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Old 10-22-2010, 08:43 PM
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Omen II: Damien




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: October 22, 2010

Released by: Fox
Release date: 9/5/2000
MSRP: $9.98
Region 1, NTSC
Progressive Scan
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
1978



inline ImageConsidering how ubiquitous the term ďDamienĒ is when describing an ill-tempered or problematic child, itís quite surprising that before The Omen in 1976, that term had no satanic significance. Nothing Biblical, no urban legend, nothing. Itís a testament to that filmís lasting impression that that term has endured when even ďReganĒ from The Exorcist, the movie The Omen is forever indebted to, is a word few know or remember. Damien proved so popular, in fact, that they simply used the name to title the sequel (a similar case would happen a decade later with Rambo). While the demonic possession sub-genre was already showing its seams in 1978 (aggravated by the venomous response to Exorcist II the year before), Damien: Omen II still brought in enough bank and proved successful enough to spawn a second sequel a few years later. Before he ran for office, though, Damien went to military school. Whatís in a name? Letís find out!


The Story

inline ImageA week after the climactic tragedy of the first film, Damien jumps to an archeological dig in Al-hadar, Iraq (whoops, wrong movie) Israel, where archeologist Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern) frantically rushes to the side of colleague Michael Morgan (Ian Hendry). Heís got a box intended for the guardian of Damien Thorn, whom Carl claims to be the anti-Christ. Since Morgan is still understandably unconvinced, Carl takes him down into an excavation site where, scrolled on the ruin of Yigaelís wall is Pazuzu (shit, wrong again) the anti-Christ with a stunning resemblance to Damien. Before either of them can get the word out, the two are buried alive by an earthquake.

inline ImageThe movie picks up seven years later, where Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is now twelve and living with his adoptive uncle and owner of the multinational Thorn Industries, Richard Thorn (William Holden). He seems to be getting along great with Richard, his wife Ann (Lee Grant) and their son Mark (Lucas Donat). Heís quiet, polite, intelligent and mild mannered. Not so nice are the animals that seemingly follow him around, from a hypnotic Rottweiler to a perching raven. Wherever those animals go, bad things seem to happen, be it cracked ice on a hockey pond or a burst pipe at Thorn Industries. Itís all part of Satanís plan to take over the world, and Damienís still in the dark.

inline ImageAfter enrolling in military school, Damien finds himself top of the class and under close watch by Sgt. Neff (a young Lance Henriksen), who knows Damienís destiny and instructs him to read Revelation, chapter 13. Damien learns his fate, and quickly after finds his powers growing. Heís able to control minds or will the environment. Heís also got some help from inside Thorn Industries, too, as manager Paul Buher (Robert Foxworth) tries to push a controversial business strategy that will see Thorn Industries becoming a major global business by buying up third-world land. As people who threaten Damien or Buher start dying, Richard starts to become more skeptical until ultimately he aims to complete what his brother couldnít: kill the anti-Christ.

inline ImageWhile The Omen director, Richard Donner was off making Superman and his cinematographer was off shooting Star Wars, series producer Harvey Bernhard was able to still wrangle up talent for the sequel in the form of Don Taylor (The Final Countdown, Island of Dr. Moreau) and cinematographer Bill Butler (Jaws, The Conversation). Perhaps the key ingredient was securing Jerry Goldsmith behind the podium once more, hot off his Oscar for his ominous, chanting score for The Omen. Lee Grant was fresh from an Oscar, too (for Shampoo), and casting William Holden was about as close to Gregory Peck as you could get (and indeed, Holden was Bernhardís first choice for Peckís part in the original). With all the elements in place, itís no surprise, then, that Damien: Omen II is nearly as distinguished and professional as the original. At the same time, thatís part of the problem.

inline ImageWhile professionally made, Damien offers little new to the series, instead rehashing the same basic arc of the first film, right down to the music and deaths. Looking at the way people die in this movie, itís almost as if the producers had a checklist from the first film and tried to follow it verbatim. The setup is all around the elevator eviscerating, which is no surprise given all the fuss about the sheet glass beheading in the original. Then there are those shots of animals getting humans to do fatal things, or the zoom ins on Damien as he wills people to kill themselves. Youíve got Holden running around doing the same thing as Peck in the first movie, Lee Grant doing the same distressed mother shtick as Lee Remick in the first, and Lance Henriksen serving as Damienís protector the same way his nanny was in the first. From the archeological dig at the start to the downbeat finale, Damien does every single thing the first film did. It does it well, but the same thing can be said for cover bands.

inline ImagePerhaps the biggest missed opportunity in the film is that it does not effectively explore Damienís consciousness of his destiny. The film tries to follow an arc where Damien slowly learns of his power and begins to comfort in using it by the conclusion, but really, Damien shows his command of the power early on when he nearly Scanners-izes a bullyís head and doesnít do much more other than that by the end of the movie, either. Partly to blame is Taylorís portrayal of the anti-Christ, making him too nice and proper, never having that hint of malice that little Harvey Stephens was able to do as a boy in The Omen. You get the sense that Damien doesnít really care whatís happening either way, so long as heís keeping up in school and minding his manners. But most of the blame falls on the screenwriters for not allowing Damienís growing maturity alter the course of his development.

inline ImageThe other major fault in advancing the story forward, is that the movie conveniently switches from animals and disciples doing Damienís bidding to Damien himself. Sometimes itís the force of Satan that kills Damienís adversaries, while other times itís Damien. What decides either depends on what is easier at the time to ensure the bodycount remains high and consistent. Itís tough to feel any real threat towards Damien since no matter what, thereís some force thatís going to protect him. If Satanís force can just do away with anyone that stands in his way, what does he need Damien for, anyway? Youíd think with the devil so much in control that there would never even be close to the conflict that there is in the film, and thatís why any altercation seems forced, because really an omnipresent force should be so much more powerful. As good as the narrative setup was in the first film, this sequel wastefully uses story merely as a device to get us from one death scene to the next.

inline ImageOf course, the fun is all in the death scenes, and to the filmís credit, they are orchestrated rather well. The drowning under the ice is expertly covered from all angles, while other scenes, like when a wire cuts a torso in half or a raven picks out the eyes of a nosy reporter, are particularly gruesome. For a film that has a pedigree as a serious faith-based thriller in lines of The Exorcist, Damien is surprisingly able to cater to the B-movie crowds as well with itís grand, violent death scenes. Before Saviniís gory reign of terror starting in 1980, Damien represents one of the most gruesome death parades of the late-seventies.

Itís a shame it isnít more than it is, but Damien is still a proficient thriller with A-list talent across the board serving a B-grade script. The storyís a rehash, but the death scenes are big enough and bad enough to still give the film purpose. Would the story finally grow up with Damien for the third film?


Image Quality

inline ImageItís tough to grade a ten year old transfer, but this is still the most current version of Damien in standard definition. It has the trappings of early transfers, with poor finishing around the edges of the frame, with the right side having a big blue line in the overscan area. Itís softer than transfers today, although there isnít any edge enhancement. Colors are mostly warm, maybe a touch browner than they should be, but itís a pretty flattering image with good saturation. The infamous skating scene outside, though, is a nice pure white and a pretty stellar example of cinematography. The print is fairly clean with only specks here and there. The 2.35:1 image is anamorphically enhanced and progressive scan, so even if it isnít cutting edge in terms of transfer today, it still holds up ten years later.

Sound

inline ImageOmen would be nothing without its music (ask the remake), and here it comes through decently in a Dolby Surround 2.0 track. There is no directionality or spacial movement between the left and right speakers, but sound effects and music cues are effectively expanded to the rear. The death scenes have an extra kick with Goldsmithís score behind you, and the added space for breaking glass, burning fire or screaming children all make for a nice surround effect. The dialogue sounds its age, though, and stuck up front sounds very flat and even a bit crackly at times. It sounds good overall, but if given the proper restoration this could really pop in 5.1.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageWhile nowhere near the special editions that The Omen has had over the years, Damien still has a pretty revealing commentary with Producer and Writer Harvey Bernhard. For a big movie for a big studio, itís pretty surprising to see him so candid about the production, being straight about the things he did not like about the portions of the film directed by Mike Hodges. They really didnít click and Bernhard holds nothing back in describing their disagreement and his eventual replacement by Don Taylor. He also shares some pretty remarkable information about some of the filming, like how the underwater scenes were all done on location and how the stunt actor actually had to hold his breath for two minutes and if he didnít make the hole at the end of the ice, then heíd drown. I donít think those safety precautions would fly on a union set today! By the second half of the commentary thereís a lot more dead space, but Bernhard crams enough candid information here that itís certainly worthwhile.

The only other extras here are trailers for the first three films.


Final Thoughts

inline ImageDamien: Omen II features an A-list cast and crew making a thoroughly B-movie script. Producer Harvey Bernhardís script is a pale imitation of the first film and one that doesnít entirely understand the importance of Damien and the dramatic possibilities that come with his maturity. As a story it may be a mess, but the death scenes are brutal, elaborate and standout. The image is acceptable for a transfer of its age, and the sound too has a little extra kick in a surround track. The extras may be sparse, but the commentary, before the era of ďThe views of the participants do not represent the companyÖĒ kind of safeguarding, is quite frank and unfiltered. Worth a view for those who liked the first, but with Damien maturing at the end of the film, hopefully this is more just a good omen for things to come with the third film.

Rating

.
Movie - B-

Image Quality - B-

Sound - B

Supplements - C+





Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 47 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • English Dolby Surround 2.0
  • French mono
  • English subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles

Supplements
  • Commentary with Producer Harvey Bernhard and moderator
  • Theatrical trailers

 

 

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Old 10-22-2010, 11:07 PM
Helloooooo!
itz all 4 u damien
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