Event Horizon: Paul W.S. Anderson Doesn’t Need a Director’s Cut
Exclusive: On the 25th anniversary of Event Horizon, director Paul W.S. Anderson wonders if a lost director’s cut would be a good idea.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon has just arrived on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray commemorating its 25th anniversary. The fresh release of the film (in a nifty little steelbook with great cover art) has also given us a chance to take another look at a movie that is perhaps the very definition of unrealized potential. While the new Blu-ray also ports over all the bonus features from previous home video releases, including Andersen’s commentary, a five-part “making-of” documentary, and a few tantalizing bits of deleted footage, it does not feature the Holy Grail for Event Horizon fans: a long-rumored director’s cut of the 1997 film that, had it existed, would restore about half an hour of long-lost material that Anderson was forced to remove thanks to studio meddling and a disastrous test screening.
But watching Event Horizon now, with the latest transfer certainly helping us to appreciate this flawed but gripping film’s strengths more than ever before, the question arises: Would a longer cut have helped? Do we place too much importance on so-called director’s cuts, particularly when they exist only in our imaginations? Have the ones that have surfaced resulted in success or disappointment?
“I think director’s cuts are interesting, and just as a fanboy I’ve certainly gone out and bought my fair share of them,” Anderson tells Den of Geek when we get a chance to chat with him about the movie’s anniversary. “But is it usually a better movie? I don’t know.”
Event Horizon: The Studio’s Mission Parameters
Event Horizon kicks off with the return of the title spacecraft, which has been missing for seven years and reappears in orbit around Neptune. A rescue vessel, the Lewis and Clark, under the command of Capt. Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and carrying the scientist who designed the ship (Sam Neill), heads out to space to discover what has happened to the ship and crew.
Neill’s character, Dr. Weir, reveals along the way that the Event Horizon was supposed to test a new kind of drive that could allow it to travel vast distances by slipping through an interdimensional portal or wormhole. But when the Lewis and Clark arrives at the derelict vessel, its crew discovers that the Event Horizon did indeed slip into another dimension: a universe inhabited by a malignant evil that slaughtered the ship’s crew and has come back to our universe aboard the dead ship.
Event Horizon was meant to be “a classic haunted house movie,” as Anderson describes it to this day, only set in deep space and targeting the same sweet spot between sci-fi and horror that films like Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Thing have successfully, but infrequently, hit.
“I think it’s always difficult,” says Anderson. “When you’re combining two genres, it’s hard because people like a certain genre. They like haunted house movies. They like outer space movies. But a haunted house in outer space, you’ve got to work twice as hard to really pull that off.”
Initially, it seemed like Anderson didn’t pull off either despite genre credibility thanks to his indie debut, Shopping (1994), and his Hollywood breakthrough, Mortal Kombat (1995). Filming proceeded more or less according to plan on Event Horizon, but Anderson was under pressure to complete the film after James Cameron’s Titanic was delayed, depriving Paramount Pictures of a big movie in the late summer of 1997.
As a result, Anderson agreed to a shortened post-production window, which was initially set at six weeks but was then further reduced to four (directors are usually guaranteed 10 weeks).
“It was very, very hectic,” he says now about that period. “I feel like I could’ve been more creative and I don’t know what would’ve come out of that creativity. If I’d had another 10 weeks to cut the movie, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten any better. Maybe it would’ve got worse, who knows? But it would certainly be fun to put the effort in, to put in the extra 10 weeks and see what the result would’ve been.”
Anderson’s efforts were further hampered by a poor test screening for the initial two-hour cut of the movie, as well as Paramount’s shocked reaction to the gore and violence in the film.
“When we showed that first cut… the studio was horrified by all the imagery,” he recalls. “Yes, the cut looked too long because that’s the process when you do a director’s cut. You shrink it down and down and down. We hadn’t been through that process really because we’d only had the three weeks to cut it. So that was one of the studio’s big notes is cut, cut, cut, and then we had to test again a week later.”
In the end, a 95-minute cut of Event Horizon made it into theaters on Aug. 15, 1997 and promptly tanked, earning just $42 million worldwide against an estimated budget of $60 million. Critics weren’t kind to the movie either, with Variety, among others, calling it “a muddled and curiously uninvolving sci-fi horror show.”
Rediscovered as a Cult Classic
For his part, Anderson admits that had he possessed more influence and familiarity with Hollywood at the time, he would have protested releasing such a dark movie in the middle of summer.
“I think if I’d been a more experienced filmmaker at that point, I would’ve pushed back against the studio saying, ‘Wait a second, this is not a summer movie,’ but I didn’t really know that much about how the studio system worked at that time,” says the director. “So I think because of the release date, and because we didn’t have much time to put together a campaign for the movie, the movie never did the business that we all felt it should have done at the time.”
One thing that Anderson is adamant about, however, is that he’s pleased with the film he made despite the enormous difficulties faced with completing and releasing it.
“I’m very, very happy with the movie,” Anderson insists. “I think as troubled as the post was, the movie that came out of it was a very powerful movie and, obviously over time, that’s why it’s built its audience.”
Indeed, thanks to the wonders of home video where many purported cinematic failures have gone on to find new audiences and new cultural significance, Event Horizon has spent the last 25 years building a new following. And among genre fans, historians, and journalists, it’s also found a gradual reappraisal.
“It’s been great because it’s a constant reminder that it’s a long race that you run as a filmmaker,” Anderson says about the movie’s second life. “It’s not all about the opening weekend. I know in Hollywood you get very caught up in it, but it’s nice to be reminded that even if the opening weekend and the initial reaction from the press is not what you want it to be, it doesn’t mean your movie’s over. Eventually, if you’ve made a strong movie, the audience will find it and appreciate it.”
As the following around Event Horizon grew over the intervening years, speculation about the film’s development and production expanded as well—specifically over the fate of the initial two-hour cut that Anderson and Paramount first rushed into that disastrous test screening 25 years ago. Did a longer cut of the movie exist? Did it improve upon the existing movie? And would Anderson and Paramount ever agree to restore and release it?
The Unseen Event Horizon
How does Event Horizon hold up today? This writer admits to being disappointed when he saw in a theater in 1997 after months of hype from the likes of Fangoria magazine and other genre publications (film coverage on the internet was in its infancy and Film Twitter did not exist).
To be sure, the movie contains many superb elements: the premise itself—a ship enters another dimension that turns out to be Hell itself—is fantastic; the design of the titular spacecraft is magnificent, a Gothic labyrinth comprised mostly of real, physical sets; the flashes of what happens to the crew are genuinely disturbing; and the picture moves at a brisk pace from start to finish.
“I don’t think it looks like a movie that was shot 25 years ago,” says Anderson about the still-impressive visuals. “For that, I really have to thank my visual effects supervisor Richard Yuricich. He’d worked on these amazing movies, 2001, Blade Runner, that you look at 15, 20 years later, and it felt like the visual effects still looked fresh and exciting and cool. I asked him, ‘What’s the secret, Richard?’ And he said, ‘Well, the secret is I don’t really like visual effects.’ He always pushed me to do stuff for real.”
On the downside of the picture, there’s minimal development for any of the characters, at least on first viewing; the movie gallops almost too fast to the finish line with scenes that might have clarified the plot or deepened the characters who are given little room to breathe; and there isn’t enough sustained atmosphere to maintain a continual sense of dread. But watching it over the years—and especially as the images have been preserved and freshened on the latest release—it’s clear that Event Horizon, while missing out on being perhaps a truly “great” film, is much more effective and better realized in what it does than it might have seemed 25 years ago.
The sets are truly spectacular, the visuals mostly hold up, and even the crew’s back stories and relationships resonate upon repeated viewings. There’s a reason why it’s now a cult classic.
Nevertheless, questions have lingered for years over the reports that a lengthier version of the movie, said to be up to 30 minutes longer, existed briefly and might have been a truly classic iteration of the film. A few tantalizing bits of footage, the most notable being a few minutes of an opening scene in which Sam Neill briefs authorities about the return of the Event Horizon, can be found on the various home video releases (including the new one), but most of that footage appears to be lost for good.
“Most films are half an hour too long, if not longer,” Sam Neill said when we asked him about Event Horizon earlier this year. “This is half an hour too short. It was cut at such a ridiculous speed that all the tension and potential horror was lost. I don’t know why they did that. I don’t know what happened… It’d be great to have a proper version of it. I always felt cheated by the cut.”
Anderson clearly doesn’t agree with Neill’s assessment of the finished film, but he does concur with some of the actor’s views on what was cut. “If I were to reinstitute anything, it probably wouldn’t be what people would expect, which is more gore and horror,” the director muses. “I feel like the movie’s pretty scary and horrifying already, but what it could do is maybe have more build-up.”
The scenes allegedly left on the cutting room floor, according to a Fangoria article published after the film’s release, were a mix of character moments and gore effects. They reportedly included more backstory for rescue team members D.J. (Jason Isaacs), Cooper (Richard T. Jones), and Justin (Jack Noseworthy), an exploration of Lewis and Clark executive officer Starck’s (Joely Richardson) unrequited feelings for Miller, and extended scenes of some of the gruesome horror that befalls both crews.
Although there was some talk of restoring these scenes after the movie became a surprise hit in its first DVD release, much of the footage was apparently not stored properly and disappeared, although some snippets, as mentioned earlier, are available on the various home video releases.
“I’ve seen some VHS footage,” Anderson says about the missing scenes. “It was VHS quality, so it’s not the quality you’re going to reintegrate into the movie, but it’s interesting to see some of the deleted scenes… Would it have made the movie any better? Probably not, but it’s fun, interesting stuff to see.”
Anderson previously told Entertainment Weekly that “you’d need to probably do what they did with the Snyder Cut [of Justice League]”—in other words, reshoot or add footage entirely—to restore the original cut of Event Horizon at this point.
The Final Cut Is… The Best?
Which brings us to a question which has been hotly debated in film fandom for years: Is a so-called director’s cut (or, in general terms, an extended cut) of a film necessarily the better one?
It’s interesting that Anderson brings up the Snyder Cut because even though the 2017 theatrical version of Justice League was a hot mess, it’s arguable that Zack Snyder’s Justice League, while better, was still not a good movie. On the other hand, the director’s cuts of films like Blade Runner, The Abyss, and Kingdom of Heaven turn them into far superior outings than their original forms. Meanwhile James Cameron’s longer cut of Aliens is still a great movie… but not necessarily a better one.
“It’s really interesting to see, for example, Aliens,” says Anderson. “That first reel that James Cameron took out, where you see the settlers all alive and you see what happened to Newt’s family—it’s really interesting to see it. Does the reinsertion of that make it a better movie? I would say absolutely not. I mean, that was completely the right decision to take that out, but certainly it’s fun to see it reintegrated. I’ve done that with my movies as well… but I think usually the cut that you end up on is the best cut.”
With that in mind, even though fans may continue to be interested in seeing a longer cut of Event Horizon, if for no other reason than to just see the movie in a slightly different form, Anderson is adamant that in the final analysis, the Event Horizon we have is the one he’s proud of.
“There’s that saying, right? Movies are never finished, just abandoned,” he says. “Every director would love to keep fiddling… You’re not necessarily making it any better, but it’s not so easy to let go of it. That’s my feeling about Event Horizon: We abandoned it at one point and that’s the cut that went into theaters. But if I’d fiddled with it for another 10 weeks, would it have gotten better? I’m not sure.”
Event Horizon is available now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.