DirectorPaul W.S. Anderson
Release Date(s)1997 (August 9, 2022)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Thanks to its notoriously troubled production history, Event Horizon ended up being a beautifully atmospheric yet somewhat incoherent horror film. To paraphrase one of its inspirations, it has such sights to show you, yet many of them serve to give maddeningly tantalizing glimpses of what it could have been in the absence of external constraints. Perhaps its reach would have always exceeded its grasp, but an absurdly abbreviated post production schedule, problematic test screenings, and a nervous studio all conspired to prevent it from even trying. Yet those ambitions are still plainly visible in the truncated finished product, a reminder that director Paul W.S. Anderson is capable of far more than the endless low budget Resident Evil sequels with which he has become indelibly associated.
Screenwriter Philip Eisner pitched his original script as The Shining in outer space, creating a haunted house story set on a spacecraft. The threat involved aliens in his first draft, but when Anderson came on board the production, he wanted them changed to something more supernatural. The final story wears its influences on its sleeve, borrowing Clive Barker's sadomasochistic visions from Hellraiser, while changing the locus of the threat to the ship itself. Rather than aliens being the source of the evil, the Event Horizon turned into a self-aware version of Shirley Jackson's Hill House. While no one involved with the film ever admits this, parts of the new conception were clearly borrowed from William Malone's unproduced Dead Star script. That story involved an alien artifact that opened a portal to Hell and eventually unleashed Satan on the crew; Event Horizon used that same basic conceit, but changed the nature of the portal, and had the ship itself stand in for Satan. (There’s a touch of Poltergeist as well in the way that the Event Horizon knows and exploits the deepest fears of the crew.) All of those story ideas were interesting, if not particularly novel, so the way for the film to stand out was in its execution.
Anderson's mantra for the design of the film was to focus on the look while not worrying about the logic, and production designer William Bennet delivered that in spades. This isn’t a film designed by the likes of Syd Mead or Ron Cobb, where the sets offer a plausible vision of how technology might work in the future, but rather one where the most important element is how unsettling everything looks. The gorgeous Gothic design of the Event Horizon makes no practical sense whatsoever, but it provides a perfect backdrop for the Hellish vision unleashed by its gravity drive—this ship looks like Hell long before it ever visits the place. Even the parts of the ship that look more like futuristic technology are frequently bathed in a sickly green or yellow glow. The most important thing to Anderson was mood, not rationality, and in that sense, the sets for Event Horizon are some of the best ever seen in a science fiction film.
The exterior design of the ship was inspired by the look of the cathedral at Notre Dame, and since the film was produced on the cusp of the digital effects era, it was still executed with some truly impressive large-scale miniatures (the hero Event Horizon model was thirty feet long). Unfortunately, the way that the miniatures were shot ruins the sense of scale a bit, as the camera races past them far too quickly. The model of the Enterprise used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture was much smaller than the Event Horizon, but it looks bigger thanks to the way that Douglas Trumbull shot it, with slow and stately camera moves. That minor complaint aside, it’s still a wonderful design for a ship, and the model work itself is fantastic.
Yet the most memorable design work in the entire film is the most briefly glimpsed, and it was part of what got the film into trouble with Paramount. The nightmarish glimpses of Hell were shot second unit by Anderson himself, working weekends with a small crew. Much of what he shot would have made even Clive Barker blush; it’s like John Doe’s notebooks from Se7en brought to vivid life—or Hieronymus Bosch paintings on steroids. When Anderson had test screenings of his 130-minute workprint, it was a bit too much for the audiences. Paramount wanted it cut down, and by the time the film had passed through more screenings, it ended up at the 96-minute version that we still have today. Many of the Hell visions hit the cutting room floor, as did a lot of the character development that better explained how the ship used the crew’s fears against them. Cut to ribbons or not, the subliminal images that remain in the film are still among the strongest things that have ever been seen in a mainstream studio production. Freeze frame them at your own risk.
Fans have long pined for a director's cut of Event Horizon, but the missing footage appears to be lost for all time. Anderson tracked down some of the trims in a Transylvanian salt mine storage facility, but they had all deteriorated to the point of being unusable. A supposed VHS copy of the workprint was also not in usable condition. Of course, even if the footage still existed, the 130-minute version was indeed a workprint and not a final director's cut, with missing effects footage and much fine tuning still to be done to it. The ending was reshaped repeatedly throughout the test screening process, and the final version is likely the one that Anderson would prefer. So even if the trimmed footage was still available, it would take time and money to finish everything into a new final cut. Since we’re now nearly a quarter century down the road, that would still be something very different than what Anderson might have done in 1997. There never was an actual director’s cut of Event Horizon, so any expanded edition would be a hybrid of the old and the new, with decades having elapsed between the two.
So, the 96-minute theatrical cut of Event Horizon is the only version that will likely ever be seen, and it must be considered for what it is, rather than what it could have been. In a way, the lapses of logic in the truncated version are acceptable given the fanciful nature of the story. This isn’t a hard science fiction film, nor was it ever intended to be one. Event Horizon is a deliberately surreal horror story that just happens to take place in a science fiction setting. It may not fully cohere, but taken as a collection of nightmarish images it’s still quite effective. Think of it as the Un Chien Andalou of haunted house movies, and don’t worry about trying to connect dots which can no longer be connected at this point.
Cinematographer Adrian Biddle shot Event Horizon on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex Platinum cameras with anamorphic Panavision C-series and E-series lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. The visual effects footage was shot with large-format 35 mm VistaVision cameras—while there are some nascent digital effects in the film, everything was still composited optically, so using VistaVision helped to minimize the generational loss. Event Horizon has had a storied journey on high definition home video, with the 2008 Paramount Blu-ray using an aging master that was filled with noise and other artifacts, including an incorrect anamorphic stretch. Those issues were rectified by the 2021 Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, which used a newer 4K scan taken from the original negative. Now things have come full circle, with Paramount releasing a 4K UHD of that same scan, graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included on the disc).
While this release is obviously a dramatic improvement over the 2008 Blu-ray, it’s also a significant upgrade over the 2021 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. The detail can still be a bit soft at times, but that’s unavoidable given the abundance of traditional optical effects work in the film. The non-effects shots show a significant improvement in fine detail, especially in the facial closeups—Lawrence Fishburne’s pockmarked skin is reproduced perfectly here. The intricate details of the sets are well-resolved, especially in the hauntingly Gothic gravity drive room. The star fields also look sharper and clearer here than they have in previous versions. The grain is extremely fine, but it hasn’t been erased, and while the bit rate is disappointingly low given the fact that there are no extras on the disc, it’s still managed well by the encoding. The HDR grade strengthens the contrast, with appropriately deep black levels, but it doesn’t exaggerate the highlights in a revisionist way. Biddle shot the entire film with 500 ASA Kodak 5279 Vision stock due to how forgiving it could be at low light levels using anamorphic lenses, and also because he could get better blacks with it. Those blacks look stronger here than they ever have before. The stylized reds, greens, and yellows also look more dramatic, and there’s greater depth to the shadings, especially in the scene where Sam Neill climbs through the circuit board duct. It’s no longer monochromatically green, and instead it now has an amazingly wide variety of subtle shades of green and yellow on display. Even the bilious yellows of the central corridor display more color depth than they did previously. This is a perfect example of how the wide color gamut of HDR can be used to enhance the presentation a film without changing its essential character.
Primary audio is offered in English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, and it’s a direct encoding of the original theatrical 5.1 mix. It’s as deafening and bombastic as ever—Event Horizon has never had a particularly subtle soundtrack. Anderson used frequent loud audio stingers to provide cheap scares, but it’s the less frequent subtle directionalized effects that are the highlight of the mix. The entire film is a haunted house story set in space, so having unsettling noises appear in the corners of the room behind the viewer is quite effective. The score by Michael Kamen and Orbital is ostentatious, with thunderous bass. The whole thing is a bit overwhelming, but that’s entirely faithful to how the film sounded theatrically. While an Atmos remix could have offered some interesting enhancements, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this original mix, and it responds well to both the Dolby Surround and DTS:X upmixers. Additional audio options include German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese. Subtitle options for the commentary track include German, English, Spanish, French, and Italian. (Note that the 2.0 Dolby Stereo surround mix from the Scream Factory disc isn’t included on this release.)
Paramount is currently offering Event Horizon on 4K Ultra HD in a Steelbook-only edition. It’s a two-disc set that includes a repressing of their original 2008 Blu-ray—which means that it’s the old 1080p transfer, not the new one. While there are a few alternate versions that include some swag, the Steelbook itself always houses both discs in an eye-catching metal design (pun intended), with a clear plastic slipcover that adds different enhancements to the basic artwork on each side. There are no extras on the UHD, not even the commentary track. The extras on the Blu-ray are all ported over from Paramount’s 2006 Collector’s Edition DVD release:
- Audio Commentary by Paul W.S. Anderson and Jeremy Bolt
- The Making of Event Horizon (SD – 103:01)
- The Point of No Return: The Filming of Event Horizon (SD – 8:12)
- Secrets (SD – 10:03)
- The Unseen Event Horizon (SD – 6:49)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:22)
- Video Trailer (SD – 1:48)
The commentary features Anderson along his producing partner Jeremy Bolt. Regardless of how you may feel about Anderson and his films, he gives good commentary, and this one is no exception. He takes his work seriously, so he offers some interesting thoughts about the entire troubled history of the production, with Bolt chiming in at appropriate moments. The track is peppered with occasional gaps, but none of them are particularly lengthy, and Anderson is always fully engaged when he’s speaking. He may not change anyone’s mind about the film, but it’s still worth a listen, even if you’re not a fan.
The Making of Event Horizon is a feature-length documentary directed by Lancelot Narayan that’s divided into five parts, which can be played individually, or as a group: Into the Jaws of Darkness, The Body of the Beast, Liberate Tutume Ex Infernis, The Scale to Hell, and The Womb of Fear. Select “Play All,” sit back, and enjoy, because it’s a comprehensive look at the history of the film from pre-production to release. Anderson, Bolt, legendary effects supervisor Richard Yuricich, and other members of the cast and crew all offer their thoughts in a less filtered fashion than most modern studio-produced documentaries do. The Point of No Return: The Filming of Event Horizon is a collection of four different sets of behind-the-scenes footage narrated by Anderson, which can also be played individually or as a group: The Revolving Corridor, The Crew Gathers, Shooting Wire Work, and The Dark Inside. Secrets includes three different deleted or extended scenes, all of which can be played with or without optional commentary from Anderson: Deleted Briefing Scene, Extended Medical Bay Scene, and Extended Burning Man Confrontation. The Unseen Event Horizon is two separate stills galleries, the first of which includes optional commentary by Anderson, while the second does not: The Unfilmed Rescue Scene and Conceptual Art.
While it may be disappointing that the Blu-ray doesn’t offer the new transfer, it’s worth noting that Paramount is increasingly offering UHD only editions that don’t include a Blu-ray at all. In this case, adding the Blu-ray provided a way to include the legacy extras without having to re-author them for the UHD. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than not getting any of the extras at all. Plus, Paramount already licensed the new 1080p transfer to Scream Factory, so they probably couldn’t use it again without violating their contract with Shout! Factory. That also means that none of the new interviews from the Scream Factory version could be included in this set: Reflecting on Hell, Haunted Galleon, Organized Chaos, Compassion in Space, The Doomed Captain, Space Cathedral, Something New, Taking Care of It, Reinforcements, Almost Real, and Screams from the Cosmos. Frankly, none of them can hold a candle to The Making of Event Horizon, so they’re not that much of a loss. Your mileage may vary, but this one vintage documentary is worth its weight in Zoom interviews, and then some. You’ll want to hang on to the Scream Factory set if you have it, but if you don’t, you can pick this set up without hesitation—assuming that you can find it, that is. It sold out pretty quickly at many retailers. There’s also a UK version that offers some extra swag like blueprints, a patch, a pin, and some postcards. The Blu-ray in that set is Region-Free, so you can safely grab it even if you don’t have a Region-Free player.
It’s possible that only the initial pressing of the US version of Event Horizon is selling out and Paramount will produce more. It’s also possible that they may eventually offer a cheaper non-Steelbook version. These days, nothing is certain when it comes to physical media, so you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to take the chance on waiting. Regardless, this is a definitely a UHD that’s worth adding to your collection, caveats aside.
- Stephen Bjork