No matter how much he’s tried to emerge as a genre savior over the years, writer/director/producer Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with five-time Academy Award-nominated auteur Paul Thomas Anderson) has never and will never be the answer to fanboy fervor. Even though he’s helmed cult-favorite properties like “Mortal Kombat,” “Resident Evil,” “Aliens vs. Predator,” and “Dead or Alive” in one way or another, he always seems to come up short, leaving pre-existing fanbases wondering where it all went wrong. His standalone properties haven’t fared much better -- ‘Shopping’ has long been considered a substandard mess, ‘Soldier’ is a reviled cinematic abomination (rightfully so), and ‘The Sight’ thankfully never clawed its way past television. As it stands, Anderson’s attachment to any particular project has become its death knell.
Still, swing enough times and you’re bound to hit something. While it’s one of the only Anderson flicks I'll recommend to anyone, ‘Event Horizon’ is an Anderson-rarity: a cohesive film that offers a sharp concept, gripping suspense, and a strong and steady march to the end credits. Set on a starship that vanished for seven years before suddenly reappearing near Neptune, the film follows a rescue crew investigating where the vessel went, what happened to its crew, and whether or not it completed its mission. With the help of the ship’s designer, Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), an unyielding captain named Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and his team (Kathleen Quinlan, Jason Isaacs, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, and Sean Pertwee) board the ship to unravel its mysteries. However, when Miller’s crew begins suffering from hallucinations and encountering strange phenomena, they’re forced to consider the possibility that the ship is inhabited by a sinister force.
I’ve always considered ‘Event Horizon’ the unrelenting offspring of Clive Barker’s ‘Hellraiser’ and Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s original ‘Solaris.’ Wrought with palpable tension, packed with some well-conceptualized and unsettling gore, and teeming with elements of the most frightening otherworldly nightmares, Anderson’s supernatural sci-fi slasher accomplishes everything the haphazard ‘Hellraiser’ sequels did not. Sure, Philip Eisner’s first (and only) feature-film screenplay has never won accolades for its matter-of-fact dialogue and all too convenient plot devices, but there are so many memorable scenes packed into the flick’s brisk and aggressive 95-minute runtime that it’s almost beside the point. The initial exploration of the ship, the black portal in its underbelly, the neo-gothic interdimensional drive, long and lingering shots of the corridors, the bizarre recording, Weir’s visits with his wife, DJ’s final moments, and the revelation of the ship’s motives… it’s all solid, scary stuff.
I also appreciate the fact that Anderson doesn’t waste much time digging into the hows and whys of the ship’s seven-year absence. The crew gets down to business within minutes, discovers the source of the ship’s disappearance soon thereafter, and is placed within immediate danger before you have time to mutter “I would’ve been off that ship five minutes ago.” As far as I’m concerned, the acceleration of the events almost makes the questionable decisions of its crewmembers more believable. Under strain and without much time to process everything that’s happening, each one reacts in a manner befitting individuals who are being lured deeper and deeper into a maniacal death trap.
I know there are those out there who despise ‘Event Horizon’ because it abandons taught psychological horror in its third act in favor of more practical and visceral horror -- perhaps I should even concede a bit and label this one a personal guilty pleasure -- but I’ve never been bothered by its so-called shortcomings. The progression of the story doesn’t feel underdeveloped (come on, every now and then it’s just fun to watch a thriller that cuts to the chase), character development gets nearly as much attention as it does in classics like Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (do we really need more information than we get to feel sympathy for this particular band of space farers?), and the film’s love-it-or-leave-it climactic encounter strikes me as a logical extension of the crew’s encounter with an unlikely opponent (‘Sunshine’ did it better, but I’ve never felt the ending is rushed or disappointing at all).
‘Event Horizon’ is far better than Anderson’s usual schlock and continues to yank me to the edge of my seat some ten years after I first caught it in theaters. It’s certainly not a perfect horror film, but it works well and accomplishes everything it sets out to. Ultimately, I know I’ve spent the better part of this review acknowledging everything people hate about the film, but I’m always surprised at the intensity of the backlash this atmospheric gem tends to receive. Ah well, accuse me of blind nostalgia or bad taste all you want… I’ll defend this flick to my dying day.
’Event Horizon’ arrives on Blu-ray with a fairly impressive 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that sadly retains a few issues from its latest standard DVD release. First and foremost, the image has been ever-so-slightly stretched vertically, leaving some of the ship’s corridors and crew’s faces looking a bit pinched. I almost didn’t notice the abnormality until someone pointed it out to me, but sure enough, it’s there. Less troubling (yet still occasionally distracting) are a few unresolved blacks, a handful of unforgiving shadows (which rob three interior backgrounds of minor details that are visible on previous editions), and some instances of light ringing. Even so, I’m pleased to report that the artifacts, noise, and crush issues that have plagued every DVD release to date have been all but eliminated.
In fact, once you get past the transfer’s relatively minor problems, ‘Event Horizon’ looks really good. Colors have received a noticeable and much needed boost -- primaries have a distinct pop, the innards of the ship are more vibrant than ever, and skintones are nice and natural. Contrast is strong as well, hiding the film’s age and making it appear as if it were filmed yesterday. Depth and dimensionality are notable as well. While they’re not as convincing as the best catalog titles on the market, the ship’s long hallways realistically stretch into the distance and give the Event Horizon ominous presence. Last but not least, fine detail has been considerably improved. Facial textures are sharp, edges are well-defined, and it's all largely free of edge enhancement. Even the most miniscule mechanics and panel-circuitry are crisp and revealing. Yes, some of the effects shots look a bit soft compared to other practical elements on the screen, but any haziness appears to be the result of the original print rather than a nefarious encoding mishap.
’Event Horizon’s Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track offers a tangible upgrade from previous DVD releases of the film, but it doesn’t quite live up to the most dynamic high-def catalog mixes I’ve reviewed. Dialogue is generally clean, clear, and decently prioritized amidst the on-screen chaos and calamity, but sometimes sounds a bit flat and subdued. Likewise, the rear speakers are aggressive and involving throughout the majority of the time, but every now and then they're too sparse. Volume leveling inconsistencies in a trio of scenes also hold the track back, resulting in overwhelming explosions one minute and less rousing crashes the next.
To my relief, LFE support is far more reliable, giving the film’s hallucination sequences, musical score, and third act heroics some serious weight. Better still, pans are swift and smooth, the track’s precise directionality tricked me on more than one occasion, and the soundfield establishes a series of believable interior acoustics and several instances of credible ambient presence. For the most part, ‘Event Horizon’s lossless sonics satisfied my high expectations, but the overall experience left me hoping Paramount will toss some more money at the film in the future and give me something to scream about.
The Blu-ray debut of ‘Event Horizon’ includes all of the special features that appeared on the 2006 Special Collector’s Edition 2-disc DVD. It’s an unexpectedly extensive supplemental package and one that extends the lifespan of the movie several times over. The only downside is that the behind-the-scenes video content is presented in standard definition.
Ignore the cynics, the criticism, and the fact that it’s a Paul W.S. Anderson film… ‘Event Horizon’ is a thrilling amalgamation of ‘Hellraiser’ and ‘Solaris’ that combines disturbing imagery with atmospheric horror to great effect. However, approach the Blu-ray edition with some caution. While it boasts the same extensive supplemental package as its SCE DVD counterpart, it also has a problematic (albeit attractive) video transfer and an underwhelming (yet mildly impressive) TrueHD surround track. Still, the presentation offers a considerable audio/video upgrade over the DVD and should satisfy most fans. If you love ‘Event Horizon,’ picking this one up is a no-brainer… everyone else should give it a rent and decide from there.