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

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

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…

It's a trip I won't forget, Avon.

Blake's 7 4.11: Orbit

Robert Holmes’ fourth and final script for the series is a belter, one that combines his trademark black comedy with the kind of life-or-death peril that makes some of his more high stakes scripts for Doctor Who (The Deadly Assassin and The Caves of Androzani for example) stand out. 

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …