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The Omen (2006)

Your humble reviewer watched the original The Omen (1976) just before screening John Moore's brand-new remake. This, by the way, is not recommended, for a couple of reasons:

Reason No. 1 to not watch the original first: At the risk of uttering blasphemy, the original Omen — which cashed in on both The Exorcist and Hal Lindsey's Biblical-prophecy scare-tract The Late, Great Planet Earth — hasn't aged that well. Director Richard Donner composes some beautiful film frames, there are a few well-executed eerie moments, the Jerry Goldsmith score is awesomely over-the-top, and Harvey Stephens is still one of cinema's great creep-moppets. But most of the time, the story of Ambassador Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) finding out his adopted son Damien is the literal Antichrist is a snore. Thorn's relationship with his wife (Lee Remick) is so underwritten that it's nearly abstract. Peck has more chemistry with David Warner, who plays a photographer who foretells supernatural murders in his paparazzi shots. (In fact, The Omen would be roughly 1,000 times more entertaining if Peck were replaced by Charlton Heston. Especially if they added a line where Heston yelled, "You bastards! Damien is the son of mammon." Or maybe not.) Also, interesting ideas that could underscore the child's cartoon evil (Thorn lying to his wife about the baby's adoption, say, or the Thorns' comically neglectful parenting) aren't explored in any detail. Even worse, the central mystery lacks urgency: Peck and Warner travel around Europe, looking for a man with the unfortunate name of "Bugenhagen" and uncovering Damien's lineage — and it has all the pep of an "X-Files" episode hosted by Rick Steeves. Seriously: Peck looks for all the world like he's lost his car keys. And in a world of more sophisticated action editing, a couple of the famous set pieces no longer fly. If you do rent the '76 version, be sure to note how long a certain priest stands rooted in one place, screaming as a metal spear slowly falls toward him from a church roof a good 100 feet away.

Reason No. 2 to not watch the original first: And this turns out to be sad news: At least half of Moore's 2006 remake (which cashes in on the horror-remake craze) is a nearly shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake of the original. It's no Van Sant Psycho, mind you, but it's surprisingly close at times. And in many respects, it makes Omen '06 prematurely stale. Moore and his cast do perform some nice (and some horrible) tweaks on the original. The relationship between the Thorns (now played by Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles) is beefed up, the mayhem is (mostly) better-staged, the corpses are moister, a couple of added shock-scares aren't too bad, and there's some fine supporting work by Pete Postlethwaite as a ranty priest and Mia Farrow, in a nice bit of stunt-casting, as evil nanny Mrs. Baylock. But transplanting so much of the original story to a 21st-century setting only amplifies how badly that story has aged. Schreiber carries on the dour, super-serious tone — and contrasted with the kid's simple-minded wickedness (He glares! He kills!), it no longer flies. (It doesn't help that the new Damien, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, is given a bowl haircut and directed to play "evil" with a hilarious glare and a silly walk; the poor kid can't hold a candle to the '76 Spawn o' Satan, who was just Jack Wild creepy.) Plus, a line-for-line remake creates all-new plot holes: When Schreiber is shown photos that seem to predict deaths, why does he never once utter or at least consider the words "Photoshop hoax"? And while it's always interesting to see how people take whatever's going on in the world at the time and slot it into end-times prophecy, was it really in the best taste to add a scene where a Vatican priest gives a Powerpoint presentation on Damien's imminent arrival that uses images from 9/11 and the Columbia shuttle disaster?

Fox's DVD release of The Omen offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Director John Moore, producer Glenn Williamson, and editor Dan Zimmerman turn up on a commentary track, while other extras include the featurettes "Omenisms" (37 min.), "Abbey Road Sessions" (10 min.), "Revelation 666" (22 min.), two deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and four theatrical trailers. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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