Saturday, October 11, 2008

Event Horizon

We all have "guilty pleasures" - movies or books that we know we probably shouldn't like, but we do. One of the movies that fits into this category for me is Paul W. S. Anderson's 1997 sci-fi horror flick Event Horizon. Although I know it has flaws, I've seen it several times, and love it. It is two-thirds of a great movie (more on that later).

In the year 2047, man has moved out into the solar system, exploring and exploiting the resources of Earth's fellow solar orbiters. The ship Lewis and Clark operates as a sort of deep space Coast Guard. Commanded by the conscientious Captain Miller (Lawrence Fishburne), they are sent on a mysterious mission to the limits of explored space, the orbit of Neptune. With the crew, which represents all the English-speaking countries, travels a scientist, Doctor Weir (Sam Neill), who holds the key to the mission.

Seven years earlier, a deep space explorer called the Event Horizon was lost when its engine exploded. Weir reveals to the cynical crew that this was a lie, the Event Horizon was designed to be the first ship from earth to travel to another star. In the requisite mumbo-jumbo exposition sequence, Weir explains how the Event Horizon's "gravity drive" was designed to create a controlled black hole, to enable the ship to almost instantaneously reach across immense distances. Instead of the accident that was the official story, after the gravity drive was engaged, the ship disappeared, and was never heard from again. Until now, when the ship has reappeared near Neptune. The Lewis and Clark's mission is to investigate the Event Horizon and find out what happened.

Once they reach their destination, they find that none of the original crew has survived, and the ship itself has brought back something from the void outside our dimension. What ensues is a classic haunted house story in space, with the Event Horizon serving as the haunted house. This is much the same story structure used in Alien. Each crew member is visited with a sin from their past that still haunts them. Captain Miller sees a crew member who died under his command, Doctor Weir an apparition of his dead wife, etc.

As is usual in this sort of movie, it is creepier when the crew is trying to figure out what is going on. After a tremendous first two acts, it devolves a bit in the third act, when the story falls back on traditional movie devices ("when in doubt, blow shit up"). The cast, which includes Jason Isaacs and Sean Pertwee in addition to Fishburne and Neill, is superb. The basic idea is wonderful, the payoff doesn't quite live up to it. Still, as I said, one of my favorite guilty pleasures.


John Hornor Jacobs said...

You forgot the Latin! No horror movie/book is complete without at least one ominous Latin phrase.

The fact that it's a SF vehicle, the Latin should get extra props.

KentAllard said...

I was going to point out that "Liberate Tutume Ex Infernis" is actually bad latin, since "Tutume" isn't a real Latin word, but I forgot. Also, it's a mystery why they couldn't find anyone to translate the latin phrase before they left, and had to rely on the assistant medical officer once they were underway.

John Hornor Jacobs said...

Well, the whole Sator Rotas magic square ain't exactly correct Latin either, but it sounds cool. Sorta like Abracadabra.