Cyberlizard goes to the movies

Event Horizon (1998)

Starring Lawrence Fishburne, Sam Neill

Event Horizon popped up quickly in our cinemas last year but moved on just as quickly, so despite a recommendation from a colleague at work I missed the big screen presentation and watched the video instead. Looking at reviews of this film on the Web, it seems to have had a mixed reception: some loved it, some derided it as a Frankenstein monster made up of the different bits of other films. The main influences seem to have been the Aliens series and Hellraiser (which I've never watched, but people tell me this is so).

The film

In the year 2047 a spaceship, the Lewis and Clark, is sent from Earth to Neptune on a rescue mission. Its task: to salvage the spaceship Event Horizon, which was presumed lost on its maiden voyage. The Event Horizon was the first ship to employ a kind of gravity drive which was to be used in interstellar travel, and which overcame the limitations of relativity by entering a sort of "fourth dimension". Travelling on board the Lewis and Clark is Dr Weir (Sam Neill), the Event Horizon's designer who is haunted by the death of his wife - by suicide, it later turns out. In fact others among the crew, including the Captain (Lawrence Fishburne) have dark memories from the past. I'm probably not giving too much away if I say that the would-be rescuers soon find themselves menaced by a strange enemy that has returned with the Event Horizon from the mysterious dimension which it entered, which turns out, literally, to have been hell.

That, to me, was the fundamentally flawed premise of this film. Nobody honestly believed that (despite Yuri Gagarin's sarcastic claims to the contrary) when man first launched spaceships beyond the Earth's atmosphere, humans would encounter God in space, so it is stretching belief somewhat to imagine that even with the marvels of the New Physics mankind could accidentally bump into God, Heaven or Hell while travelling in a spaceship to another dimension. (God, of course, can be encountered anywhere in time and space on a personal level, but that's not what this film is about). In 100 years people may watch this film and laugh, rather than be frightened. It's one thing to imagine strange creatures or horrors lurking in the black hole-type environment into which the spaceship has travelled, but quite another to then claim it to be the literal Hell of religion.

The other problem I have with the film is related to the above. Firstly, some of the scenes where people (mostly the unfortunate crew of the Event Horizon) are being tortured by Hell's inhabitants are frankly nasty. I realise that some people might require this in a sci-fi horror movie, but these parts of the film seemed to have a nastiness which the goriest parts of the Alien series do not. But not only are these scenes gruesome and unpleasant, to me they miss the point completely. Hell as described by writers and artists through the ages is a place of torment, but mainly where the torments are symbolic of the wrong done by the individuals while on Earth. Thus in a Russian poetic vision those who spoke slander or vicious words were condemned to hang by their tongues from an iron tree. Some have suggested that even the common image of flames or everlasting fire are symbolic of the inner remorse and final destruction of a soul. To me the idea of Hell was far better summed up in the scene where Dr Weir is being forced to watch as his wife relives her suicide, his own conscience plainly tormented as he knows he has neglected her but is unable to intervene. (This, incidentally, was a stunning performance by Neill). But instead the film goes on again to emphasise a relentless barrage of indiscriminate nastiness. For a far better exploration of the idea of punishment in the afterlife, watch the Twilight Zone episode where a U-boat captain who knowingly sank a passenger liner is forced to relive the ship's last hours as a passenger over and over again.

I would be unfair if I did not single out some good points in the film. Fishburne and Neill are superb, but the rest of the cast is also good. The special effects are so-so in the torture scenes but superb with the spaceships, especially the moving moment at the end where Event Horizon finally disappears into its own black hole. Otherwise, though, a film that looked promising but which is flawed. If you're at all sensitive or squeamish, give this one a miss. Back to Home Page