Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2006

Wait, this looks familiar...

'The Omen' remake tries to jazz up an old classic, to little avail

The Omen
20th Century Fox
Director: John Moore
Screenplay: David Seltzer
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, David Thewlis, Mia Farrow, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Gambon and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Rated R / 1 hour, 50 minutes
Opened June 6, 2006
(out of four)

The question isn't so much whether "The Omen" is a good or bad movie, but rather why it needed to be made in the first place. This is a remake of Richard Donner's 1976 suspense/horror classic, and it is so faithful that they even brought back the writer of the original, David Seltzer, to re-write his own script.

It couldn't have taken him long. It has been years since I've seen the original, but even so I recognized scene after scene when watching this new modern update. In fact, that's really all this is - an update. There are a few modern wrinkles, a few minor changes to the story, and of course more of those "jump scares" that have become so popular in modern horror - but when it gets right down to it, it's the same thing...only not as effective as the chilling '76 version.

Since many of the people in the studio's intended demographic may not have seen or even heard of the original, couldn't they just have re-mastered the old print and re-released it?

OK, I know - that's probably not a viable option. But it certainly would have saved some money - and even better, it would have kept John Moore (director of "Behind Enemy Lines" and that awful "Flight of the Phoenix" remake) out of work. Good times.

Which brings me back to my original point: Why was this movie even necessary? Oh yeah, that's right - because Hollywood has decided to re-make every movie in the history of movies, and this one was next on the list.

Of course, it's also just a transparent marketing scheme, as evidenced by this transcript of a 2005 meeting between 20th Century Fox executives:

Executive A: Hey look, next year there's going to be a June 6, 2006. Do you know what that means?
Executive B: By jove, you're right! It's 6/6/06 - like the Satan thing!
Executive A: We won't have another opportunity like this for another 1,000 years!
Executive B: We must act fast, Kyle. We need a movie about the Anti-Christ, stat!
Executive A: Yes, and it must be written, shot and completed in time for next June! So we can release it on June 6, 2006. 6-6-6!
Executive B: Yes...splendid, splendid!
Executive A: Have we re-made that "Omen" movie yet?
Executive B: Let me check....[checks]....no, we haven't! We've got it, I say, we've got it!
Executive A [twirling goatee]: Splendid, splendid!
Executive B: This will be a very clever marketing strategy!
Executive A: We are very clever executives! We should reward ourselves with new suits!
Executive B: I think I will grow a mustache!

True story.

Anyway, "The Omen" is pretty standard-issue apocalyptic horror, efficient enough with a few nice touches, but not satisfying enough to justify its existence. (In fact, I'll be honest - it's better than I expected.)

The film begins promisingly, with an interesting scene featuring a meeting of Catholic bishops warning of impending Armageddon, based on biblical prophecy which they believe has begun to come true in the form of recent world events, such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Challenger explosion. All this foreshadows the coming of the Antichrist

Cut to a hospital room in Italy, where soon-to-be U.S. Ambassador Robert Thorn has just been notified of the death of his newborn son. As his wife Katherine doesn't yet know, Robert agrees to pull the old bait-and-switch - taking another recently newborn child in place of his own, never telling his wife, or anyone, about the death of his biological son.

But as karma would have it, the son he takes as his own just happens to be the son of Satan himself - the heir to the throne, if you will. Katherine discovers this through a series of unsettling, sometimes tragic, events, all helped along by the disturbing new nanny, played creepily by Mia Farrow. The kid, Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, who doesn't say a word the whole film) is creepy enough as it is.

Robert is helped along the way by a photographer, Keith Jennings (David Thewlis), who has recently made some ominous discoveries in his photos. The mystery of Damien's birth and his destiny lies at the heart of the film, taking Robert and Keith from country to country and town to town looking for answers that they don't really want to hear. There are some good scenes amidst the proceedings, but Moore is never able to manufacture the kind of foreboding atmosphere that Donner pulled off so well. He relies too much on MTV editing and cheap thrills, including a climactic sequence that is needlessly frenetic and underwhelming.

In place of original stars Gregory Peck and Lee Remick are Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles, somewhat curious selections since neither has much box-office clout. Regardless, Schreiber is acceptable as the story's protagonist, but Stiles simply doesn't have the depth to play a pretty complex role as a loving mother who wants her own child dead. It may be a tough role to play, but they could have found someone better. Or, even better, they could have gotten Lee Remick, and paired her with Gregory Peck, and given the reigns to that up-and-coming director Richard Donner. Except, that's right, they already did that. Thirty years ago. Too bad, because that would have made a Hell (get it?) of a movie.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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