Omen, The (2006)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/06/06 00:03:47
With its combination of ludicrous Biblical revelations, shocking-for-the-time gory set-pieces and respected actors (including Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and David Warner) brought in to lend gravity to the otherwise ludicrous proceedings, the 1976 version of “The Omen” was sort of the “Da Vinci Code” of its time–a silly potboiler that managed to cannily exploit the tenor of the period to make an enormous amount of money with a story that might have otherwise been laughed off the screen if it had been released at any other time. (Indeed, the two theatrical sequels–1978's “Damien–Omen II” and 1981's “The Final Conflict”–didn’t do nearly as well at the box-office when they were released.) However, the central conceit of the story–that your trouble-making child may genuinely be the spawn of the Devil and hell-bent on destroying you and your previously happy lifestyle–has such an immediate, gut-punch appeal to it that the idea of doing a remake wasn’t necessarily a bad one, provided that the people in charge took that nugget, discarded the rest and figured out a new approach to telling the story in the way that David Cronenberg and John Carpenter did with their reworkings of “The Fly” and “The Thing,” arguably still the gold standard when it comes to genre remakes. Unfortunately, in their rush to make a once-in-a-millennium release date of 6/6/06 (sadly, Fox failed in its attempted injunction of that pesky zero), the makers of the new version of “The Omen” have instead chosen to give audiences a near carbon-copy of the original with the only difference being that they have somehow managed to make it seem even stupider than it was when it came out three decades ago.For those of you who had better things to do as children than to sneak out in the middle of the night to watch HBO with the sound turned down, the story opens as rising political figure Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) rushes to the hospital where wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) is giving birth to their first child. When he arrives, a creepy priest informs him that there were complications and that their son died as a result. However, Robert is told, all is not lost–another woman with no family died giving birth to a healthy son at the same time and since Katherine doesn’t know what happened, this child could be substituted without anyone being the wiser. Instead of questioning what kind of hospital it is where an unrelated child and mother can die in the delivery room at the same time, Robert merely agrees to this horrible deception (which is made much easier because this hospital seems to be utterly devoid of any actual medical personnel) and presents Katherine with their “son,” a lad named Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick).
For a while, all seems well–the kid is healthy, Katherine is happy and Robert is named the US Ambassador to England–but eventually, mysterious events begin to occur that eventually cause Robert to develop a case of Ill-Advised-Adopters Remorse. At Damien’s fifth birthday party, the child’s nanny hangs herself in full view of all the guests (making it one of the few birthday parties where the clown isn’t the creepiest thing on display) and is eventually replaced by the overly solicitous Mrs. Blaylock (Mia Farrow). (Like most parents, the Thorns immediately decide to ignore all the legitimate applicants and instead hire the person who showed up without an appointment or referral.) Damien pitches a violent fit while approaching the church for his christening and inspires similar behavior in the apes at the zoo during a class outing. Later, a wacko priest (Pete Postlethwaite) turns up to announce that Damien is actually the issue of the anti-Christ and will destroy the world if Robert doesn’t destroy him first. Of course, Robert has his doubts but once a mysterious series of bloody “accidents” begin to take out those around him, he, along with a weirdo photographer (David Thewlis) whose work seems to be predicting who will die and how, begins to investigate the circumstances behind Damien’s ancestry and methods for stopping him that are slightly more permanent than a time-out.
All of this may sound familiar to those who have seen the original film but it goes beyond that–the film so closely hews to the original that David Seltzer, the guy who wrote it, is the only writer credited this time around. Aside from a few cosmetic changes here and there–Damien rides one of those razor scooters in a key scene instead of a tricycle and one of the more spectacular deaths is slightly reworked so it takes a different path to the same punchline–the film unfolds in a manner so similar to the original that it feels at times as if director John Moore (the auteur behind the similarly pointless remake of “The Flight of the Phoenix”) is attempting to do the same thing that Gus Van Sant tried with his shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho.” The difference is that while Van Sant’s film was at least conceptually intriguing as a sort of art-school prank (and might have worked if Van Sant had chosen a different film to appropriate), Moore’s entire directorial approach seems to have been based on the notion that if it was good enough for Richard Donner, it would be good enough for him as well. As far as I can tell, there are only two scenes in the entire film that do not directly correlate with the original–an extra bit of bloodshed that has been thrown in to both up the body count and offer an explanation as to how someone as young as Schreiber could be made ambassador to England (and succeeds at only one) and an incredibly tasteless and inappropriate prologue that attempts to show the impending signs of Armageddon by offering up such actual sights as 9/11 and the deadly tsunami in Southeast Asia as proof in a move that is so off-putting that the film might have had difficult recovering even if it had turned out to be good.
Even though the material was pretty idiotic even back in 1976, it still sort of worked because the mere presence of Gregory Peck brought a gravity to the proceedings that it would have otherwise lacked; the mere sight of America’s cinematic paragon of virtue–Atticus Finch, for crying out loud!–breaking into a church to ritualistically kill a five-year-old boy in order to save the world probably resonated with more viewers in the long run than anything else on display. While Liev Schreiber is a good actor (his work in the remake of “The Manchurian Candidate” was especially strong), he simply lacks the presence and weight of someone like Peck and instead comes across as though he is merely a naive understudy who has unexpectedly been thrust into performing the kind of role that requires a lifetime of experience to pull off. Likewise, Julia Stiles is another talented performer but she also comes across as too young and callow for the role of the increasingly hysterical Katherine. As for supporting players like Postlethwaite, Thewlis and Michael Gambon (who pops up for one scene towards the end), they all take the standard British Equity approach of chewing as much scenery as possible during their brief appearances in exchange for a presumably hefty paycheck.The only inspired performance in “The Omen”–perhaps the only inspired thing in the entire film–is the one delivered by Mia Farrow as the creepy Mrs. Blaylock. Although the notion of casting her may sound like a sick joke based simultaneously on her role in “Rosemary’s Baby” and her real-life fascination for raising the biological children of others, it is a joke that she is clearly in on and willing to play along with and as a result, her scenes have a pop to them that is sorely lacking in the rest of the film. Other than that, “The Omen” is a film that is so lacking in thrills, suspense, scares (other than throwing in cheap shock effects in a desperate bid to wake up the audience) or any pressing reason for its existence that I suspect that Satan himself is probably contacting his lawyers in an effort to get his name removed from it even as you are reading this.
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