Judge Daniel Kelly thinks this excellent remake is a good omen for cinema.
From the Eternal Sea he rises, creating armies on either shore, turning man against his brother, until man exists no more.
Released in June 2006 on the iconic 06/06/06 release date, The Omen is amongst the most successful remakes ever made. Domestically it charts as the 11th highest grossing remake ever and whilst critics largely bemoaned another classic getting the rework treatment, audiences turned out in force and allowed the R-rated reimagining to net $119 million worldwide. The reason for the strong box-office performance has to be attributed to the film's quality as a horror event…controversial statement coming…but this remake is very probably a better movie than the 1976 original. Obviously a whole generation holds the initial Richard Donner-directed version as a nostalgia item of great worth, and it is a decent horror flick, but John Moore's remake takes the taut script and builds up a commendable set of improvements.
The original film had a cast that included the late and great Gregory Peck, but time hasn't been kind to what once thrilled in 1976, much of Donner's movie now feeling overly camp and hammy. There is still terror to be had in a DVD revisit, but with Moore' stellar reimagining now on Blu-ray there may no longer be any need.
Facts of the Case
After losing their own child in an accident during birthing, the Thorn's adopt an orphaned baby, christening him Damian (Seamus Davey Fitzpatrick, Sex and the City) and taking him as their own. As Damian grows, there are no signs of trouble but just as Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) is offered the job of Ambassador to Great Britain, funny and troubling things start to occur around the young boy. His wife Katherine (Julia Stiles, The Bourne Ultimatum) starts to endure nightmares in which Damian is evil, and a strange priest (Pete Postlethwaite, The Usual Suspects) keeps reappearing whispering queer and disturbing prophecies in Robert's ear.
As Robert excavates further into the past with the help of suspicious photographer Keith Jennings (David Thewlis, Timeline), he uncovers reasons to believe that Damian might be the Devil incarnate. Initially unbelieving Robert is faced with a dilemma: is it all just a coincidence or could his young son really be the antichrist and embodiment of evil?
The Omen is a faithful remake, a fact that might trick some people into thinking that it's irrelevant. If it was an inferior product then I might be inclined to agree, but this 2006 retread steps it up a notch and delivers a better acted, more visually polished, and ultimately more visceral shot of horror escapism. The original film was working from a fabulous conceit and does still delivers a good time, but Moore's 21st Century reinterpretation is a more emotionally rounded and solidly executed thriller; unlike the original, cheese-ball performances and undertones of camp just aren't part of the equation. Again I'm not expecting to win any friends by stating the following, but Moore's vision of The Omen is more impressive than Donner's. It's God's (devil's?) honest truth.
The performances in 2006 are a little more grounded and engaging than they where in 1976. With the exception of Peck, the original version of The Omen featured a rash of acting that was either too reserved or overly boisterous. Schreiber does a good job of filling the legendary Peck's shoes as the hero of the piece. Emoting beautifully and with tons of hearty conviction Schreiber does what few have ever managed, equaling his masterful predecessor. It's crucial in The Omen that the audiences should be on Robert's side the whole time and endure the same doubts and emotional twists he does. Schreiber transplants such necessities beautifully from the screen to our minds. It's never hard to empathize and feel the cruel sting of horror that the character of Robert has to take when the actor playing him provides such a fantastic performance. As his mentally fragile wife, Stiles has an easier job of competing with the past, Lee Remmick's wooden effort in the same part back in '76 was one of that film's bigger flaws. Still instead of coasting, Stiles cooks up a convincing figure, initially chirpy and lovable but as the film darkens and the plot unfolds, the actress brings the character into the necessary arenas of doubt and self loathing with colorful and watchable results. The chemistry between her and Schreiber also subtly lessens as the story progresses, at the start they are inseparable and believably enamored with each other, by the end the question marks over their son seemingly having driven a wedge into the relationship.
The support matches the two leads well, but with a cast that encompasses David Thewlis, Mia Farrow (Rosemary's Baby), Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), and Postlethwaite, one would assume that to be the case. Thewlis plays well off Schreiber in the second half as the story takes the tone of a mystery whilst Farrow and Postlethwaite ooze dread as an evil Nanny and priestly harbinger of doom respectively. There is real flair and ability within the supporting cast featured in Moore's redux and it adds a further richness to this underappreciated banquet of delightful horror.
The Omen is a terrific story and works well as a thriller, mystery, and straight-up fear flick, incorporating all the elements necessary to score big on those bases. The crop of strong acting certainly helps but the lean and efficient plot developments coupled with the horrific nature of the set-pieces mark it out as a true genre joy. All the old famous sequences are still present: the hanging, the impalement, and the decapitation (against all odds improved on here with some gorgeous camera work and arterial spaying), but Moore also envisions a slate of new and equally intimidating moments of fright. A set of trippy and disturbing dream sequences provide a lovely sense of supernatural unease whilst the opening segment is beefed up with an early death scene that explains Robert's recent political appointment. As a result fans of the original and those looking for some fresh moments of devilish mayhem should be appeased, and it goes without saying that the gore quota is notably higher this time around.
The art direction is superlative and Moore's cache of visuals vibrant and chilling. The film deploys the color red frequently and to good effect, a sense of bloodcurdling beauty achieved in its subtle inclusion in the sets. The cinematography by Jonathan Sela is delightfully eerie and manages to maintain a sense of the unnerving whilst also offering a somewhat ethereal allure. The original film favored a grittier and earthier look, but I definitely prefer the story unfolding within this aesthetic, it's scary but at the same time handsome and easy on the eye. It is also not to be confused with the slick and sickening MTV style polish that inhabits so many of today's remakes, there is real artistic credibility here and a desire to offer new and intriguing visual stimulus. Moore's previous films also featured this same audacious and admirable stylistic bent, it might be premature but from a shot making and color blending aesthetic he shows all the signs of a visionary. It's also worth applauding the restrained use of CGI, a tool often abused by today's filmmakers; it's only utilized when absolutely needed here.
The Omen circa 2006 takes itself more seriously than its older brother, eliminating the slightly distracting and corny undertones that infected certain scenes in the original. The opening scenes set at Vatican City and involving the various occurrences that herald the coming of the antichrist are ominous and threatening, a well judged opener for the thrill ride ahead. Some people have criticized the film's brief use of 9/11 footage, but it doesn't feel exploitative, rather suggesting that the terrible events of that day are amongst the most evil deeds committed in recent times. Many a documentary has suggested the same thing and yet critics don't curse them for being emotionally manipulative or corrupt.
This incarnation of the story is also more emotionally rewarding and developed, Moore and screenwriter David Seltzer priming the relationships within the Thorn household with a little extra care and exposition this time around. These additions to the family dynamic increase the terror and fear later on, and certainly encourage a higher level of dread due to the frightening decomposition of the once loving and warm household. Schreiber and Stiles are given added opportunities to cement a believable relationship worth rooting for, whilst even the character of Damian gets a few added seconds for family based interaction. For my money at least the slightly more focused view of the Thorn's adds to the enjoyment and impact of situations to follow.
On Blu-ray, The Omen looks and sounds awesome whilst also carting some good added content. This was a relatively early Blu-ray release and so doesn't feature quite as much in the way of bonus material as more recent fare, but still fans of the movie should find ample amounts to enjoy. A commentary track with John Moore, producer Glen Williamson and Editor Dan Zimmerman is lively and full of interesting making off information, the men's passion for the project evident from the beginning. It's an easy listen and unusually digestible for something so fact laden. A trivia track is also included though is admittedly less compelling whilst a cluster of alternate scenes are simply gorier renditions of moments already in the picture. A small featurette on the music is interesting and compact whilst a delightfully hokey examination of the antichrist myth is found in the Revelations 666 documentary. It's a hokey little piece but enjoyable due to the sincerity with which it attacks the 666 legend. The video quality is robust and the DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio is a flawless joy. Certainly the film's sound design is well served by this excellent track. Overall this is a technical package worth the upgrade, though as a substitute to the trivia track the normal DVD does contain a 40-minute "making off." It's a little perplexing that Fox has excluded that from this Hi-Def release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The faults I find with The Omen are simply a case of good not measuring up to great. My two favourite aspects of the original film were Jerry Goldsmith's score and Harvey Stephens portrayal of terrible toddler Damian. In this version Marco Beltrami's music is solid but lacks the punch that allowed Goldsmith's compositions to land him an academy award. Beltrami is a talented musician and has no reason to be ashamed of his above average work here but it can't measure up to the brutally atmospheric gusto that Goldsmith whipped up in 1976.
On a similar note, young Seamus Davey Fitzpatrick is perfectly acceptable and rather creepy in the role of Damian, but it's hard to see him being remembered and feared as passionately as Stephens was in Donner's version. Little things handicap Fitzpatrick's performance, which just didn't faze Stephens; for instance, in 2006 Damian is doing more scowling than one would deem necessary. Fitzpatrick is a spooky looking kid, but doesn't capture the sheer malevolence that Stephen's had by the conclusion of his effort.
A genuinely fantastic horror remake, The Omen shows that not every Hollywood retread has to pale in comparison to the '70s originals. It might be a tad faithful for some tastes, but if you can do it better who cares, and better is exactly where Moore and co. have taken this property.
The Omen 2006 is devilishly good, and far from guilty.
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