Friday 26 January 2007

Friday 26 January 2007
THE OMEN (2006)
DIRECTOR: John Moore WRITER: David Seltzer
CAST: Liev Schreiber (Ambassador Robert Thorn), Julia Stiles (Katherine Thorn), Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (Damien Thorn), David Thewlis (Keith Jennings), Pete Postlethwaite (Father Brennan), Mia Farrow (Mrs Baylock) & Michael Gambon (Bugenhagen).

Ambassador Robert Thorn adopts a baby after his wife's newborn son dies. But the Thorns are unaware their new child is actually the Anti-Christ...

The list of unnecessary remakes is extensive, topped by Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot colour remake of Psycho. In 1976, The Omen was perceived as just another demonic thriller to appeal to The Exorcist crowd. However, director Richard Donner's horror became an iconic film of its own, entering pop-culture through its 666 birthmark and infamous decapitation scene.

30 years later, a remake was ordered by Universal Studios to capitalize on the marketing gimmick of a 6 June 2006 (06/06/06). Director John Moore (no stranger to remakes after Flight Of The Phoenix) worked from screenwriter David Seltzer's original 70s script, resulting in a narratively faithful update. However, the reverential treatment ultimately cripples The Omen's redux from developing its own identity.

This is a remake in a pure sense. John Moore doesn't just take the concept and update it, he practically reshoots the 1976 original in contemporary times with modern filming techniques. The story and characters remain the same and all the familiar moments return (the church freakout, the zoo visit, the precognitive photos, the lightning rod death, the decapitation, etc.)

Fans of The Omen can rest assured that Moore's version is effective in places, nicely directed and contains enjoyable performances. If this were an original film, we'd be praising it as a slick horror with a killer premise. But, as a remake, it's unforgivably slavish to its illustrious progenitor. There's really no need for this movie to exist, as it doesn't bring anything new to the table beyond technical improvements.

The cast are fine, although the leads are a little wooden. As Robert Thorn, Liev Schreiber tries his best, but he's too expressionless and sleepwalks through most of his scenes. Julia Stiles is better as Katherine Thorn, but her character doesn't really have much to do. Interesting, the remake's one genuine change occurs between these characters, in the form of a reversal -- Katherine now suspicious of Damien and Robert the skeptic.

Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick is the child actor who gets to glare from under a bad haircut as Damien Thorn. Frankly, original star Harvey Stephens was a more menacing presence as Damien, as he was blessed (cursed?) with a more devious face. Seamus has certainly perfected the icy stare, but he's too cute and normal. It doesn't help that John Moore's update spends more time away from Damien than the original did, with Damien absent for most of Act III.

The supporting cast are much more fun to watch. A trio of British veterans snare good parts; from Pete Postlethwaite's spooky Father Brennan, David Thewlis as twitchy photographer Jennings, to Michael Gambon's late appearance as "religious nutter" Bugenhagen. But it's Mia Farrow who really makes an impression as evil nanny Mrs Baylock, the pretty old lady who becomes Damien's protector. Farrow is an inspired piece of casting -- no stranger to Satan herself, having taken the title role in Rosemary's Baby.

Ultimately, The Omen remake is actually a lot of fun and contains some good moments (the rejigged decapitation is a treat, as is a murderous moment for Mrs Baylock in a hospital). If you've never seen the original, chances are you'll enjoy John Moore's update, but fans of the original could be frustrated with how uninspired it is. There are no real surprises or big changes, just amusing updates: Biblical prophecy now takes into consideration 9/11, the Columbia shuttle disaster and the Asian tsunami, while Damien has traded in his tricyle for a scooter...

The Omen isn't a terrible movie, it's just pointless and limp in key areas (the absence of Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning music, for example). But, I can't hate it. I actually enjoyed watching it, even though familiarity with the original sucked all the fear out of the experience.

On a final note, the remake also ends with the same iconic final shot as the original... and therefore sets itself up for a sequel. I have issues with original follows-ups Damien: Omen II (1978) and Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981), so I'm actually hoping the remake can cut loose and spawn better sequels...


PICTURE: The 2.35:1 widescreen image is okay, although a bit murky at times and prone to pixellation.

SOUND: As you'd expect, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is very good, with the horror genre particlarly suited to unsettling audio effects. The Omen has its fair share of surround sound effects that do a good job of placing you in the film's mindspace.


Commentary: Director John Moore chats about the movie with his editor and executive producer.

Omenisms: A documentary outlining how the movie was made. This contains a few interesting moments, but is generally pretty weak and boring, cursed with awful sound levelling.

Deleted Scenes & Alternate Ending: Don't get excited. All there is here is more gore for two deaths, and the "new" ending just has added blood. Why not just splice these into the film and have an "unrated" version?

Revelations 666: a very interesting featurette about the infamous Number Of The Beast (666) and the Book Of Revelations at large. There are some plenty of creepy "coincidences" of the number, revealed by various so-called experts or people with a natural fascination with the number.

Abbey Road Sessions: Composer Marco Beltrami gives an informative look at how the movie's score was created at London's famous Abbey Road, but this is one for fans of musical scores only.

Trailers: A teaser trailer, two theatrical trailers and a special trailer to commemorate the 1976 Omen's 30th Anniversary.

A mediocre release. The extra features aren't particularly interesting -- the Omenisms featurette is particularly laborious. The image quality of the film is disappointing, but the Revelations 666 documentary was mildly diverting.