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Omen, The (2006) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 06 June 2006
The R rating accorded “The Omen,” a faithful, even slavish, remake of the 1976 original indicates that the movie means business and, unlike many horror movies these days, is not aimed squarely at the hottest recent demographic for horror, teenage girls. It’s serious stuff, dealing with Biblical prophecies in the form of many omens (I’ve never figure out which one was THE omen) and the birth of the anti-Christ, the son of Satan.

As before, the Vatican is disturbed by tumult and turmoil on Earth as in the heavens above—all these things (including 9/11) are clearly predicting the onset of Armageddon, the onset of the Kingdom of Satan on Earth. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Rome we meet young American diplomat Robert Thorn (Live Schreiber), who rushes to the hospital to be at the side of his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) when she gives birth.

However, unknown to Katherine, the child is stillborn. Realizing his wife has been counting on the birth, Thorn agrees to adopt another child, born at the same time as his son, passing the baby off to Katherine as their own. Meanwhile, the American ambassador is killed in a Rube Goldberg-like accident—these were the hallmark of the original “Omen” and its several sequels. It’s as if Satan can’t just cause someone to drop dead, he has to set in motion an unlikely chain of events in order to merely kill someone who’s in his way.

This results in Robert being appointed U.S. ambassador to England, and the Thorns move there. (The movie was shot mostly in Prague, and rarely looks like England). Time passes. Katherine and Robert love their son, Damien, who’s a grim-looking little brat with extremely black hair. During a lavish fifth birthday party for Damien, his nanny sees a black dog—not a Rottweiller yet—and then ascends to the roof of the Thorn’s mansion. She calls out, “It’s all for you, Damien!” then leaps off, hanging herself. Keith Jennings (David Thewlis), a news photographer covering the event, shoots some photos.

Soon, the (apparently) angelic Mrs. Baylock (inventively-cast Mia Farrow) arrives to be Damien’s new nanny. A nervous priest, Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite), meets with Thorn. He warns the highly skeptical ambassador that Damien is not human, that he is in fact the son of Satan himself.

Eventually, Jennings also approaches Thorn and shows him some strange artifacts in photos of people who died soon after the picture was taken. The artifacts seem to indicate how the person was to die. (Damned courteous of Satan to allow this little hint.) With Mrs. Baylock becoming weirder and weirder, and Damien showing signs—such as throwing a fit to keep from visiting a church—that he may well not be all that heavenly a child, Robert begins to suspect the worst. He and Keith begin investigating further.
This is such a faithful remake that the only screenwriter credited is David Seltzer, who wrote the original. The biggest change is in the ages of the leads; in the original, the Thorns were played by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, whose casting lent a kind of importance that the movie might not otherwise have had. It was approaching incredible to see Gregory Peck, one of the most all-American of all American stars, taking on Satan. Liev Schreiber just doesn’t have the same impact. He’s a good actor, but he’s nothing like the icon Peck was. Watching Gregory Peck, Atticus Finch fer cryin out loud, gradually realize that the supernatural exists, and that Damien is the son of the Devil, was awesome; that impact simply is absent from this remake.

Not that this is a bad movie. John Moore is a visually inventive director; there are some dreams/hallucinations that are downright creepy, as in a very Kubrickian shot of Stiles in a red rob standing in a silver room. And he makes graceful nods to other supernatural thrillers; in one scene, a small figure in a red raincoat dashes by in the distant background, recalling “Don’t Look Now.” Someone suggests something could “make your head spin around,” as in “The Exorcist.” Then, of course, there’s the on-screen presence of Mia Farrow, who gave birth to “Rosemary’s Baby,” another child of Satan. Farrow, here, is terrific, suggesting creepy unspoken feelings about Damien and about almost everything else.

Moore loves injecting bright, almost luminous touches of red into scene after scene—that red raincoat, the red wheels on Damien’s skateboard, vivid red flowers, Thewlis’ glowing red darkroom, etc. Initially, it seems that when we see the color red, something supernatural is about to occur, but that doesn’t hold true throughout the film.

Moore uses sound extraordinarily well. There are few interior scenes in which the exterior is not evoked through a judicious use of bird and animal sounds, automobile engines, rain, etc. There’s a lot of screaming, and at times, the sound is nearly deafening, or at least it was at the press screening. The music by Marco Beltrami is generally very good, particularly the impressive title scene, but it’s not at the level of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the original. In fact, a few of Goldsmith’s cues are used here, particularly under the closing credits.

The movie stalls a bit during the investigation by Thorn and Jennings, even though it allows Michael Gambon a colorful cameo, and brings back the Rottweilers that were so memorable in the original. (At that time, few Americans had seen one of those muscular dogs; for several years after the first “Omen” was released, they were used again an again as kind of exemplars of evil.) Unlike the original, the climax is drawn out, and lacks the original’s impact.

At times, Moore surrenders to that overused, quick-clip editing style that is often referred to as MTV editing. It has to be used very judiciously to be effective, to, in fact, not reduce the movie to a scramble of images, and Moore doesn’t always accomplish this. It’s particularly annoying in scenes in a snowy Italian cemetery. But overall, Moore is distinctly better than the directors of most contemporary horror movies.

The effectiveness of the movie depends on some unpredictable factors. Despite the R rating, it’s not especially gruesome, certainly bucking a contemporary trend. The horror is situational—built into the story rather than flaunted visually. For the movie to work, viewers have to accept the reality of the story, at least for the running time of the film. And this is hard to plan for or predict.

It rarely tips over into accidental humor, though there are opportunities for it. In movies, does anyone ever say “there’s nothing to be scared of” when there really IS nothing to be scared of? Someone says it here, and once again, they’re very wrong. Unusually, there’s a set that in itself is somewhat ridiculous—a psychiatrist Thorn consults has a flatly outrageous office.

As with the original, I thought it interesting, even somewhat ridiculous, that the Devil does all his planning on the same calendar as the rest of us. Although he would have to LONG predate the adoption of that calendar, he does arrange for the omens to occur on dates and times that include three sixes, the sign of the Great Beast in the Book of Revelations. Damien carries this 666 mark on his body. (And canny ol’ Fox is releasing the movie on a Tuesday; that’s unusual—but it’s the sixth day of the sixth month in the year 2006. How could they ignore that?)

“The Omen” is a respectable remake, but it’s so slavishly faithful it’s almost beside the point. It’s not at all a bad movie, but it seems singularly unnecessary. John Moore directed the recent remake of “The Flight of the Phoenix;” he should be cautious about doing another.

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