Omen, The (2006)
There are a lot of legitimate reasons to remake an older film. Whether it’s to introduce a classic story to a new audience or to explore themes inherent, but largely untouched, in the original film, there have been a lot of valid remakes. The horror genre in particular calls its own some of the very best remakes around. Hell, even Hitchcock remade one of his own films. The subject matter of a film is less important than the approach the director takes; to paraphrase Roger Ebert: it`s not what a film is about, but how it chooses to be about it (although I may be out of line quoting Ebert in this context: he gave the original film two and a half stars and awarded three to the remake: blasphemy!).
The original The Omen is a classy horror film that plays just as well today as it probably did in 1976. However, with the combination of a new millennium and post 911 anxiety it is a story that was ripe for a new interpretation. Which is why the decision not just to go back to David Seltzer`s original script, but to use it almost verbatim for the new film is so puzzling. The Omen tells a tale that would benefit from being reframed in a modern context. There are a few brief new scenes and some dialogue is updated to sound more contemporary, yes, but other than those few cursory edits the script has been largely unchanged. Does the new version of The Omen give the devil his due, or is it a bastard offspring of a brilliant original?
In Rome, Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is called to the bedside of his wife, Katherine (Julia Stiles). Katherine is in labour with their first child. When Robert gets there, however, he is devastated to find out that his son was stillborn. Katherine is still not aware that her baby did not survive the delivery, and Father Spiletto (Giovanni Lombardo Radice),the priest in charge of the hospital, suggests that Robert secretly accept as his own the baby of a mother who died in childbirth. Wanting both to have a son and to spare his wife the pain of learning that her baby was stillborn, Robert makes the switch. Robert and Katherine name the child Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) and over the next five years, the family is blessed with an idyllic life. Robert is assigned deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom and when the ambassador dies in a bizarre accident, Robert ascends to full ambassadorship. Life would seem to be just about perfect for the Thorns, if it were not for ominous portents clouding the horizon. At his fifth birthday party, Damien’s nanny (Amy Huck) hangs herself. The Thorn’s new nanny, Mrs. Blaylock (Mia Farrow), seems a bit too attached to her charge and continually undermines the Thorn’s parental authority in matters concerning Damien. A strange dog seems to be following Damien around. A mysterious priest (Pete Postlethwaite) delivers a cryptic message about impending danger. Katherine is hospitalized after suffering a fall in an improbable accident. And Keith Jennings (David Thewlis), a photographer following Thorn, notices that his photos have strange and unexplained markings that eerily foretell the bizarre deaths of their subjects.
There seems to be an invisible force at work in Robert’s life, epicentred around his young son. To discover the truth behind these events, Robert and Keith travel to the Italian hospital where Damien was born only to find that it has burned down, destroying all records and leaving Father Spiletto blind and hideously scarred. He points them towards a cemetery where Damien’s real mother is buried. When they crack open the tomb, what they find shakes them to their very soul. They then head to Megiddo, to search out Bugenhagen (Michael Gambon), the one man who knows how to stop the evil force at work. Will Robert have the strength to do what needs to be done, and can he do it in time? I’m sure you already know the answer to that.
There are a lot of problems with this new version of The Omen, but at the very heart of it is the familiarity of the material. The Omen was a huge success when released in 1976 and has remained a perennial favourite ever since. It`s etched in the hearts of horror fans everywhere. This remake was obviously intended for, and would play better to, someone who isn`t a hard core horror fan. At least Van Sant`s Psycho was legitimately interesting as the most expensive film school assignment ever. The Omen `06 brings nothing new to the table. At the very least they could have addressed the elephant that’s been in the room since 1976: that no matter how well intentioned it was, Robert’s baby switch was a supremely awful thing to do.
Where the original The Omen slowly built up to the revelation that an otherworldly force was at play, the remake quickly lets us see the effects of the demonic hand shaping events. That`s pretty indicative of horror films today cater to the shorter attention spans of modern audiences, but it also leads to frustration a boredom while we wait for the characters onscreen to get as educated as we`ve been since the first five minutes. It also makes Robert`s denial of the truth later in the film less understandable. It was far more understandable for Gregory Peck to rationalize away the events of the original when they were a little more cloaked in mystery.
The few moments when The Omen redux comes alive is when it strays from the source material; a journey through an Israeli checkpoint feels appropriately gritty and contemporary and a reference to the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York is eerie and well placed. There’s just far too little original here. Scenes follow their ‘76 counterparts so closely as to practically beg for direct comparison and, in all but a few cases, they don’t fare well.
That`s not to say that there`s nothing of any value here. The casting is surprisingly solid. I was sceptical when I heard that Liev Schreiber was going to be stepping into Gregory Peck`s shoes, but he fills them out surprisingly well. With a strong supporting cast of British character actors like David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Gambon as well as the absolutely inspired decision to cast Rosemary herself Mia Farrow as Mrs. Blaylock, the actors are almost able to sell the film in spite of its defects. The only weak link is top-billed Julia Stiles, who is clearly out of her league. The role of Katherine Thorn isn`t a terribly great one, it wasn`t in the original either, but at least Lee Remick made her a sympathetic character who was realistically terrified. Julia Stiles just mopes about, all bitchy and whiny and not even as cute as she usually is.
British Director John Moore, best known for the hokey, but undeniably exciting, Owen Wilson flick Behind Enemy Lines, gives The Omen redux a slick, polished look. He`s not quite a distinctive visual stylist on par with, say, Marcus Nispel, but he gives The Omen a dark, cool Euro vibe that lends more menace than the film actually earns. He too often relies on shock cuts and shaky cam, he would clearly rather be directing an action film than a moody horror piece, but he does a fine craftsman`s job. Too bad he shot The Omen in 1.85. I would have liked to see if he could have pulled off some Carpenter-esque tricks given a wider frame to work with. The film would have benefited if he`d even tried.
Now I need to talk about the deaths. The original Omen helped usher in the era of creative death the genre genre`s been playing a game of One Up ever since. Now that we`ve had thirty years of that, is the new Omen able to up the ante? Well, no it isn`t and it doesn’t even try. The deaths are more elaborate and gory but, with one notable exception, don`t have the shock value of their counterparts in the `76 film. The centerpiece of the original was the graphic, slow motion decapitation. Here`s it`s been re-imagined and Moore eschews the nail biting suspense of the original sequence for a more shocking approach that actually works fantastically. This is yet another instance where the film deviates from the source material and is entirely better for it, strengthening my opinion that The Omen would benefit from a modern updating, rather than just being a glossy carbon copy.
The Omen was one of Fox’s earliest Blu-ray releases, which explains why the movie and all its features are on a single, 25 GB layer. The MPEG-2 transfer was probably excellent at the time and it still holds up pretty well today. Contrast is strong with dark, inky blacks. Fine detail is good, though a bit softer than is usual in newer releases. Flesh tones never seem quite right, either being too washed out or too deeply saturated, almost veering pinkish at times. Throughout the film great import is made of the presence of the colour red and very slight, but still noticeable, blooming marks its appearance. The Omen ‘06 has a solid transfer for its time, but it’s a transfer that is starting to show its age.
The Omen was one of the first movies on Blu-ray to use the, now standard, DTS-HD codec. Like the video, the 5.1 track is starting to show its age. There’s nothing that I can point to that’s wrong with it, per se, it just seems kind of cramped compared to more modern tracks. That probably has to do the fact that The Omen is crammed, extras and all, on a single 25 GB layer, hence the audio being encoded at a lower bit rate. Still, it’s a good track: the score is well presented, dialogue is always crisp and audible and during the dream sequences the low end gets a real work out.
Director John Moore, producer Glenn Williamson and editor Dan Zimmerman contribute a feature length audio commentary. It’s starts off slow with the participants looking for things to talk about. All three are pretty low energy and often fall back into narrating the on screen action, offering production anecdotes or talking dry, technical information. Not really worth bothering with.
Abbey Road Session (10:14) is a featurette detailing the scoring process. Composer Marco Beltrami had his work cut out for him in following up Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic, Oscar-winning score.
Revelation 666 (22:17) is a goofy featurette about the “mystery” of the number 666. On one hand you have pseudo scholarly men like Tim LaHaye talking about the power of a cloven hoofed supernatural entity, contrasted on the other with smart people who actually know what they are talking about explaining that “the Beast” was the Roman Emperor Nero (or somebody like him). Of course, that little slice of history isn’t nearly as sexy as the idea of a coming supernatural apocalypse, so that interesting piece of trivia is brushed aside in favour of silly sensationalism and apocalyptic conspiracy theories. It’s kind of fun, providing you don’t take it as seriously as some of the participants do. It’s also instantly forgettable.
Ah, finally some Deleted Scenes (4:12) that deliver the gory goods! Extended versions of the two of the iconic deaths recreated in the remake, the priests impaling and the photographer’s beheading are included. There’s not a whole lot more included here, but after watching discs loaded with scene upon scene of useless, redundant and rightfully cut exposition, these gory little scene extensions are a nice change of pace.
Finally “The Devil’s Footnotes” trivia track is a text based feature that pops up “interesting” facts while the film plays. This kind of thing doesn’t really do much for me, and a lot of the trivia is covered in other features. Bleh.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the remake of The Omen beyond the fact that it has no real reason to exist except to make money for the studio. It did that in handsome fashion and slid away from theatres and out of the public consciousness. It’d be best to let it stay that way. An updated version of The Omen could have capitalized on the new millennium to make a timely picture that would play for modern audiences. The film we got adheres so closely to the original film that, whatever its technical merits is nothing more than a plagiarist’s hack job. The Blu-ray does as little to distinguish itself as the film does. If you’re looking for a fun, satanic themed potboiler, you’re better off sticking with the original.
Yeah, I had sort of the same reaction to this one; I haven't seen it since it was in theaters, but I recall liking it a bit. However, I couldn't quite figure out what its place was because it was so similar to the original and not as good. But, on the other hand, like I said, I liked it and found it to be very good. I guess the odd time I get an Omen kick, I'll throw this one in and give it another look.
I kind of wish they would have done a sequel that acted as a completely new movie (meaning not a retread of the original sequel).
At the time, that's what I thought they were going to do. Being the first film in a new series certainly would have given this remake a lot more validity in the cannon and mitigated the familiarity of the material somewhat. As it stands it's just really, really pointless.
It's weird because I thought the remake did well at the box office. Odd how those things work out, but it would have been really cool to see a teenage Damien tearing shit up again.
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