Paul W. Anderson Revisits ‘Event Horizon’ As The Sci-Fi Classic Turns 25

It turns out Kurt Russell knew something critics didn’t, and that’s that Event Horizon was destined to be considered a sci-fi classic. The sci-fi horror wasn’t a hit at the box office when it landed in theaters on August 15, 1997, grossing $42 million against a $60 million budget.

However, since its release 25 years ago, it has only grown in popularity with both masses and within the industry. Directed by Paul W. Anderson, it sees a rescue crew investigating a missing spaceship, the titular Event Horizon, which vanished in a black hole. Now back, it turns out it went further than anyone could have imagined and picked up someone, or something, along the way.

Anderson’s nightmarish epic boasts a killer ensemble cast that includes Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, and Sean Pertwee. I caught up with the filmmaker to revisit Event Horizon as it is reissued as a Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray SteelBook to mark the special occasion.

Simon Thompson: I never need an excuse to rewatch Event Horizon, but this has given me one. It’s a film I’ve loved for a quarter of a century. It has also always felt like a movie ahead of its time. Do you feel the same way?

Paul W. Anderson: I didn’t feel that way while I was making it but judging from the muted response it got when Event Horizon was first put into theaters, and then the cult following it has grown over time, that was clearly the case. The man who put his finger on it was Kurt Russell, who I went on to make a movie with after Event Horizon called Soldier. I screened Event for him, and he came out of it and said, ‘Paul, in 20 years, that’s going to be the movie you’re really glad you made.’ He was right, and I thought that was very generous for a man with whom I was about to go and make a movie. He wasn’t saying that our movie would be the one people will remember in 20 years, and he was a very experienced man in the industry. I think he saw that, you know, was something that would come into focus in the decades that followed its original release.

Thompson: Where does it rank for you amongst your work? We know that critics essentially didn’t get on board with it at the time, but now it is considered a classic.

Anderson: It’s definitely one of my favorite films. I’m very, very proud of it. I’m proud of the audience it has built after its original release, and I loved making it. It was only my third movie and my second for an American studio. Paramount
PARA
gave me a lot of money to spend building these big elaborate sets and allowed me to torture Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and everyone else, douse them in blood, wrap them in barbed wire, hang them upside down on cables and twirl them around. I was like a kid in the sandbox. It was wonderful.

Thompson: On that, I remember that on one of the extras, Jason Isaacs said he always wanted to get hold of the life-sized, gutted prosthetic version of him hanging up in the movie. He never knew what happened to that. Do you know where it is?

Anderson: I didn’t give it to him because I said, ‘Jason, that’s just really sick, and you can’t have that. You can’t hang that in your house. It’s just wrong.’ (Laughs) It’s not a collectible I would have wanted in my house, but Jason did want it. I don’t know where it is or what ultimately happened to it. About six months later, I went to Sean Pertwee’s house, and somehow he’d got a screaming head of his, some prosthetic head, and I had no idea where he got it. He probably went straight to the prosthetics people and asked.

Thompson: Event Horizon‘s producer, Jeremy Bolt, mentioned on a Blu-ray feature that you all used to hang out at Soho House when he was new on the London scene. You’d meet and talk about the movie, but I wondered how much of the stuff you discussed in those get-togethers influenced the final film.

Anderson: I think the movie’s look was set before we started shooting. I was heavily influenced by the work of painters like Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel, the photography of Joel-Peter Witkin, and the architecture of the Event Horizon ship was based on Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. That was already locked in before we started to shoot, and it had to be because these were huge and elaborate builds. I think what came out of the conversations we had was more character stuff. It was only my third film, and I was working with some very experienced people, like Laurence and Sam. My background was not from theatre, I hadn’t had a tremendous amount of experience working with actors, and they were on a different level. They were very giving in terms of their experience, support, and advice they would offer, which helped the movie a lot. When Laurence Fishburne talks to you about acting, you listen.

Thompson: You’re a very capable director; you’re given this studio movie, but how much of what we see is because of their guidance?

Anderson: In terms of the performance, I was very much led by them, and I was very open to letting them experiment and try different things. A lot of the quirks of their characters definitely came from them. With Sean Pertwee’s character, a lot of the Sean Pertwee persona is very present in Event Horizon. I let him run amok, as it were, and I’m very happy with the results. Jason Isaacs gave a very intense performance. I don’t think American audiences knew who he was then, but you can draw a direct line between what Jason was doing in Event Horizon and some of his bigger studio movies after that.

Thompson: We see flickers of the Hell scenes throughout the movie. You spent a lot of time filming those; a lot of work went into them, including hours of preparation. You shot a lot of footage, and we only see a tiny bit. Have you ever thought about doing more with that and either adding more in or, as you love art, creating an exhibition out of some of the more elaborate images?

Anderson: I haven’t. I think the power of that imagery comes from the fact that it is very restrained and how much we show of it. I’ve had so many people come up to me and describe the terrible things they’ve seen in that imagery that I never shot, but because it’s very brief, they’ve imagined it. I think that’s the power of keeping it short and concise as we did.

Thompson: For many of the roles, you read both men and women, and it paid off exceptionally well. Is that something you’ve ever been able to do since, or what is that unique to Event Horizon?

Anderson: No, I’ve done that on a lot of movies. I’m prepping a movie right now that is an adaptation of a George R. R. Martin story called In the Lost Lands, and we flipped one of the characters from a man to a woman. The main antagonist of the movie was written as this kind of beefy, tough, 45-year-old guy. The character is now being played by this very elegant woman who will be much better in the role and much more striking. I’ve always considered that with all of my movies.

Thompson: With Event Horizon, did you almost cast someone else of note in one of the roles, either male or female? Did we almost get Charlize Theron in the Sam Neill role or something like that?

Anderson: (Laughs) The closest I have ever come to that was probably when I did my first movie, Shopping. We ended up casting this unknown actor, Jude Law, who went on to do very well. The other actor we looked at, who’d done a bit more than Jude but still wasn’t that well known, was this young guy called Ewan McGregor, who didn’t do too badly, either. I couldn’t have gone wrong with either of those choices. I’ve always been very interested in that kind of diversity in casting. I see myself as an international filmmaker; I’m a British filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles and makes movies that are usually financed with a combination of money from around the world. My films are particularly successful in Japan, so I see myself as an international filmmaker rather than identifying with one particular place. Because of that, I’ve always been very interested in having as diverse a cast as possible in my movies.

Thompson: There is something quintessentially British about Event Horizon with elements of Hammer Horror and The Haunting as much as The Shining. It strikes me as the kind of movie that, in this version, could only be made by a British filmmaker. Have you had people say that to you before?

Anderson: I haven’t, but when you think of the classic haunted house, you think of British haunted houses. When you look at the movies that influenced us, like Robert Wise’s The Haunting, an American filmmaker, and The Shining, which we obviously riff on a bit as well, again made by an American filmmaker, those filmmakers had significant British influence on their lives and work as well.

Thompson: You had a birthday while filming Event Horizon, one of the cast sang you Happy Birthday, and they had an incredible voice. You once joked that maybe one day someone should do Event Horizon: The Musical. Paul, how close are we to that? Has that ever come up, even in jest?

Anderson: (Laughs) Well, I’m tone deaf, so I’m probably a long way from it.

Event Horizon is available in a Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray SteelBook from Tuesday, August 9, 2022.

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