Event Horizon (1997) 1/2 (out of 4)
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, Peter Marinker, Holley Chant
Pandorum (2009) (out of 4)
Directed by: Christian Alvart
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Eddie Rouse, Norman Reedus, Andre Hennicke
WARNING: SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD
Space horror amuses me so; it’s a perfect geek genre – a sci-fi/horror crossing that works wonders when Ridley Scott does it, but usually has mixed results otherwise. I don’t care – I enjoy most of them, from the inspired look of Bava’s Planet of the Vampires to the sleazy lunacy of Galaxy Of Terror. Lots of these flicks are fond of using their protagonists’ fears against them, which either proves that even in space man’s worst enemy is himself, or that most filmmakers just aren’t imaginative enough to think up a good alien monster. Event Horizon is Paul W. S. Anderson’s little foray into the evil dark corners of space and the mind of man, stealing a little bit from Forbidden Planet with a plot about manifestations of evil taken from your head. But Anderson wants to keep vague the forces behind it; the few glimpses we see seem to suggest Clive Barker’s interpretation of hell, which leads to my biggest complaint of the film – there’s too much cheese and not enough hell. Not to mention the fact that the flick steals from every movie imaginable.
We start off with the crew of the Lewis and Clark, a rescue ship in the 21st century, sent out to meet up with the Event Horizon, a ship that disappeared 7 years before but has now magically appeared around Neptune. On board is the rescue crew led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) along with Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) who explains to everyone that the Event Horizon’s true mission was to test a special engine which opens up a wormhole to travel from one point in space to another instantaneously. Weir’s explanation isn’t that hard to figure out, but it’s way over the heads of our interstellar grunts who, like the marines in Aliens, are just there to kick some ass, sir. Speaking of aliens, the interior of the Lewis and Clark looks suspiciously like that of the Nostromo from the first Alien film, while a coming-out-of-hibernation scene feels like the second. Expect to see more references to other films, including Solaris, The Shining, and Hellraiser.
Once our crew reaches the Event Horizon, they discover an empty ship, like a “tomb” as Captain Miller exclaims. Then, suddenly, the ship’s gravity drive (which looks like a combination of a Stargate and a gyroscope) opens up, sucking poor Ensign Justin (Jack Noseworthy) into its dark void and sending out a shock wave that damages the Lewis and Clark. Justin is retrieved, but he’s in a semi-catatonic state, sometimes mumbling about “the dark inside.” Justin wakes up just long enough to try suicide by blasting himself out of an airlock, rendering him a bloody mess, but he’s rescued by Miller before whatever is supposed to happen to an unprotected person in the vacuum of space happens. Soon after this incident, strange things start happening on the ship. People start hallucinating things, seeing people from their past, hearing voices, etc. The ship itself seems to be alive. One crew member suggests that when the Event Horizon made its first journey through the artificial-wormhole, it entered another dimension, and it brought back a “piece” of that dimension with it. You might be thinking of the Overlook hotel in The Shining, and after a scene with flowing blood, you’ll definitely be thinking of it.
Things get weirder when they discover a recording of Event Horizon’s crew killing themselves in a crazed blood orgy shortly after taking their first trip through a singularity. Then Dr. Weir sees his naked, eye-less wife, who causes him to tear out his own eyes. From that point on, Weir is changed into some kind of powerful, supernatural being, who wants to take the ship and every one on it back to the “chaos” dimension. The best bit in the movie is also the most disturbing, as Weir forces a vision on Miller of his crew being tortured in the chaos dimension, a very close approximation of Hell. Here, we see that the film’s real heart belongs to Lovecraft; Hell is determined to be a very real place outside the boundaries of our universe, an alternate dimension of chaos where all hope is abandoned. (See From Beyond for something similar.)
OK, so the movie isn’t original (checkout that Carrie ending!), but at least Event Horizon has enough sense to look to the Cthulu mythos for some inspiration, even if it is only touched upon slightly. It’s too bad that much of the movie dwells in cheese – from the extremely corny dialogue to the comic relief character (Richard T. Jones) to Anderson’s by-the-numbers direction and use of techno soundtrack. (In his defense, this is probably his best film). I gather that the studio didn’t like the excessive gore or the disturbing realities of a Lovecraftian hell, which is why much of the movie’s nasty stuff has been trimmed, and the extra scenes regrettably lost. But Event Horizon is still better than it has any right to be, and I consider it a somewhat guilty pleasure.
After the Resident Evil stuff, which has proven quite lucrative for Anderson (a fourth movie is coming out this year), he managed to take his producer skills to 2009′s Pandorum, which is similar to Event Horizon in a lot of ways, but also a smarter, more professional looking film. The Dr. Weir role – a protagonist turned antagonist – is played this time around by Dennis Quaid. Like the beginning of Event Horizon, Pandorum‘s opening titles set the tone – in this case, the 22nd century is truly dystopic, as Earth’s population has ballooned far beyond the capacity of its resources. A sleeper ship called Elysium is dispatched, with most of its crew and passengers put into hypersleep, to colonize an Earth-like planet called Tanis. Corporal Bower (Ben Foster), wakes up from hibernation to find himself alone, with no memory of who he is, what his mission is, or what happened to the 60,000 passengers of his vessel. After waking up Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid), they find they are unable to access the bridge, which would help explain their mission.
As their memories start returning (very slowly), the two remember the affliction known as Pandorum, which is a condition brought on by extended periods of deep-space travel and hyper-sleep. Its effects include paranoia, hallucinations, and homicidal tendencies. Bower attempts to gain access to the rest of the ship, at first moving through small, dark vents filled with infinite wiring and tubing, which helps establish the feeling of claustrophobia (quite an accomplishment in a massive city-ship). Bower soon comes face-to-face with deadly humanoid creatures who kill humans for food. He also comes across human survivors Manh (Cung Le), who can’t speak English, and Nadia (Antje Traue), who kicks ass and has an awesome rack. After some violent confrontations, everybody decides to band together and try to reach the ship’s nuclear reactor, which must be reset by Bower or else the whole ship blows up, or something. (This part of the film isn’t entirely clear). In the meantime, Payton has discovered another survivor, metaphorically “born” in a body of wires inside a ship panel. The survivor calls himself Gallo (Cam Gigandet), and tells that during his time on bridge duty, they received a final message from Earth. The message wasn’t a good one – and it drove Gallo’s crew mates insane with Pandorum, requiring him to put them down, of course. On the other side of the ship, Manh, Nadia, and Bower encounter Leland (Eddie Rouse) who tells them the truth of what really happened to the Elysium.
Pandorum brings together threats both internal and external – in fact, the ending has our main character fighting both of these threats at the same time. The use of mutant-like creatures and the explanation of their origins strains credulity, but I appreciated the attempts to give them an appearance of an organized tribal society instead of portraying them as mindless zombie types. The plot of the film would certainly fall apart if you wanted to pull on any of its dangling strands, but I like the thing as a whole, imperfect creation, probably because it tries hard. It works best when it communicates that feeling of things closing in on you (confined in a pod with water closing in, Bower freaking out in confined spaces, one poor bastard coming out of suspended animation just as mutant cannibals overwhelm him) and I liked the ambition of its sci-fi storyline, which slowly peels off its layers of secrets in a manner similar to Dark City. I also enjoyed the feeling of doom subtly employed during the Earth flashback scenes and the general look of the ship. Attempts to infuse the plot with evolutionary theory are laughable, but the little touches save it, like Leland’s explanation delivered as poetry and figure drawings (think Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) and the scene where a guy has to peel off his excess skin after being in suspended animation for a long amount of time.
Pandorum doesn’t offer a supernatural threat from another dimension, but it does touch upon the corruption of man’s moral systems, which, along with the influence of his ego, give him delusions of grandeur. Give a guy too much power and strip from him the ethical boundaries of his known universe, and he becomes a rather cruel God. Pandorum is more effective in communicating this idea, and I think it’s the better film, but I liked how both movies draw a thin line between sanity and madness, having their heroes fight against chaos itself. Space monsters are scary, but so is the breakdown of reason and order.
- Bill Gordon