Despite game efforts from a first-rate cast and acres of impressive production values, “Event Horizon” remains a muddled and curiously uninvolving sci-fi horror show. Initial promise of the off-beat premise — a rescue party finds a derelict spacecraft haunted by supernatural forces — is rapidly dissipated by routine execution and risible dialogue. Support from genre fans should generate respectable opening-week numbers, but after that, Paramount release looks to warp-speed to homevideo.
Sort of a cross between “Alien” and “The Shining,” Philip Eisner’s screenplay is set in 2047, and begins with the mysterious reappearance of a long-missing prototype spaceship. Seven years earlier, the deep-space research vessel Event Horizon vanished without a trace somewhere beyond Neptune. Now, Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), a scientist who worked on the vessel’s revolutionary design, is eager to board the Lewis & Clark, a search and rescue ship that has been dispatched to the Event Horizon.
Under the demanding command of Capt. Miller (Laurence Fishburne), the Lewis & Clark operates with an experienced crew that includes emergency technicians Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) and Cooper (Richard T. Jones), navigator Starck (Joely Richardson), engineer Justin (Jack Noseworthy), doctor D.J. (Jason Isaacs) and pilot Smith (Sean Pertwee). The early introductory scenes are fairly routine. Even so, the actors credibly establish individual characters and longstanding relationships.
Better still, director Paul Anderson (“Mortal Kombat”) and his production team take great pains to make the Lewis & Clark interiors look believably banged-up and lived-in. (You can’t help wondering: Is this what it’s like aboard the Mir space station right now?) This is a welcome change from the sleek and shiny spacecrafts viewed in most other sci-fi spectaculars.
Shortly before they reach the Event Horizon, Weir spills the beans: The missing ship was testing a new form of “faster than light” propulsion that, in effect, creates an “artificial black hole.” Obviously, something went terribly wrong.
Just how wrong becomes clear as soon as the Lewis & Clark team boards the Event Horizon. Debris floats aimlessly in gravity-free hallways. Walls are splattered with what appears to be pureed human remains. And video images in the ship’s log suggest that crew members quite literally suffered the torments of the damned.
A bad situation gets worse when Weir and the Lewis & Clark crew are afflicted with wide-awake nightmares. Capt. Miller is troubled by thoughts of someone he left behind during a deep-space disaster. Peters thinks she sees her handicapped son. Weir repeatedly encounters his wife, who committed suicide years earlier.
When the Lewis & Clark is destroyed, the crew is forced to stay aboard the Event Horizon, Weir begins to behave very, very strangely — and the body count starts to mount. Long after the audience has grasped the obvious, Capt. Miller and his surviving crew members come to believe that the long-missing spaceship is possessed by evil spirits. During the test mission, they surmise, the ship accidentally slipped into “a dimension of pure chaos, pure evil.” (Hell, perhaps?) Just to make sure the point is hammered home, pic introduces some quasi-religious symbolism, including the conspicuously cruciform shape of the Event Horizon itself.
All of which makes “Event Horizon” sound a lot more interesting than it really is. Once the underlying gimmick is announced, the filmmakers do little more than invent messy deaths, unleash special effects — and steadily increase the volume of Michael Kamen’s overbearing musical score.
The actors — particularly Fishburne, Neill and Quinlan — perform far beyond the call of duty, but to little avail. It doesn’t help matters that, in some respects, the plot recalls the outer-space section of “Hellraiser: Bloodline,” a recent work by the prolific Alan Smithee. And it helps even less that, on too many occasions, actors must deliver lines that, in this context, are inadvertently hilarious. By the time Fishburne finally says, “We’re leaving,” some ticket-buyers will be ready to shout back, “It’s about time!”
A great deal of money, technical expertise and acting craftsmanship have been squandered on “Event Horizon.” (The title, by the way, is a scientific term for the presumed boundary of a black hole.) The miniature work is exceptional, and at least one shot — the camera pulls away from Neill at a window to reveal the enormity of a space station — is nothing short of eye-popping.
For all its futuristic trappings, however, “Event Horizon” is just another potboiler in which, every so often, something pops up and says, “Boo!” Some scenes are undeniably unsettling; others are jaw-droppingly silly. Together, they don’t add up to much.