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The hellish production of Paul W.S. Anderson’s ‘Event Horizon’

The hellish production of Paul W.S. Anderson movie ‘Event Horizon’

(Credits: Far Out / Paramount Pictures)


One of the most underrated horror movies of all time is Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1997 science fiction film Event Horizon, starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan and Joely Richardson. It focuses on a crew of astronauts in the year 2047 who embark on a rescue mission after a hitherto missing spaceship suddenly reappears orbiting Neptune.

No ordinary science fiction film is Event Horizon, though, as the crew discover that the titular spaceship has returned from wherever it travelled with a truly evil force inside it. In fact, the ship is now serving as a portal to Hell with all the expected terrors of the underworld in tow.

However, Anderson’s film had a difficult production process, to say the least. The initial filming occurred at Pinewood Studios in London and featured several in-camera visual effects that ought to have been just as impressive as another famous science fiction movie released just two years later, The Matrix.

Moving sets were made to a tight specification so that a constant sense of movement within the final product could be achieved, and there were several scenes written with zero gravity at their core. However, because of budgetary problems, several of the zero gravity moments had to be scrapped in favour of actors wearing magnetic boots.

At the time, as per the Directors Guild of America, directors were usually guaranteed ten weeks of editing time, but Anderson was forced to accept just six. The reason he was given was that he was not able to complete principal photography, and the release date was rapidly approaching.

However, it was actually because one of the biggest blockbuster releases of all time was also scheduled for that year, James Cameron’s Titanic. Paramount Studios wanted to release a hit movie before the disaster classic hit cinemas in September 1997, so Anderson promised to deliver Event Horizon by August.

That six weeks soon dropped to four because Anderson still needed to shoot with the second cast for two weeks after the first lot had wrapped. Pressed for time with just four weeks to edit, Anderson made a cut that ran at two hours and ten minutes. He knew that it was too long but sent it to test screening without much else he could do.

Naturally, it was received poorly, with several special effects only half-finished and a poor mix of the sound. Not helping Anderson’s cause was the over-gratuitous gore, which actually led to some test audience members fainting. The result was that Anderson had to cut the film down to just 96 minutes, with much of the gore removed.

But this only led to a too-short film, which was poorly received by critics upon its release. A director’s cut was later proposed but was scrapped in favour of a bonus DVD with some deleted and extended scenes included. The production of Event Horizon is something of a tragedy, a would-be masterpiece that ended up only half as good as its potential because of studio interference and a lack of time.

Still, the film ought to be heralded as one of the science fiction horror greats, and it has thankfully been reappraised since its original release, garnering something of a cult following in the process. The narrative and the acting of Event Horizon are undoubted, and bringing Hell to space is one of the greatest conceptions to ever come to the cinematic universe. But sadly, this time, it just wasn’t to be.

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