The Production Of 'Event Horizon' Was Its Own Level Of Hell
Event Horizon is considered a sci-fi cult classic today. But like many cult classics, it first had to endure a tough time at the box office. The 1997 film tells the story of a ship called the Event Horizon that disappeared after testing an experimental gravity drive that could create a black hole. When the Event Horizon mysteriously reappears, a rescue ship called the Lewis and Clark is sent to investigate, but its crew quickly realizes that the Horizon is much more sinister than they realized: It's become sentient after traveling to an alternate dimension, and it wants to destroy them.
From the outset, the movie itself was nearly as doomed as the crew of the Lewis and Clark. Paramount rushed it into production to compensate for Titanic's many delays. Director Paul W.S. Anderson was given far less time to work on Event Horizon than a typical film would receive. The set was plagued with problems and accidents, and the cast considered it "cursed." Anderson turned in a rushed cut that freaked out test audiences so badly that it had to be severely edited. As a result, it was a box office flop.
Despite its flaws, Event Horizon still has plenty for sci-fi and horror fans to enjoy, from impressive set design to memorable scares to disturbing visuals. Here's the story of how Event Horizon overcame a hellish production to become a cult classic.
The Problems With 'Event Horizon' Began Because Of Delays In The Production Of 'Titanic'
Event Horizon faced an uphill battle from the outset, and it was all because of another film entirely. Titanic was originally supposed to be released on July 4, 1997, one of the most lucrative release dates of the year. But in the spring of 1997, it was clear that Titanic director James Cameron would be unable to complete his film in time for the Fourth of July. It was also one of the most expensive productions in movie history at that point, with its budget ballooning past $200 million.
Paramount delayed Titanic's release until November of that year, which left a gap in its summer production schedule that needed to be filled.
- Photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Due To A Gap In The Summer Schedule, Production Was Ramped Up Significantly
Prior to directing Event Horizon, Paul W.S. Anderson had just completed a successful movie adaptation of the Mortal Kombat arcade game in 1995. Coming into 1997, Anderson was also juggling several other commitments, including an Alien sequel and an adaptation of the X-Men comics. He also had the opportunity to direct his own project, and he fell in love with Event Horizon and its "haunted house in space" premise.
Paramount offered him a budget of $60 million to direct, but it came with a catch - Anderson had to agree to the rushed production schedule in order to complete the film in time for a summer release.
The Tight Production Schedule Meant Filmmakers Had To Hire An Inexperienced Production Designer
The role of production designer is particularly important on a science fiction film, because they are responsible for bringing its futuristic world to life. Sci-fi movie production designers often wind up becoming legendary within the film community, like Star Wars's John Barry or Blade Runner's Lawrence Paull.
Since Event Horizon was greenlit just 10 weeks before the start of production, most established production designers turned down the job. Instead, Anderson and his producers took a risk and hired newcomer Joseph Bennett. "The reason we hired Joseph is that he was incredibly young and enthusiastic, and what he lacked in experience, I thought he would make up in sheer flair," Anderson said. "He hasn't disappointed."
Hiring Bennett would end up being one of the few production decisions that went right. His blend of near-future technology and oppressive gothic architecture gave the film a unique look that even contemporary critics appreciated. Bennett's designs remain one of the highest-praised aspects of the film today.
To Hit The New Deadlines, Paul W.S. Anderson Worked Seven Days A Week, Filming And Editing At The Same Time
Due to the new deadline, Anderson had only four weeks to film, forcing him to work seven days a week. He was given only six weeks to edit the film, but at the start of editing, he still had two weeks of filming with the second unit, which effectively reduced his editing time to just four weeks. By comparison, a film typically gets 10 weeks of editing time, per Directors Guild guidelines.
Anderson also had to contend with adverse weather. Many scenes were originally planned to be filmed on location, but severe conditions caused by El Niño forced the production to rely on sound stages. Anderson later felt that this compromised his film's overall look.
The Script Was Confusing To The Cast, And Production Was Grueling And Stressful
From the cast's perspective, making Event Horizon was especially difficult. For starters, the actors had difficulty following the story. "None of us really understood the script," co-star Joely Richardson said later. "It was something to do with the other dimension or the fourth wall, [but] none of us knew what it was. The script was pretty incomprehensible but there was such a good team of actors that we all signed on regardless."
Filming a science fiction or horror movie can add an extra degree of difficulty because of the special effects. Event Horizon drew upon elements from both genres, which, combined with an already compressed schedule, made for an especially grueling production.
The spacesuits weighed 65 pounds - star Laurence Fishburne nicknamed his "Doris," somewhat affectionately - and required cast members to be suspended on an enormous steel fishing pole. Richardson had to be doused with several gallons of blood for one scene, which ended up on the cutting room floor.
Production Was Considered 'Cursed' By The Cast As Explosions Caused Frequent Accidents
Making Event Horizon would have been a challenge under ideal circumstances, but the set was repeatedly plagued by accidents. Joely Richardson describes the production as "cursed."
For example, Richardson and co-star Sam Neill were supposed to experience an explosion that was a little too real:
There was one scene with Sam Neill and me at the console. We were meant to be typing away and then on a count of three, there’d be a fake explosion and we’d throw ourselves back off our chairs. When Sam and I did the scene for real, there was the count of three and then neither of us remember what happened next. The explosion went off and we woke up a few moments later on the floor. That happened every single time!
Another time, heavy smoke on set nearly caused serious harm to Richardson:
There was a scene where Laurence Fishburne and I were crawling down a tunnel and make it through a heavy door just before it slams shut. So, again, we rehearsed the stunt a million times because they were big steel doors but I asked what would happen if the timing is wrong? The stuntman was up on the ceiling cueing the door to slam the minute I got through, but when we finally got to the stunt there was so much smoke, he couldn’t see me. He pulled [the lever] and my foot got jammed in the door. It was jinxed! But we all managed to have a laugh regardless.