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‘Event Horizon’: Journey to Gory Ghost Ship

TIMES FILM CRITIC

In the area of science-fiction horror, state-of-the-art technology gives and takes away. It makes possible wonders no one could have imagined and creates terrors so excessive it’s dreadful to look at the screen. “Event Horizon” has a knack for both, and that’s something of a shame.

For watching the dark doings that result when spaceship Event Horizon returns from a mysterious trip “beyond the boundaries of known scientific reality” leads to the odd wish it had been made in a different time. Yes, you’d sacrifice the special effects and the excellent model work, one of the film’s prime assets, but you’d also sidestep the current hip fascination with creating repulsion, sickening and revolting an audience. Maybe that’s not strictly a trendy desire, but it’s not previously been joined with the kind of killer technology that makes it so graphically possible.

There are, as it turns out, several things to appeal to an adult audience about “Event Horizon.” With stars like Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan and Joely Richardson, it’s especially well-cast for what is basically a piece of pulp fiction. And Philip Eisner’s script holds our interest, partly via a plot twist that fans of “Forbidden Planet” will find familiar.

Director Paul Anderson, whose last film was “Mortal Kombat,” well knows how to build suspense and increase tension. But counterbalancing all of that is “Event Horizon’s” position as a sci-fi splatter film, intent on drenching the screen in blood and gore whenever possible. Though the script provides an excuse for the charnel house ambience, that doesn’t make it any more pleasant to watch.

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“Event Horizon” opens in the year 2047 with some startling news: The spaceship of the same name, having disappeared without a trace seven years before in the midst of a mission to explore the boundaries of our solar system, has suddenly come back into radio contact on the outskirts of Neptune.

Sent to find out where the ship has been and what happened to its crew is the Lewis & Clark, a seven-person American search-and-rescue ship run by the laconic, no-nonsense Capt. Miller (Fishburne), whose idea of a big speech is: “You know the rules, people: Someone drops the ball, we get the call.”

Also on the Lewis & Clark is Dr. William Weir (Neill), the troubled scientist who designed the Event Horizon. He explains that the lost ship was able to in effect fold space, creating what he calls “a dimensional gateway” that enabled it to evade the laws of physics and fly faster than the speed of light.

The Event Horizon, it’s soon determined, is a ghost ship with its crew--who have left behind a strange and terrifying captain’s log--all dead and gone. It’s also an extremely spooky place that causes all kinds of aberrant instrument readings. So no one is too happy when disastrous circumstances force Dr. Weir and the Lewis & Clark crew to temporarily abandon their ship and set up on the derelict vessel.

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Though explaining exactly what’s happening and why is not always this film’s strength, it becomes clear that the Event Horizon is playing frightening mind games with everyone on board. Dr. Weir seems to understand more than he’s willing to let on, and those who remember the strange powers of “the monsters from the id” in “Forbidden Planet” will know some of the places this film is headed.

To sell this kind of B-movie material, an A-cast is always helpful, and, starting with the always-convincing Fishburne, “Event Horizon” has one. Why fine performers want to be reduced to saying lines like “optimum approach angle is 14 degrees” is unclear (unless it’s a desire to have a “Star Trek” knockoff experience) but the film is better off for their presence.

It’s also helpful that several of the actors, the director and key production personnel are British. It gives “Event Horizon” a bit of a different feel, as does the arresting production design by newcomer Joseph Bennett. Expertly photographed by Adrian Biddle, who shot James Cameron’s “Aliens,” Bennett’s brooding, at times almost medieval sets are as convincing as they are different.

Director Anderson gets points for skillfully choreographing all of this, but he loses them for a consistent desire to brutalize the audience. Even before scenes with gouged-out eyes, “Event Horizon” uses over-amplified sound and a shock style of editing to unmercifully pulverize viewers.

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This technique can’t help but be effective up to a point, but the number of people who equate being efficiently tortured with being well entertained is, one hopes, a finite one. Otherwise the prognosis for film and society is about as grim as the doings on that sinister ghost ship.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence and gore, language and some nudity. Times guidelines: extreme use of blood and gore, including scenes with gouged eyes and disfigured faces.

‘Event Horizon’

Laurence Fishburne: Miller

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Sam Neill: Weir

Kathleen Quinlan: Peters

Joely Richardson: Starck

Richard T. Jones: Cooper

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Jack Noseworthy: Justin

Jason Isaacs: D.J.

Sean Pertwee: Smith

A Golar production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Paul Anderson. Producers Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Jeremy Bolt. Executive producer Nick Gillott. Screenplay Philip Eisner. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle. Editor Martin Hunter. Costumes John Mollo. Music Michael Kamen. Production design Joseph Bennett. Supervising art director Michael Stevenson. Set decorator Crispian Sallis. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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* In general release throughout Southern California.


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