In the year 2047, a rescue mission zooms through the solar system in search of the Event Horizon, a spaceship that's been missing for seven years. The search is headed by the reluctant Capt. Miller (Laurence Fishburne) who keeps trying to elicit hard answers from the mysterious Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), the lost ship's designer. His diverse crew consists of comely, blonde navigator Starck (Natasha Richardson), emergency technicians Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) and Cooper (Richard T. Jones), engineer Justin (Jack Noseworthy), doctor D.J. (Jason Isaacs) and pilot Smith (Sean Pertwee). The mission turns out to be no cakewalk when Weir eventually divulges that the faster-than-light Event Horizon tore a hole through the solar system and entered another dimension comprised of pure chaos. His words prove fatally true when they come upon the ship, which is haunted and inhabited by a horrific life force of its own.

If anything, this has got to be the bloodiest sci-fi epic yet. Nearly all the characters meet some kind of gory demise or mutilating accident. Eyes are ripped out of sockets, steel pikes pierce through skulls, vital juices ooze fountainlike from every orifice, bodies fall vast distances only to land with sickening thuds on metal grating. This is, frankly, no Forbidden Planet or 2001, and concerned parents should be forewarned. What's just as dismaying is the overall shoddiness of the writing, which renders all the violence singularly unaffecting. The perils the actors face would be far more shuddersome were their characters more sharply delineated from the outset.

An obvious ton of money was thrown at the production, which is often visually dazzling with Adrian Biddle's sweeping, hyper-crystaline photography and Joseph Bennett's brilliant production design (the spaceships are like the most high-tech, resplendently lit discos imaginable). The special effects are invariably jaw-dropping. With all these elements working at top form, why have them all be dragged down by a script any sixth-grader with a lurid imagination could come up with? Piquant flashbacks (or are they flashforwards?) of various horrors prove merely anti-dramatic, actually lessening the suspense. It becomes very predictable, with people sitting around after every new, surprising incident, waiting for some fancy explication. It is then given to Neill and Richardson to prognosticate a lot of mumbo jumbo. (Take your pick: 'The law of relativity prohibits faster-than-light travel.' 'When three magnetic rings align, they create a black hole.' 'It's an optical effect caused by gravitational distortion.') The cast is exhaustingly hurtled and pummeled through all manner of torturous paces, but you don't really care. Their minimal characterization consists of having the black characters spout dumb obscenities (ostensibly, 'keeping it real' for us in the audience), Quinlan's being a concerned mother (with a ghost of an overgrown child bleating 'Mommy' at her, driving her mad), Noseworthy doing the spunky Scott Wolf/Christian Slater boy bit, and Pertwee being wiseass and faintly Cockney-punk.

Neill, sucking his gut in manfully during his topless scenes, just doesn't have the neurasthenic charisma of a Colin Clive or Anthony Hopkins to carry off his mad scientist role. You need an actor with a voice to carry off lines like 'The ship is alive!' (He's ever the somewhat confused nice guy, a Kiwi Robert Urich.) Even more disastrous is Fishburne, who eternally confuses being 'a serious actor' with sheer glumness. As Othello, he was the most unrelievedly depressing Moor ever seen, making all sympathy go to Kenneth Branagh's deft, witty Iago. Here, he plays it again on one note, growls and pouts through every scene until his big revelation of a past tragedy, wherein his voice suddenly goes glibly, sensitively tremolo. He spends much of the film chasing after a non-confrontational Neill ('You come back here, mister!'). Richardson shows off her blonde mane and gym-fit bod, but is rather risible when she threatens those nasty aliens, monkey wrench in hand. (Again, she's too slight for that gesture, being neither her mom, Vanessa Redgrave, nor Sigourney Weaver.)

--David Noh