“I created the Event Horizon to reach the stars. But she’s gone much, much further than that… When she crossed over she was just a ship. But when she came back she was alive” says Dr Weir, a man either possessed or insane, or possibly both, as the horrors on board the newly-reappeared spaceship Event Horizon reach their bloody, fiery climax.
The events on Event Horizon take place in 2047 which was a good 50 years away when the film came out in 1997, to frankly not very much acclaim. Which was a huge shame as it’s a tense and intensely frightening movie even 20 years after its release.
Watching old space-set sci fi movies is always interesting: everyone smokes, for a start. They always predict technology long before it becomes real, but no one thought we’d finally outlaw cigarettes in government-owned property.
The Event Horizon may follow that tradition of nicotine-addicted astronauts, but the ship itself doesn’t have the dank claustrophobia that the spacecraft in the Alien films do, when the black dripping tunnels and corridors almost mimic those grinning, acid dripping jaws.
Instead it is a vast space, cathedral-like with enormous corridors which should make us feel safer but don’t, as what kind of cathedral holds within it the gate to hell and comes back a tomb?
In 2040 the Event Horizon, sporting a new type of technology that enabled it to travel superfast distances in a day, had been launched to explore the edge of the solar system. But she disappeared with all her crew near Neptune.
Now it’s 2047 and the ship has mysteriously reappeared, so the Lewis & Clark, which sounds like a provincial lawyers’ office but is actually a rescue vessel, is sent to investigate.
Nearly everyone on board is pissed off about being sent into space at Christmas in the middle of a well-earned leave. All except outsider Dr Weir (Sam Neill), who built the Event Horizon and is delighted to be going up.
The crew are a tight-knit bunch. Peters (Kathleen Quinlan), also known as Mama Bear, has had to leave her young son with her ex for Christmas, though the considerate and calmly effective Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) is still apologetic about having to bring her.
Cooper (Richard T Jones) is, in his own words, “the lifesaver and the heartbreaker”, and in Miller’s, “a rescue technician”. He’s funny and good-natured, and doesn’t appear enough, though you can see why – the comic relief so often ends up taking over a film.
Clear-headed Lieutenant Starck (Joely Richardson) is the kind of intelligent, well-spoken British woman you want by your side, whether you’re heading into the fifth dimension of Hell or you’re at Sainsbury’s and the Self Service Checkout voice starts blatantly accusing you, with no evidence, of putting an unidentified item in the bagging area.
Justin, known as Baby Bear, is the engineer and has a special bond with Mama Bear. DJ (Jason Isaacs) is the no-nonsense doctor, and suitably tough; being, according to his accent, part Geordie, part Liverpudlian and part Irish. Smith (Sean Pertwee) is the pilot.
Dr Weir’s explanation to the crew about the circumstances of the Event Horizon’s development and disappearance does not go well. The ship had been developed to travel faster than light, which is impossible, but you can apparently get the same effect by, um, folding space time, and something to do with curvatures and dynamics, so it produces a singularity.
They demand he explain in layman’s terms, which he does, his layman presumably having been to the same school as Stephen Hawking. And I’m not the only one who thinks this. Well, sort of: “Fuck layman’s terms. DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” demands Miller, finally losing patience with the arrogant doctor.
While still on the Sue, Grabbit And Run, I mean the Lewis & Clark, they listen to the last known transmission from the Event Horizon. It’s been improved back on Earth in a lab but is still incoherent, as it turns out no one in the lab learnt Latin at school. Luckily DJ did, and translates it as “Save me”.
After eight weeks in stasis they reach the mysterious Event Horizon. But once they’ve boarded to investigate, things take an increasingly sinister turn, as the rescue crew start seeing and hearing people and events from their past. “This is real, I felt heat, this is not something that’s in our heads!” exclaims Miller, who’s being tormented by memories of a young colleague he once had to leave behind in a burning ship. Weir sees his dead wife, and Baby Bear is sucked into the core, emerging terrified by what he has seen.
There’s also more video footage once they’re onboard, this time of the missing crew enjoying what looks like a jolly good fun naked party until you realise they are screaming and killing each other.
The dialogue is occasionally daft, such as when they lose “the starboard baffle”, and yes, I was. The core, a huge iron ball with some studded bands that spin around it, looks like a goth version of the pomander they used to make on BBC kids’ show Blue Peter at Christmas, involving an orange, some cloves and a ribbon (and which then also disappeared for about seven years, when they went into the airing cupboard to dry out and we all promptly forgot about them).
But the rising tension among a group of essentially no-nonsense scientists and engineers is highly effective, and their growing contempt for Weir and what he has created is science-, rather than supernatural-based: “A black hole. The most destructive force in the universe. And you’ve created one” accuses Starck. “When you break the law of physics, do you seriously think there won’t be a price?” asks an incredulous Smith.
Despite the goth pomander, the film is genuinely frightening. Quite often one of the rescue party is standing slightly to one side in the frame as you catch a glimpse of something behind them. Weir’s descent into devilish madness is utterly horrific and as gory as it is psychological. And because it’s an ensemble piece it is impossible to predict who will die and when, so the tension really ratchets up.
But much as I love Event Horizon and feel it was unjustly maligned on release, I don’t want a follow up – I actually don’t like horror sequels as if anyone survives the first film I want to assume they go on to have a lovely, demon-free life somewhere. So I think we should listen to the doomed captain’s goodbye before it all went to shit on his hell-bound ship: “ave atque vale” – hail, and farewell.