If you dig back through the annals of horror and look at any well-received genre classic, you’ll also find an entourage of sequels, remakes, and reboots that have desperately tried and failed to achieve the glory of their founding father. ‘The Omen’ series boasts just such a lineup. It includes a critically-acclaimed classic, a mediocre follow-up, a ludicrous trilogy capper, and an uninspired remake of the original film.
Loosely based on Christian mythology and Biblical prophecy, the original 1976 ‘Omen’ tells the tale of Robert (Gregory Peck) and Katherine Thorn (Lee Remick), a loving couple who become the proud parents of a beautiful baby boy named Damien. However, Katherine is oblivious to two things: that her real son was stillborn and that, in an effort to protect his wife’s fragile psyche, Robert secretly switched the dead child with an orphaned baby. Over the years, the American diplomat and his wife shower Damien (uber-creepy waif Harvey Stephens) with all the wealth and privilege they can muster, but when bizarre incidents, freak accidents, and a suicide rouses their suspicions, Robert becomes determined to unravel the mysteries surrounding his son’s birth. With the help of a paranoid priest (Patrick Troughton), a photographer (David Warner), and a rash of others seemingly in the know, Robert learns that his son may actually be the ultimate incarnation of evil: the Antichrist.
While it hasn’t aged as gracefully as other critically-acclaimed genre masterpieces (specifically ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Exorcist’), ‘The Omen’ still has a lot to offer modern horror fans. First, the story works on several levels: as a morality tale, a cautionary tragedy, and as a slow-burning thriller. While the Thorns are caught in the midst of a fiendishly complex supernatural struggle, they’re forced to deal with extreme versions of the base fears every parent has to face at one point or another. Will my child be a success? Will he be a good person? Will she inherit my values or reject everything I represent? It’s these sort of thematic explorations that make ‘The Omen’ feel authentic, even when it ventures into some fairly ridiculous territory.
Likewise, Donner and Seltzer created a group of characters that manages to make the loftiest plot points seem more plausible. Robert has to choose between his son and the future of mankind, Katherine tries to deal with both love and fear of her child, and several supporting characters have to risk their own lives to help stop a rising evil. Yet, each one strikes me as a regular person who’s stumbled into larger-than-life circumstances beyond their control. To that end, all of the characters have been developed as realistically as possible and the story gives the central players plenty of time to process new information and make credible decisions.
Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. In 1978, television director Don Taylor helmed ‘Damien: The Omen II,’ a trite, matter of fact continuation of the original story that focuses on the misadventures and unholy training of a teenage Antichrist (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) as he learns of his true identity. Of course, as his parents learned firsthand, anyone and everyone who attempts to thwart his sinister destiny meets an untimely end. Now under the guardianship of his uncle Richard (William Holden) and his step-aunt Ann (Lee Grant), Damien attends a military academy, discovers his supernatural purpose, and has to come to grips with the harsh realization that his future is intertwined with the ultimate destruction of mankind.
The problem with ‘Damien’ isn’t that it lacks a compelling narrative -- in fact, it takes a huge risk by placing a teenage antichrist front and center -- it’s that it doesn’t do it with any style or real aspirations. The entire film feels like a cash-in project whose only purpose is to clumsily connect each random death scene together with flimsy plot developments and weak supporting characters. It doesn’t help that the central conflict of the film (Richard’s realization and subsequent struggles with Damien’s identity) feels like a tired retread of everything Donner covered in the first ‘Omen.’ Don’t get me wrong, ‘Damien’ is a respectable extension of the boy-who-would-be-Satan, but it could be much darker, more complex, and more menacing than it is. Sadly, it’s just an average sequel that doesn’t have enough ambition to take its horror to the next level.
The series’ third entry, 1981’s ’The Final Conflict’ raises the apocalyptic stakes to epic proportions, but collapses under the weight of hysterical subplots, laughable supporting performances, and a variety of clichéd conventions inspired by the evolving camp of early ‘80s horror. This time around, Damien (the ever-compelling Sam Neill) is a European ambassador and US presidential hopeful who is prepared to assume his proper role in prophetic history. However, a budding relationship with a journalist (Lisa Harrow) and her son (Barnaby Holm), the coming of reincarnated Christ, and a series of political obstacles present interesting challenges that the Antichrist wasn’t expecting to encounter. Meanwhile, on the side of the angels, a group of priests led by Father DeCarlo (Rossano Brazzi) sets out to kill Damien before he can usher in Armageddon.
What doesn’t work? To be blunt, almost everything that doesn’t involve Sam Neill (sorry, I saw ‘Jurassic Park’ at an impressionable age and have unabashedly followed Neill through the ups and downs of his career). The script is overloaded with page after page of exposition and long-winded conversations, the various storylines suffer from massive plot holes and inconsistencies, and the supernatural action sequences offer up some painfully dated effects. Still, I have to admire the continued focus on the Antichrist as the main character. As much fault as I can find with the film, I have to admit it does a semi-decent job of crafting Damien into a beast caught between his humanity and his Satanic destiny. In that regard, the film serves as a well-intentioned end to the original trilogy of ‘Omen’ films.
Finally, ‘The Omen 666’ is a somewhat faithful 2006 remake of the first film whose only failing is that it doesn’t capture the intensity or attain the relevance of the original film. In this at-times hollow reboot, Liev Schreiber takes on the role of Robert Thorn, Julia Stiles tackles Katherine, and Pete Postlethwaite and David Thewlis take on the film’s priest and photographer. Director John Moore (‘Behind Enemy Lines,’ ‘Flight of the Phoenix’) attempts to heighten the chills of the original, reinterpret the characters, and achieve the same uber-creepy stares from his film’s young Damien, actor Seamus Fitzpatrick.
I’m pretty sure I enjoyed ‘The Omen 666’ more than the majority of horror aficionados hoping for a thrilling return to the psychological complexities of the original film. Moore often seems to have been determined to make his actors deliver low-key performances and it adds an interesting element to the mix. Instead of Robert and Katherine scrambling to understand what’s happening, Schreiber and Stiles portray the couple in a state of denial and repression. It results in more subtle and troublesome reactions, but they also still feel real considering the personalities of the new renditions of each character. The film recreates the parental conflict of the original, updates the scenarios, and allows the plot to unfold instead of being hurtled along. Granted, the film can be underwhelming and even unimaginative, but I’ve never thought it was the travesty most have declared it.
In the end, ‘The Omen Collection’ peaks with the 1976 classic, loses steam over the course of two problematic sequels, and delivers a less-than-ideal remake that doesn’t enhance the original. If you’ve never experienced ‘The Omen’ films, I would recommend giving each one a rent to determine if you even want all four. If you find that the first film is the only memorable entry, save yourself a chunk of change and pick up the standalone BD of the first film instead of this pricey box set.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
’The Omen Collection’ packaging reminds me a lot of the piss-poor ‘Battlestar Galactica’ release I seethed about in 2007. If you manage to nab an ‘Omen’ box-set whose outer sleeve isn’t dented or creased, you’ll find a flimsy cardboard digipak that’s more prone to injury than its outer sleeve, four soft and insecure hubs, and very little internal padding to protect the discs. Worse still, the box and sleeve are the height of a standard DVD case (and look cumbersome and unsightly when sitting on a shelf next to other BD cases).
This is definitely one of the worst packaging jobs I’ve encountered and easily the worst packaging I’ve seen for any BD release this year. My advice? Nab the collection, pick up an extra copy of an affordable 4-disc BD release (like ‘When We Left Earth’), utilize its case, and take a pair of scissors to your ‘Omen Collection’ casing. Otherwise, treat this one with extreme care lest you damage the box and the discs in one fell swoop.
’The Omen Collection’ features four transfers of varying quality (three AVC-encoded remasters and one that recycles its pre-existing MPEG-2 BD release) which do a decidedly decent job of presenting the individual films. I wouldn't go so far as to say you’ll be pulling ‘The Omen Collection’ off your shelf to wow your friends and neighbors, but I will say series fans should be fairly pleased with the results.
The oldest of the four ‘Omen’ films arguably includes one of the collection’s finest transfers. Presented in 1080p with a carefully remastered AVC MPEG-4 transfer, this 1976 original looks quite good considering its age and associated print issues. The film’s palette receives the most noticeable bump from previous DVD releases -- primaries pop, skintones are natural, and shadows are deep (albeit intrusive). Detail trails at a close second. While a bit of softness and haziness remains in several shots, the new high-def presentation boasts sharper textures, crisper subtleties, and more refined background elements. Contrast is also far more steady than it’s been in the past. I still noticed a bit of wavering here and there, but Fox has done a fantastic job of stabilizing the print and creating an attractive presentation. To top it all off, the studio thankfully didn’t slather DNR all over the original print. Grain is intact and, while a bit erratic at times, allows the transfer to retain a filmic quality Fox has unfortunately tried to subdue on other releases.
Problems? Edge enhancement makes a few distracting appearances, minor artifacts occasionally invade the image, and there are still a few spots of print damage. Don’t get me wrong, the overall image is much cleaner than it has ever been, but there are still a few too many imperfections to declare this version of ‘The Omen’ a flawless remaster. Regardless, for a film released in 1976, ‘The Omen’ looks great. I doubt many people will be able to muster many serious complaints about this one.
My video score for the original: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Damien: The Omen II
On the flipside, ‘Damien’ features the most problematic visuals of the bunch. Sure, most of the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer’s issues can be traced back to its original print, but I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by the results. Once again, Fox delivers a faithful remaster that doesn’t muck up the proceedings with anything more offensive than edge enhancement. However, colors seem to register as bland at times and garish at others. Skintones occasionally look flushed, greens often have a yellow tint, and blacks aren’t always resolved. Detail is inconsistent as well with errant drops in texture clarity and a few instances of haziness.
Still, the palette is strong, contrast is stable, and fine details certainly benefit from the bump in resolution. All in all, the Blu-ray edition of ’Damien’ offers fans a noticeable upgrade from its standard definition counterpart, but it can't compete with the other ‘Omen’ films in the collection and it doesn’t stack up well against better catalog releases on the market either.
My video score for ‘Damien’: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
The Final Conflict
I have to admit, I didn’t expect much from ‘The Final Conflict’s 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer but it really took me by surprise in spite of a few technical issues. The most colorful of the ‘Omen’ films by far, ‘The Final Conflict’ takes full advantage of its high-def upgrade with bold primaries, inky blacks, and comfortable whites. While contrast is inconsistent from scene to scene, the image always retains an eye-pleasing quality that outshines the standard DVD in every way. Detail is crisp, textures are sharper, and fine elements (like hair and plantlife) are well defined. More importantly, Fox continues to leave DNR behind to deliver a faithful presentation of the film. Grain-haters may not be as excited, but I was just glad I didn’t have to deal with waxy faces and reduced detail.
Sadly, a few too many problems hold the transfer back from greatness. Skintones are often flushed with unnatural red and orange tones, the darkest portions of the screen rob the backgrounds of detail, and several technical issues (specifically minor artifacting, slight print damage, and edge enhancement) are a distraction. Still, for all ‘The Final Conflict’ fans out there -- you know who you are -- this high-def transfer trounces the standard DVD and manages to breathe new life into an otherwise stodgy sequel.
My video score for ‘The Final Conflict’: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
The Omen 666
’The Omen 666’ unfortunately utilizes the same problematic 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer that appeared on Fox’s first-generation Blu-ray release of the film. Source noise, banding, and posterization distract at seemingly random points throughout the presentation, skintones are sometimes too milky or bronzed for their own good, and detail (especially when compared to more recent films released on BD) is a bit underwhelming.
Still, the transfer isn’t a complete waste of disc space by any stretch of the imagination. The film’s palette may be slightly washed out, but vibrant colors still make strong appearances (particularly reds), blacks are deep and healthy, and delineation is spot on. Detail is also still much stronger than it is on the disc’s DVD counterpart. It may not be able to compete with more recent Blu-ray releases, but it still boasts decent texture clarity and object definition. All in all, I’ve seen much better and I’ve seen much worse.
My video score for ‘The Omen 666’: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Considering the variety of challenges presented by the four ‘Omen’ films, Fox has given each entry a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that outclasses its respective DVD counterpart. While their individual quality varies, I attribute the problems and shortcomings to the original sound designs of the films rather than technical deficiencies in the tracks. Fox should also be commended for including original mono tracks with the first two films. As far as I’m concerned, every applicable catalog release from every studio should include such an option so techies can enjoy the latest-n-greatest advancements afforded to classic films while purists can experience them as they were originally presented.
’The Omen’ features a remarkable pair of polished tracks -- a remixed DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and a presentation of the original mono mix. The remix effortlessly spreads Jerry Goldsmith’s score around the soundfield and utilizes subtle ambient effects to create an immersive experience. LFE presence is as strong as one might expect from a remastered 1976 production, and the noticeable low-end upgrade affords the film’s dialogue and effects some much-needed weight. The rear channels aren’t aggressive per se, but their usage seems to respect the film’s sound design while steadily enveloping the listener with convincing interior acoustics and environmental support.Even so, I found myself gravitating to the original mono presentation. High-end tones were a bit more crisp, sound effects were slightly more balanced with the musical score, and I didn’t encounter any problems with unintelligible dialogue (as I occasionally did in the remix). Of course, none of that should belittle the achievements of the DTS HD track, but should instead excite purists looking for a faithful presentation of the original audio.
My audio score for ‘The Omen’: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Damien: The Omen II
As it is with the video transfer, ‘Damien’ gets the short end of ‘The Omen Collection’s technical stick. Like the first film, this sequel earns a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track as well as an original mono mix. Unfortunately, both tracks would need some more work to measure up to the original ‘Omen’s audio package. Dialogue is muddy and indistinct at times, the rear speakers are more of a distraction than a bonus, and the LFE channel simply doesn’t deliver. More distressingly, the remix suffers from stocky pans and haphazard directionality, while the mono track sounds thin and weak. Worst of all, Goldsmith’s music sounds stodgy and flat, and hasn’t been mapped across the soundfield as well as the score was on ‘The Omen’s surround mix.
As it stands, the Blu-ray edition of ‘Damien’ -- no matter which track you select -- sounds better than its previous DVD incarnations, but doesn’t compare favorably to the other ‘Omen’ films in the collection or other catalog titles on the market.
My audio score for ‘Damien’: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
The Final Conflict
’The Final Conflict,’ on the other hand, didn’t have to contend with a mono presentation and therefore arrives with a competent DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Dialogue is clean and well-prioritized, the LFE channel is aggressive and resonant, and the rear speakers are fairly involving. Granted, much of the track’s sonic impact comes as a result of the series’ first truly chaotic and bombastic sequences, but it’s nice to hear a catalog horror film so readily engage the listener from every direction.If I have any complaint, it’s that the original sound design is clunky and unfocused. Despite all the thunder-rolls, musical crescendos, and cataclysmic events depicted on screen, quieter scenes and conversations can be quite underwhelming. Pan transparency becomes inconsistent, ambient noise retreats from the soundscape, and the score is shoved into the background. Ultimately, ‘Final Conflict’ fans will be pleased with the end result, but all too aware of its mediocre sound design.
My audio score for ‘The Final Conflict’: 3 stars (out of 5)
The Omen 666
When HDD first reviewed ‘The Omen’ remake, it included the same DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that’s presented on this fourth disc. However, in 2006, the technology wasn’t available to actually listen to it as it was meant to be heard. Well, it’s 2008 and despite its lossless nature, ‘The Omen 666’ doesn’t really sound much better than it did when the only thing available was its lossy core.Dialogue is crisp, the LFE channel is reliable and weighty, and the rear speakers pipe up with convincing ambience every time conversations end and the horror (or at least the film’s attempts at horror) kick in. Likewise, pans are as smooth as one would expect from a modern production, directionality is precise, and high-end tones are stable and clear. Sadly, ‘The Omen 666’ doesn’t benefit from involving sound design -- even its action-oriented scenes are more subdued than horror fans might be used to. More troublesome is the fact that these low-key sonics aren’t delivered with any sort of subtlety. Quiet scenes are simply quiet. Aside from an errant echo or distant sound effect, the soundscape doesn’t have a lot to offer. Regardless, such faults shouldn’t be attributed to the technical quality of the DTS HD track, but rather the film itself.
My audio score for ‘The Omen 666’: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Fox has loaded ’The Omen Collection’ with all of the significant special features that have appeared on the various DVD releases for each film. It’s a fairly extensive package -- particularly for completists -- but it would have been nice to see as much supplemental attention devoted to ‘Damien’ and ‘The Final Conflict’ as is given to the original ‘Omen’ (or at the very least, as is given to its 2006 remake).
The 1976 classic that started it all is blessed with a generous supplemental package that covers every conceivable aspect of the production, its achievements and lasting influence over the decades, and the hard work and talent that made the film everything it is.
Damien: The Omen II
The series’ first sequel doesn’t boast anywhere near the same amount of features, arriving on Blu-ray with nothing more than a bland audio commentary and a theatrical trailer.
The Final Conflict
The third ‘Omen’ outing also suffers from an uninspired supplemental package that only includes a director’s commentary and another theatrical trailer.
The Omen: 666
Finally, the series sequel/capper/remake (pick your poison) includes the same supplemental package as its standalone Blu-ray counterpart. Alas, the 37-minute DVD documentary, “Omenisms,” is still nowhere to be found. It doesn’t help that the breadth of the included features is more akin to those on the sequel discs than the extensive package that graces the original film.
'The Omen Collection' is a no-brainer for fans and completists -- it not only features a strong upgrade with its faithful video transfers and audio packages, it includes every previously released special feature as well as a slew of exclusives that accompany the first film. Granted, quality varies for a variety of reasons from disc to disc, but this is the best the films have ever looked and sounded. However, newcomers should proceed with caution. A standalone version of the first film is available as well and offers a considerable savings for anyone who doesn't enjoy the sequels and the subsequent remake. I'd suggest you do your homework and make an educated decision suited towards your interest and tastes.