Monday, June 12, 2006

Movie Review: The Omen

(poster courtesy of

I nearly got to watch this film on the 6th of June. I was near KLCC on an off-site meeting which ended early that day and thought of catching the movie since I have to go there anyway to catch the LRT back home. The thought of watching “The Omen” on 6/6/06 was quite novel and I found out that a lot of people think the same as well. The show that I wanted to watch that day was fully booked and I wasn’t keen on waiting for the next showing with my heavy laptop bag and whatnot. I decided then to go for an early dinner at KLCC instead and watch the movie on the weekend at my usual cinema where I’m almost certain able to get the seats that I like. In foresight, it would have been a little more exciting if I was able to watch this film on that particular date so I at least have something original from the film to talk about.

“The Omen” directed by John Moore is the second remake (the first being the waterlogged “Poseidon”) to come out of Hollywood this summer blockbuster season. With the exception of several minor additions and music score changes, this film is in essence a slavish replication of the original 1976 movie of the same name directed by Richard Donner. This film even reuses the original screenplay written by David Seltzer with uncredited revisions by Dan McDermot to less than effective impact compared to the original. While not as pointless as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot recreation of “Psycho”, the film does still begs the question why it should be remade other than to capitalize on the calendar coincidence. There were too many times in the film that audiences who have seen the original will be left wondering why they paid money to watch something that they have seen done much better before.

As in the original film, “The Omen” begins when a high ranking US ambassador Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) cannot bear to tell his wife Kate (Julia Stiles) that her baby was stillborn so he accepts an offer made by a priest at the Italian hospital to secretly adopt an orphaned infant and pass him off as his true son. This seemingly benign act would later bring misfortune to all as the child, now called Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), seem to have a knack of causing those around him to die horrible deaths as he grows older. When their attentive nanny and a priest who tried to warn him about Damien’s true parentage dies in spectacular fashions, the father begin to realize that all is not as it seems with Damien. With the help of a doomed photo journalist, Robert races across Europe to find out the truth behind the deaths and the ominous happenings that surrounded his family. All his efforts would end up in vain when he discovers who Damien real father was and what they have planned for him. Unfortunately their plans would be fatally inconvenient for the Thorns now that they know who they were dealing with.

As mentioned before, “The Omen” is a remake of the original using the same script that was written for that 1976 movie. As such, almost all of the scenes and dialogues followed closely to what we have seen before. I can’t be sure if they used the same sets or locations from the original but I do have the sense that they may have used a close approximation of it. Unlike the earlier “Poseidon” remake, this film is true to the point of slavish in their recreation of the original film. There were a few new scenes added in this new remake in an attempt to differentiate itself from the original but they neither added anything new or exciting to what was already a warmed-over fare. The new opening scenes set in the Vatican actually undercut the story’s plot build up now that we know that the Anti-Christ was scheduled to be born in the first 5 minutes of the movie . The new dream sequence unimaginatively added used cheap scares and loud noises in hopes that it would jolt the fast becoming bored audience from their seats but added nothing more. The new additions, in short, were pointless and easily dispensed of without taking anything away from the experience.

Taking the reins from Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, both Schreiber and Stiles portrayal of the doomed parents pales in comparison. While he is a great actor in his own right, Schreiber’s constantly dark and brooding expression made his Robert Thorn too morally ambiguous. Audience of the original could easily understand Peck’s, an icon of the all-American fatherhood from his earlier movies, anguish when he found out that he had to kill his son to save the world but in this remake it was hard not to believe that Schreiber’s Robert would have the same difficulties in driving a knife into his son’s heart the moment he found out the truth about Damien. It also didn’t helped that Julia Stiles’ Katherine played out more like a helpless victim from the start instead of a mother gradually realizing that there was something horribly wrong with her son.

Fortunately, the supporting actors fared a little better than the main leads. Both Pete Postlethwaite and David Thewlis in their roles of the mad Father Brennan and the doomed photo journalist Keith Jennings managed to make the most of their limited screen time. I was quite a surprised to find their characters more memorable to me than the leads in this movie. Mia Farrow’s Mrs. Baylock, the replacement nanny from hell, came across as sickeningly sweet and patronizing which is a departure from the much more reserved and controlling approach that her predecessor used for her character. While it may not work in some of the scenes, the choice to depart from the original was a welcomed breath of fresh air in the whole déjà vu – ish experience.

One glaringly obvious item that made the original work better for me than this remake was how the character Damien was portrayed. Richard Donner was able to keep the audience hooked into his version of the movie by letting us come to the realization organically that not all is right with Damien. The audience are taken in by Harvey Stephens’ innocence and charm that it was hard to not to be horrified when we watch his gradual transformation from angelic to demonic. In contrast, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick’s Damien in this remake practically telegraphs diabolical evil by constantly scowling and glowering at everything he sees from start to finish. Unless this child actor was born pissed and had his features frozen in a perpetual scowl, there was no excuse for the director not to give this actor better directions on how the character should act.

There were more than a few occasions when I caught myself thinking about how bored I was while watching this movie. The movie came across too much like a pale imitation of the original and had too little to add to the experience. Having the film undercut it’s own plot build up with the new opening scene and the unrelenting creepy kid scowl at the audience did not helped to lessen the disappointment I got from having to pay to watch the film. It is very rare that I leave the cinema feeling like I just wasted nearly 2 hours of my life but that was exactly what I felt after watching this warm-over presentation.

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