Director Paul W.S. Anderson reminisces with EW about making the 1997 sci-fi-horror film, getting trounced by Harrison Ford at the box office, and the movie's elevation to cult-classic status.
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In 1997's Event Horizon a team of astronauts are sent to investigate the return of the titular experimental spaceship seven years after the craft suddenly vanished. Where has the Event Horizon been? The answer, it turns out, is, literally, Hell, as the movie's characters (portrayed by Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Jason Isaacs, and Joely Richardson, among others) discover to their horror and cost.

Event Horizon
(Left to right) Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, and Jeremy Isaacs in Event Horizon
| Credit: Paramount Pictures

Directed by the young British filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson, Event Horizon was rush-released in the summer of 1997 by Paramount to fill the hole in the studio's schedule left by James Cameron's Titanic, delayed by production difficulties. While the studio attempted to broaden the movie's appeal by having Anderson remove some of his film's gorier material, Event Horizon was beaten at the box office in its first week of release by Cop Land, Conspiracy Theory, and the Harrison Ford-starring Air Force One, ultimately garnering a domestic gross of just $26 million.

Over time, however, Anderson's dark and disturbing tale has acquired an army of devoted fans, and the film's 25th anniversary is being marked by a just-released limited edition 4K Blu-ray steelbook.

"I'm definitely aware that the audience has grown and grown," says Anderson, whose subsequent filmography would include 2002's Resident Evil, 2004's Alien vs. Predator, and, most recently, 2020's Monster Hunter. "That's what's nice about the 4K release. The imagery, I think, is beautiful, and I'm really glad that finally, in a home format, people can be watching something that really starts to approach what the cinema experience was."

Below, Anderson talks about the trials and tribulations of bringing Event Horizon to the screen and why it is unlikely we will ever see a restoration of his original cut.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved in Event Horizon, and is it true you turned down the opportunity to direct the first X-Men movie to make it?

PAUL W.S. ANDERSON: The way Hollywood tends to work is, when you have a big hit, you're a genius, and then, as soon as you have a failure, you're an idiot. So I was in my "genius" phase, because Mortal Kombat, which was my first American movie, had been a big hit. I got offered a lot of things, I was like the new kid on the block, and certainly X-Men was one of them. Ultimately, I wanted to do Event Horizon. Mortal Kombat wasn't a comic book movie per se, but it had a kind of comic book feel to it, because it was based on the video game, so I didn't really want to jump back into that. I wanted to spread my wings. It was only my third movie, so I was very excited about jumping into a slightly different kind of playpen.

Event Horizon spoke to movies I had loved as just a film geek. It was a haunted house movie, like Robert Wise's The Haunting or The Shining, it was also a scary outer-space movie like Alien. So it combined several things that I really loved. I had signed to do a movie with Kurt Russell called Soldier for Warner Bros., and Kurt decided that he wanted to get in shape for the movie, and he wanted to take basically nine-months-to-a-year to really get into character. I thought, well, I'm not just going to sit there idle while Kurt does that. I wanted to do another movie in the meantime and then that ended up being Event Horizon.

Sam Neill in Event Horizon
| Credit: Everett Collection

You filmed the movie in London. What springs to mind when you think about the shoot?

My God, I loved the shoot. It's funny: We were making a horror movie with a lot of dark, disturbing imagery, but I had just a delightful time making it, wrapping all these actors in barbed wire and covering them in blood. I probably had more fun than they did, dangling Laurence Fishburne upside down and rotating him round and round.

I think one of the reasons why the movie continues to look really good is, I had an excellent visual effects supervisor, Richard Yuricich, whose favorite kind of visual effect was no visual effect. He'd worked on all these terrific movies like Blade Runner and 2001. You looked at their visual effects 15 years afterwards and they just didn't look dated, they looked like they'd just been made. I said to Richard, "How did you manage that?" And he said, "Just do it for real. If you can, do it for real. And if you can't do it for real, do as much as possible for real." Instead of going with cutting-edge CG, we would build big models of the spaceships, we would build big interiors for the sets, we'd try and do as much practical as possible. Given a choice between having Laurence Fishburne on a blue screen and building an upside-down set into which we stuck Laurence upside-down and spun him round and round, we'd do [the latter]. The end result was, the majority of what you see onscreen is real, and reality holds up well, whereas nothing dates as fast as cutting-edge CG.

Event Horizon
Event Horizon
| Credit: Paramount Pictures

You did put your cast through the ringer, physically. Who did you make suffer the most?

Well, I don't know. I'm the director, I was having a delightful time. You'd have to talk to the cast for them to give you their true feelings. But to my face, they seemed to be having a fun time, even though it was a challenging shoot for them. I remember Joely Richardson saying that she found the sets really oppressive. There was something that was a little dreadful about coming to work in these oppressive sets, which I thought was really good, because we built sets that really put the actors in the environment. Again, rather than sticking them just in front of a blue screen, they were in the Event Horizon. We built these amazing gothic sets and they did have a kind of malevolent feel to them. But I think, over time, because everything was in a studio, there was this kind of cabin fever that built up as well, which, again, I think worked in the movie's favor.

I remember Laurence Fishburne made copious notes on his script about his character and about the movie, but some scenes he would just write three letters: NAR. I asked him what "NAR" stood for and he said, "No acting required." That was because I was putting him in a situation where he could just react to what we were doing, the sparks that were going off, and the smoke that was coming in, or he felt like he was in zero gravity because he was upside down and spinning round. All of the actors, really, they were great. It was very early on in my career, so they knew a lot more about acting than I did, that's for sure. And Fishburne and Sam Neill in particular were very giving with their time. I certainly, as a director, learned an awful lot from them.

But in terms of which actors I tortured the most, it tended to be the Americans, to be honest. Jason Isaacs pointed out that there's a great shot where the team go into the Event Horizon for the first time, and then the rest of the characters are watching on a monitor, and there's a shot of Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, the three of them, and they're all looking intently on monitors. They're all English people and they've sent all the Americans onto the Event Horizon. So it was the Americans who were doing all the dangerous stuff, and it was the Americans who had to wear all the big spacesuits, and go through all the physical unpleasantness, and the English people just stood there and watched on a monitor. I don't know if that says anything about English people.

Event Horizon
Joely Richardson in Event Horizon
| Credit: Paramount Pictures

You had this preposterously truncated post-production period because James Cameron required more time to finish Titanic and Paramount needed a big movie to release in the summer. When you watch a James Cameron movie, do you think, "You f---er"?

No! Listen, Cameron has been very vocal about how he likes my Alien vs. Predator and how he likes Resident Evil. Whenever I bump into him, he's always very pleasant, and I love him as a filmmaker. I have no bad feelings towards him. Looking back, if I'd been more experienced as a filmmaker, I would have pushed back against the studio about the release date. [But] I was enthusiastic. You know: Oh, my God, you want to release my movie in the middle of the summer? To compete against a Harrison Ford movie where he plays the President of America? That sounds great! Of course, what I should have been was really concerned, like: Oh, my God, we're going to get killed. It's like, we're a really dark, disturbing science-fiction movie, we should be in the fall, we should be Halloween, or in November. That was really when we should have been released. Event Horizon, it's not a fun summer popcorn movie. I mean, it is a fun movie, but it doesn't fit that mold. So it wasn't surprising that we got our hat handed to us a little bit at the box office.

Is it true that the studio executives were aghast when they saw the movie?

Well, yeah. Directors usually get a ten-week cut and then there's usually four or five weeks of producer notes and studio notes. So once you wrapped a movie, it's usually 14 or 15 weeks before you put it in front of an audience. I had four weeks, and one of those weeks I was still directing second unit, I was doing a lot of wire work and stuff like that. So really, I only had three weeks to concentrate on editing the movie, and that was coming off the shoot, which was pretty exhausting. So it's not surprising that the edit was a bit baggy when we first presented it to the studio. Also, because the post-production process was so truncated, the first time the studio saw it was the first test screening. So they saw it with an audience, and they saw all this blood and unpleasantness, all the impalings, and people ripping their eyes out, and pulling their intestines out of their mouths.

A lot of the so-called "Visions of Hell" I had directed on weekends. On the call sheets it was listed as "second unit," but actually it was me and it was Adrian Biddle (Event Horizon cinematographer) lighting it, and it was the principal actors, but because we were working on weekends, it was a "second unit." I think the studio had paid attention to the main unit photography but second unit, you know, usually it's inserts and bits of action, so I think no one had seen any of this stuff. When they saw it, they were just aghast at it. There was a memorable moment when one of the studio executives actually said to me in a horrified way, "But we're the studio that makes Star Trek!" As though somehow I was besmirching Star Trek with my horrible movie in space.

Event Horizon
Event Horizon steelbook
| Credit: Paramount Pictures

There have been rumors over the years that it might be possible for you to put together a cut with the missing material. Will we ever see a longer version of the film?

The problem with the deleted material is that we were right before the DVD revolution when Event Horizon was released. We were going out on VHS in ancillaries. And on VHS there was no room for all of these deleted scenes, there was no reason for the studio to keep it. Now if we'd made the movie a couple of years later, they'd have been all over the deleted scenes. But by the time DVD had happened, and the audience for the movie started demanding special editions, they hadn't archived a lot of that stuff. So it's just not there. I think to really reinstitute what the old cut was, you'd need to probably do what they did with the Snyder Cut where you have to go and shoot some material again.

I'm hearing "Release the Anderson Cut!"

Yeah, exactly. But I have to say, as troubled as the post-production was, and as fast as it was, I think the movie that came out is an incredibly strong film. I reduced the running time of the disturbing images, but actually didn't take much imagery out. All I did was, what had been a three-second cut, sometimes became a three-frame cut. I think ultimately by compressing the material, and making these visions of hell almost these subliminal bursts of imagery, I think it actually increased the power and the horror, rather than decreasing it. I think it had the opposite effect of what the studio was imagining.

I can't tell you how many people have come up to me over time and said, "Oh, that image from your film," and then they describe something that I just never shot. The flashes have allowed people to bring their own imaginations to the horror. It's pretty disturbing stuff. I'm like, "That's a great idea, and I wish I'd shot it, but I just never did."

Watch the trailer for Event Horizon below.

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