Skip to main content

When she crossed over, she was just a ship. But when she came back... she was alive!

Event Horizon
(1997)

(SPOILERS) It seems to be a commonly held view, retrospectively, that Event Horizon is one of Paul W S Anderson’s better movies, which tells you a lot about the kind of standards he’s been upholding throughout his career. Its fans wax lyrical about the holy grail of a 130-minute director’s cut, as if that would somehow be the saving grace of picture that isn’t only dramatically inert once its entirely derivative premise is revealed and it has nowhere to go with it, but which is also bludgeoned into insensibility by its director’s graceless, one-note barrage of stylistic (I use that word loosely) tics. But then, if you love the thing anyway, the hallowed cut probably would be all its projected to be.


I was ready to love the thing. The idea of Alien meets The Shining, and the promotional stills that heralded its release, promised something at least distinctive and memorable. Unfortunately, all Event Horizon does is borrow, with barely anything left it can call its own. And it doesn’t even borrow well. Anderson has the same kind of heavy metal production aesthetic as Zach Snyder, only with less flair, which means everything for him is about more, more, more, mostly delivered by way of frenetic editing and sound design, buckets of gore, incessant shouting and zero consequent ability to nurture atmosphere, mood or pace, which are usually a good fit for a science fiction, and for horror (and abundant in both the touchstones of Alien and The Shining).


It’s also a serious problem when the “meat” of your movie rests on the old device of characters confronting their own worse nightmares/fears, yet those characters have neither substance (which would put us firmly on their side through their ordeals) or fascinating fears (which would, or might, keep the repetitions engaging). The result is that, for all the in-your-face grue, and grossness, Event Horizon is narratively banal.


You don’t have to look far for movies that do it better; Flatliners and Sphere both have more arresting hallucinations (and neither are exactly high art), while Solaris did it with flying colours a quarter of a century earlier. When it comes to madness in space, Sunshine is another (later) imperfect but considerably more engrossing picture (until it goes off the rails in the final act). Hell, when it comes to inverting the cliché of the black character who’s bound to perish, Deep Blue Sea will have more fun with LL Cool J’s cook’s unlikely survival a couple of years later (and at least there it seems relatively germane to the OTT content; the sudden comic high-jinx of Richard T Jones suggest Anderson is tone-deaf, but of course we knew that).


The sad thing is, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking this might have been good. The production design is top notch, if derivative (the core remains a highly impressive central set); Anderson is solid with his compositions, and able to string together strong imagery, but unfortunately the assembly comes via the mind of a juvenile. You can see the Ridley influences throughout, particularly Alien (crawling around ducts, gathering air tanks while evacuating the ship in a great hurry) and Blade Runner (superhuman Sam Neill beating the shit out of normal guy Larry Fishburne), but he has none of the restraint or desire to inhabit a realm that Scott had back in the early ‘80s. Sean Pertwee’s brash crewman is very Scott, but unfortunately it’s the Scott of Prometheus, the “I love rocks!” Scott where characters have resolved themselves into a succession of nonsense clichés (sample Pertwee line: "What the fucking hell is that?", although, in fairness, that could have been taken from almost any film he's been in. How about this one: 'The ship is fucked!").


But Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan and Jason Isaacs suggest a picture of pedigree this simply doesn’t have. The characters aren’t even two-dimensional; any impact they have is purely down to the merits of the actors. Joely Richardson is entirely wasted, while Jack Noseworthy’s most interesting quality is his surname. Probably not coincidentally, Philip Eisner has only two other screenplay credits, one of which is the execrable Mutant Chronicles.


From the sound of it, the longer cut would add about half an hour of gore (it was cut down after the studio understandably baulked, all over their popcorn); the movie’s quite grisly enough anyway, so it says a lot about the “more mature” tone Anderson was aiming for. I could be charitable and say he was put in an impossible situation in terms of deadlines, but he’s the one who fashioned something so frantic, so thunderously bereft of subtlety. The picture is almost hyperactively random at times, and never doesn’t feel like a mess. Rather than justified portentousness, its foreboding is impotent. And one need only look at his subsequent filmography with its AvP and Resident Evils to ascertain that maturity was never really in the offing.


Is the idea of a ship that’s found a gateway to hell enticing in any way? Probably only if you can approach it in some kind of philosophically considered and erudite fashion, certainly not when you have characters announcing “Hell is only a word. Reality is much, much worse”, yet the director’s vision of same amounts to a conflagration of body horror, blood orgies, eyeball gougings, mutilations and the shallowest (ie corporeal) concepts of torment and suffering. To be fair, Hellraiser, from which this takes some of its cues, also identified with the physically tormented and denigrated, but it had visual verve and Clive Barker’s deranged imagination to carry it. Neill’s possessed Weir eventually ends up resembling Uncle Fester having gone at himself a Swiss Army knife.


As for the ominous ending, well of course they’re still in hell, or at very least hell is in them. Anderson appears to have put the final, final finish on Resident Evil (until someone reboots it), a franchise he returned to when, it seems, other plans didn’t work out (shades of Bryan Singer and X-Men). This may free him up to make more knock-offs (Pompeii, doing Titanic almost two decades later), remakes (Death Race), or attempts at the umpteenth version of a property that’s having none of it (The Three Musketeers). I think we’ll be spared Event Horizon 2, though, which is a small mercy. The thing is, he can put together an action scene –  he’s not a bad B-movie director in that regard – but let him near a property with any aspirations outside of the muscle-brained, and you’re onto a loser.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I'm Mary Poppins, y'all.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Most of the time, we’ll settle for a solid, satisfying sequel, even if we’re naturally going to be rooting for a superlative one. Filmmakers are currently so used to invoking the impossible standard of The Empire Strikes Back/The Wrath of Khan, of advancing character and situation, going darker and encountering sacrifice, that expectations are inevitably tempered. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is indebted to at least some of those sequel tropes, although it’s arguably no darker than its predecessor, if more invested in character development. Indeed, for a series far more rooted (grooted?) in gags than any other in the Marvel wheelhouse, it’s ironic that its characterisations thus far have been consistently more satisfyingly realised than in any of their other properties.

Perhaps the most significant aspect writer-director James Gunn is clearly struggling with here is how to keep things fresh knowing he’s developed an instantly satisfyin…

Courage is no match for an unfriendly shoe, Countess…

I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

"Predalien" The Alien-Predator-verse ranked
Fox got in there with the shared universe thing long before the current trend. Fortunately for us, once they had their taste of it, they concluded it wasn’t for them. But still, the Predator and Alien franchises are now forever interconnected, and it better justifies a ranking if you have more than six entries on it. So please, enjoy this rundown of the “Predalien”-verse. SPOILERS ensue…
11. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
An almost wilfully wrongheaded desecration of both series’ legacies that attempts to make up for AVP’s relative prurience by being as transgressive as possible. Chestbursters explode from small children! Predaliens impregnate pregnant mothers! Maternity wards of babies are munched (off-screen admittedly)! It’s as bad taste as possible, and that’s without the aesthetic disconnect of the Predalien itself, the stupidest idea the series has seen (and that includes the newborn), one that was approved/encouraged by ra…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Slice him where you like, a hellhound is always a hellhound.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.1: Jeeves Saves the Cow Creamer
(aka The Silver Jug) Season Two of Jeeves and Wooster continues the high standard of the previous year’s last two episodes, appropriately since it takes after its literary precedent; Season One ended with a two-part adaptation of Right Ho, Jeeves, which PG Wodehouse followed four years later with The Code of the Woosters. Published in 1938, it was the third full-length outing for Bertie and his genius gentleman’s gentleman, and the first time Plum visited Totleigh Towers, home of imperious nerve specialist Sir Watykn Bassett. If I say “Spode”, and add “Eulalie”, its classic status in the canon will no doubt come flooding back to you.

Sir Watkyn has already graced our screens, of course, in the very first episode, adapting Bertram Wilberforce’s recollection from this very The Code of the Woosters of his policeman’s hat-stealing incident, and for the most part, like the season finale before it, Clive Exton recognises a good thing when he …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

You see, Mr. Bond, I always thought I liked animals. And then I discovered I liked killing people even more.

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair."

Alien: Covenant (2017)
(SPOILERS) In tandem with the release of increasingly generic-looking promotional material for Alien: Covenant, a curious, almost-rehabilitation of its predecessor’s rocky legacy seemed to occur, as some of its many naysayers were given to observe, “Well, at least Prometheus was trying something different”. It seems Sir Ridders can’t win: damned if he breaks new ground, damned if he charts a familiar course. The result is a compromise, and boy, does Covenant feel burdened by that at times. Still, those worried it would renege on Prometheus can relax in at least one important regard: Covenant is at least as stupid in terms of character motivation. And, for this reviewer, in another respect: I liked it a lot, or rather, I liked a lot of it, despite myself.

Screenwriter John Logan persuaded Scott to follow the path of more trad-Alien antics, so it would be interesting to learn how different things might have been before that course reset (he told Scott “Look, I love…

Jeeves, you really are the specific dream rabbit.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.2: A Plan for Gussie  (aka The Bassetts’ Fancy Dress Ball)
The cow creamer business dispatched, the second part of this The Code of the Woosters adaptation preoccupies itself with further Gussie scrapes, and the continuing machinations of Stiffy. Fortunately, Spode is still about to make things extra unpleasant.

Sir Roderick delivers more of his winning policies (“the Right to be issued with a British bicycle and an honest, British-made umbrella”) and some remarkably plausible-sounding nonsense political soundbites (“Nothing stands between us and victory except our defeat!”, “Tomorrow is a new day; the future lies ahead!”) while Jeeves curtly dismisses Spode trying to tag him as one of the working masses. It’s in Spode’s ability to crush skulls that we’re interested, though, and it looks as if his powers have deserted him at the start.

Jeeves has given Gussie a pep-talk in how to get over his terror of Spode (“We don’t fear those we despise… fill one’s mind with scorn…