How not to make “Event Horizon”

As our lives get increasingly hectic and confusing, it becomes dangerously more and more likely that one of us is bound to look up from what he’s been doing and suddenly realize, “Oh, shit. I just made Event Horizon.”

Paul W.S. Anderson has lived through this experience, and he’ll tell you the only way that he can manage to get through it is that he can also say, “Holy shit. I just had sex with Milla Jovovich.”

But don’t get too paranoid and frozen into inaction. It’s easy not to make Event Horizon. Thousands of filmmakers do it every day. You just have to remember a few simple rules:

1. Don’t make Event Horizon.
Seems obvious, I know, but sometimes the most obvious things can be ignored. Travel back to 1997. DOOM the videogame has already been out for four years, Solaris has been out for twenty-five, and Alien for eighteen. Someone comes to you with a movie pitch about a sci-fi/horror hybrid about a derelict spaceship bringing back something horrible from a Hell dimension and the rag-tag band of space military sent to investigate. While it’s obvious to us that there’s absolutely nothing novel about the concept and making such an inessential film would be a colossal waste of time, we still somehow ended up with Event Horizon.

2. Know your art direction.
If you can, ask your concept artist if you can meet him and take a look around his office. Note your surroundings. Are there more than two H.R. Geiger books on his bookshelf? If so, first ask whether he or she received them as a gift. Then ask whether you want to be showing your audience something that they’d already seen eighteen years ago.

3. Take a look at the concept art before you give the approval to begin building it.
Once you’ve received the concept art, take a few minutes to examine it. It sounds obsessive-compulsive, sure, but believe me: a few minutes spent here will save you hours later trying to explain yourself to the critics. Ask yourself a few key questions:

  1. Wasn’t this better when it was called Alien? Or Aliens? Or Outland? Or Contact? Or 2001: A Space Odyssey? Or Hellraiser?
  2. Why would a spaceship’s engine core have intricate goth metal shapes all along the walls, when the rest of the ship is late-70s what-a-deep-space-spaceship-would-look-like?
  3. Or giant goth metal spikes coming out of the walls?
  4. Can we not work a surfeit of chains and a giant razor-sharp pendulum into the picture?
  5. Considering this is a horror movie, and the script doesn’t call for anyone to be impaled on said goth metal spikes, even though one character falls from a great height into the engine core and somehow manages to completely avoid the dozens of spikes on the walls, could they be hurting the design more than helping it?

4. Don’t be afraid to re-write your script.
I know, I know. More work! But it’s an initial investment that will be paid back ten-fold when you see the delight on your audience’s faces when they realize they don’t have to sit through another movie with a wisecracking black guy who survives against all odds. Take a shot at differentiating the two completely indistinguishable gruff, hard-as-nails white guy crew members. Since your plot involves the forces of hell working on your characters’ worst fears, why not give each one more back-story? Or, some?

5. Have an ending in mind when you begin filming.
Movies take a long time to film, so it can seem like you’ve got all the time in the world to come up with a way to wrap everything up. But more often than not, you’re going to be wicked busy during filming, and won’t have time to tie up all the loose ends. After a few days of shooting for 20 hours straight, you might even answer the question, “Didn’t the main villain just get very visibly and dramatically sucked out the front window of the spaceship?” with something as crazy as “The ship teleports him back.”

6. Hire an editor.
After all that shooting, you’re going to end up with a lot of film. What’s needed now is someone who’ll put those pieces of film together in an intelligible manner. It’s what separates the tight, suspenseful pacing of classic horror from a bunch of completely random scenes thrown on-screen with no discernible sequence or connection.

Now, Anderson claimed that the studio mandated all kinds of cuts to the movie to make it less gory and more palatable to the action-movie crowd, and he threatens promises to release a director’s cut someday. So I’ll concede that one, to a point. The trailer included on the DVD shows a bunch of clips that didn’t appear in the movie, with more background on Sam Neill’s character, more suspenseful build-up to finding records of the Event Horizon in the first place, better explanations of what’s going on in the ship instead of lines of dialogue inserted randomly, etc. Those would’ve helped a lot.

However, no amount of added footage or context could make sense out of that ending. Unless the studio mandate wasn’t just to cut stuff, but to replace the cut scenes with pure suck, there’s no denying that Anderson actually filmed Laurence Fishburne and the already-dead Sam Neill duking it out in the goth metal engine room.

7. Ask yourself if life is imitating art.
One of the recurring motifs of the movie is that people keep telling Sam Neill’s character he was wrong to make the Event Horizon. Coincidence?

8. If all else fails, take it home.
If you’ve for whatever reason ignored all these rules and still somehow made Event Horizon, just run with it. Don’t just do the Carrie thing with Pinhead Sam Neill showing up and “it was just a horrifying dream!” Take the guy who survived getting thrown naked out of an airlock even though his eyes were bleeding, and have him break out of his holding tank and start ripping out intestines. Have a demon send the ship back towards Earth and then laugh as the camera zooms into his mouth, then have the screen say “The End?!?” Show KISS jumping through the hellgate, or even the Harlem Globetrotters. Just do something, anything to make this movie have one original moment.

9. Trust no one.
After you’ve made Event Horizon, you may be tempted to watch it. You may ask friends what they thought of it. This is a bad idea, because people lie. They will describe it as “a flawed gem.” They will, with a straight face, describe it as “one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen,” even though there’s absolutely nothing in the movie that’s remotely frightening (and this is coming from someone who wets himself at grocery store Halloween displays).

The remake of Solaris is not a horror movie, but a sedate, pensive philosophical drama that asks what it means to exist as an individual, how we know ourselves, and how we know others. And it’s a hundred billion times scarier and more unsettling than Event Horizon.

They will even say that it’s a good campy horror movie until its horrible ending, which is the worst kind of lie, because it’s half-true. Your Event Horizon truly does have a horrible, stupid ending. And you’ll remember Resident Evil fondly as being good, campy fun horror with some memorable moments. So you’ll be tempted to watch. And the only thing you’ll take away from the movie is one line of dialogue: “Hell is just a word. The reality is much worse.”