them is half the fun. Anderson’s major goal was to create a haunted house movie in space, and looked to Robert Wise’s original The Haunting for inspiration, which include the Event Horizon’s foggy introduction, and unseen but loud haunting elements. The entire first act of the film, along with any scene involving foggy gothic imagery, owes a clear debt to Ridley Scott’s Alien, and in turn Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires.The more obvious victims continue with Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. The Event Horizon’s gyroscopic drive is obviously an analogue for Hellraiser’s puzzle box, the visions of hell are very similar in their use of chains, hooks, and sexual violence (which is also very Hieronymus Bosch), and Sam Neil’s final incarnation is quite Cenobite-like. Anderson and his DP Adrian Biddle (who worked on Aliens) also create several perfectly balanced and centred camera set-ups, ala The Shining, and several slow panning zero gravity shots, ala 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Event Horizon’s life on disc hasn’t been the easiest one concerning video quality. The first DVD release was non-anamorphic, and the special edition, while an improvement, was surprisingly grainy. The story doesn’t get much better with this Blu-ray release. Event Horizon is about twelve years old now (no spring chicken), so some wear and tear is expected, but anyone that owns a copy of the several decades old Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or even the latest James Bond releases, know how amazing decently budgeted 35mm films can look in high definition. Small problems start with the aforementioned grain, which is part of the film’s style, but chunkier than I’m expecting was intended. Artefacts flicker about throughout the entire production, mostly consisting of dirt, but there is the occasional print damage.
Larger problems concern the transfer’s overall sharpness. This print isn’t a lot more detailed than the DVD release (save some really nice close-ups), and compression artefacts have not been solved. There’s quite a bit of edge enhancement, especially in medium shots, and some wide shots feature jagged edges and line doubling. These problems aren’t entirely overt, but it does constitute another disappointment. The only video improvement over the previous DVD special edition is the colour quality. The Blu-ray disc definitely has more pop behind its neon blues and greens, its flesh tones are more natural, and on the whole the colours are quite pure. Blacks follow suit, and are wonderfully deep. The strobing light effects are smashing in improved definition for sure. Again, a disappointment, but not a failure, or even a particularly bad transfer.
There’s an old saying about sound being responsible for fifty percent of a modern motion picture’s success or failure, but in Event Horizon’s case I’d call it more like sixty-five percent. The film’s sound design is effectively eerie when suspense is being built, effectively startling when the audience is expected to jump, and effectively zippy when action is concerned. Despite the disc’s minor but obvious video problems, this Dolby Digital TrueHD track is a perfect mix. Trouble spots could’ve included some of the film’s busier sequences, where thrusting spaceship engines, yelling actors, beeping machines, and Michael Kamen and Orbital’s score threaten to overpower one another. This track handles every element quite sharply, involving all the channels, and featuring a very aggressive LFE channel that never overpowers the clarity of the less of the track.
There’s nothing new here for those that already owned the special edition DVD release, but those extras were worth carrying over (even if they didn’t include an early cut of the film). Things start with a commentary track featuring Paul W.S. Anderson and his long time producer buddy Jeremy Bolt. Say what you will about the duo’s filmmaking skills, they are good talkers, and the track is an informative, fun time. Anderson doesn’t hold himself in particularly high regard, and is quite open to discussing his many ripped-off images and ideas (Bolt even makes mention of some Don’t Look Now homage that I entirely missed). The commentators also remark on the gory images they cut short for the final cut. The majority of the gore cut, by the way, was not cut at the behest of the MPAA, but at the behest of test audiences that were disgusted. Pussies.
‘The Making of Event Horizon’ is a five part affair. It’s a pretty effective little production, which acts as both an informative look at an unlikely film, and an entertaining documentary in its own right. The doc is constructed from new(ish) interviews with Anderson, Bolt, and some other members of the cast and crew, a bit of behind the scenes footage (mostly camera tests and EPK stuff), all pertaining footage from the film. The most interesting bits are the rough cut scenes (which are few), and bits concerning the pre-production process, which frankly still surprises me. Paramount was looking to make this film. They wanted to spend money on it. The doc overstays its welcome a bit when delving into the special effects information, but keeps things workable at a total runtime of about one hour and forty-three minutes.
The rest of the extras are smaller in comparison to the mammoth documentary, but decent edition all the same. ‘The Point of No Return’ is an eight minute series of four behind the scenes segments, hosted by Anderson in audio commentary form. The footage is pretty raw, so Anderson’s commentary is welcome. Under the title ‘Secrets’ are two rough cut deleted/extended scenes with optional Anderson commentary. The scenes total a little more than nine minutes, and feature some addition gore. ‘The Unseen Event Horizon’ features an un-filmed scene (in storyboard form), and conceptual art, both with commentary from Anderson. Things end with two trailers (the theatrical trailer is the only HD extra).
One less obvious addition to the list of film’s Event Horizon has paid homage to is the Roger Corman produced Galaxy of Terror, which also revolves around a group of intergalactic rescuers that come face to face with their greatest fears. The two films actually make a great double feature, if your ever so inclined, though it can be very difficult to find Galaxy of Terror. This Blu-ray release isn’t far enough removed from the DVD special edition to garner too much excitement, but if you’re a fan of the film and have a Blu-ray player it’s likely worth the double dip, so long as you aren’t expecting an entirely pristine video presentation.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 30th December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Director/Producer Commentary, 'The Making of Event Horizon', 'Point of No Return', 'Secrets', 'Unseen Event Horizon', Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones
Genre: Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 96 minutes
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