The original 1976 version of The Omen is a very good film, a strong horror picture. It starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as the unwitting, unsuspecting parents of that tyke, Damien, the growing Anti-Christ. The film also featured a stellar supporting cast that included Patrick Troughton, Leo McKern and David Warner. Perhaps more memorably, the film thrived on its intense and graphic violence. Anyone who has seen the film won't soon forget the plate glass decapitation sequence. Later films in the Omen cycle (1978's Damien: Omen II and 1981's The Final Conflict) came to rely more strongly on these violent set-pieces than upon characterization or internal consistency, but the original was nonetheless a potent fright-show. Like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, it was a brilliant crystallization of parental fears about children.
So along comes this Hollywood remake, with Liev Schreiber in the Peck role (as Ambassador Robert Thorn), and Julia Stiles as his prone-to-depression wife. In a bit of stunt casting that works splendidly, Mia Farrow (Rosemary herself...) plays the evil Nanny, Ms. Baylock This is supremely ironic casting not merely because of Farrow's association with the famous Polanski devil-baby film, but because of her own personal history with Woody Allen. She's a serial-adopter (meaning she adopts children willy-nilly, seemingly...) and is known to possess a temper (she sent Woody a scary Valentine, allegedly...) Here, with a straight face, she gets to say lines such as "caring for children has been the joy of my life." Wonderful! This adds a nice little bit of campiness to a dour, lugubrious picture.
The Omen 666 is a beautifully-mounted production. Despite Ms. Farrow's presence, it's remarkably less kitschy, exploitative and fun than the 1970s version, and is in every way possible a product of its context, the early 21st century. This means that the production values are absolutely, utterly sterling...there's perfect lighting, a menacing soundtrack and the colors are rich and vibrant. The reds are redder, the blues steelier and the gold as shiny as gold can possibly be. No expense has been spared to make the film appear beautiful. The cast is "A" list all the way too, and Seltzer's screenplay moves with supreme confidence. So it should...this is essentially a rewrite. But back to the supporting cast: Michael Gambon has replaced Leo McKern, Pete Postelthwaite has taken the role of the doomed priest originally played by Troughton and David Thewlis subs for David Warner as the curious photographer. Those are all decent trades, I'd warrant (though I'm an unrepentant Troughton admirer; still my favorite time lord...). Finally, the death scenes here are - as in the original - clever, ruthless mousetraps. A sequence of unlikely events (like a hammer falling from a roof...) cause bloody deaths, and it's pretty impressively filmed. The Omen films were doing this kind of thing before Final Destination made them fashionable again.
I realize this is likely sacrilege, but I also prefer Liev Schreiber in the role of the ambassador. The late Gregory Peck is a terrific actor, no doubt, but his gravitas often translates on screen as CERTAINTY. He's a stolid, dependable fellow; the hero type. It's hard to feel that he's ever truly in danger, or physically jeopardized and I think his casting in the original film often worked against the enterprise. Liev Schreiber is a different breed all together, a little weaselly, a little wussy....but more human and recognizable as "one of us." He expresses more emotions in the role than Peck did, and that's a good thing. In some senses, this Omen feels more immediate (and heart-wrenching) because of his performance. Schreiber has a great scene when he discovers that his son - his real son - was murdered, and tossed thoughtlessly into a grave. His expression - his breakdown - perfectly captures the feelings of loss his character feels at that moment, as well as the regret over being a part of the "conspiracy" that killed the baby.
What the new Omen clearly lacks (besides the warm glow of nostalgia we apply to all our favorite 1970s horrors...) is any real sense of surprise, innovation or inspiration. This is pretty much a note-by-note remake of the '76 film, but with a bigger budget and more remarkable production values. I don't know that just those improvements are enough to merit the remake of a classic. At times, this remake goes beyond being faithful and actually feels slavish. That's not good. And hey, I'm a guy who likes my remakes faithful.
Oh, some modifications have been made to be sure. The destruction of the twin towers on 9/11, the space shuttle Columbia disaster and the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina have now been added to the prophecy that heralds the birth of the Devil's Child. This makes the movie feel timely again, and I particularly enjoyed the notion that the Anti-Christ rises in the world of politics (a sea of politics, the film suggests), and in the process separates man from his brother. In the current blue state/red state divide, this passage reads as more relevant than ever. No doubt the Anti-Christ thinks he's a uniter, not a divider, but I'll trust the Church's prophecy on that one...
Of course, it's a truism that every generation thinks it's the very one that will see the End Times. I'm old enough to remember Ronald Reagan and Secretary of the Interior James Watts testifying in People Magazine and before Congress respectively that they both believed the 1980s would be the "last' generation before Armageddon. I bet if you asked George W. Bush and other evangelicals, they'd tell you they see the signs of the End Times happening today. Still, with war raging in the Middle East and climate change threatening the future, I guess a case could be made today that the end of the world is nigh.
We've sure seen many remakes of 1970s horror recently. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, and The Hills Have Eyes leap immediately to mind. Maybe we go back to these stories, and to The Omen, because we're in an analogous time period today. I can see many parallels to the disco decade in post-911 America. The nation is divided and involved in an unpopular war (Vietnam in the 1970s/Iraq now) and we're saddled with an unpopular president (Nixon in the 70s/Dubya now). Or, conversely maybe Hollywood is just bereft of original ideas. In the years to come, I suspect that it will be the original The Omen that continues to get the most play. This remake isn't terrible. It's not bad even. I harbor no hate in my heart for it, and rather enjoyed spending time with the effort. It was better than I thought it would be.
Nope...it's just an entirely unnecessary movie. It's true that if you've seen the first Omen, you probably have no compelling reason to see this one. Nothing new or unexpected happens. However, I do recommend the movie. It's worth the cost of the rental fee if for no other reason than to see Mia Farrow run over by Liev Schreiber, her body thrown into the air like a rag doll, landing on concrete with a thud.
I hope Woody Allen has this movie in his queue.