I recently read that "Damien" is second only to "Adolph" as the least popular birth name for parents expecting a new baby boy. And for that, we have 1976's 'The Omen' to thank. Produced at the height of the post-'Exorcist' demon-possession craze, Richard Donner's campy if still effective supernatural thriller was a runaway blockbuster, scaring millions worldwide who found the idea of the devil reincarnating himself as a mop-topped tot to Gregory Peck and Lee Remick absolutely terrifying. Yes, those were simpler times, folks, when such overwrought hooey actually caused people to faint in theaters and sent church attendance rates skyrocketing.
Even as a kid I thought 'The Omen' was hilarious, though of course I loved ever minute of it. So it was with some glee that I greeted the news that Fox was dusting off its once-mighty franchise and giving it the Hollywood "reimagining" treatment. Certainly, a film like 'The Omen' was ripe with possibilities as a remake, especially given recent social and political upheavals. After 9/11, and with atrocities in Rwanda, Darfur and Iraqi filling up our nightly news with horrific images on a daily basis, could there not be a more perfect time for the devil to make a return appearance? Not to mention that the Catholic Church hasn't exactly had a sterling reputation as of late. So a remake of 'The Omen,' if done right, could be, if nothing else fun, frightening and all-too-topical.
Alas, 'The Omen' 2006-style is another of those remakes that replicates the original film far too faithfully and adding little that is new. Though not as slavish as Gus Van Sant's 1998 shot-for-shot recreation of 'Psycho,' the new 'Omen' departs so little from its source material that unless you know absolutely nothing about the original, it is hard to be at all surprised, scared or shocked by anything that happens onscreen. Sheer familiarity means every moment is entirely telegraphed, and with a new batch of actors reprising roles that are already near-iconic for genre fans, you can't help but compare (unfavorably) the new version to the old. Never have I flet such little suspense in a horror film.
In case you don't know the story of 'The Omen,' here's a quick recap. U.S. Ambassador Robert Thorn and his lovely wife Katherine are about to become proud new parents. But when their baby is stillborn, a local priest offers Robert the chance to swap babies and spare his wife the pain of losing a child. Before you can say, "His mother's a jackal!", the film flash-forwards a few years, where little Damien Thorn is proving himself quite the troublemaker. Signs of the apocalypse, mysterious deaths and one very evil nanny soon follow, and Robert begins to wonder if perhaps he didn't make a deal with the devil. Perhaps he has?
Director John ('Flight of the Phoenix,' 'Behind Enemy Lines') Moore shows a competent hand at building a decent level of tension during the over-the-top kill scenes (my, the devil sure is noisy in dispatching victims, isn't he?), and I liked his addition of disturbing dream imagery that was not seen in the original. Some of his casting choices are also strong. The underrated Liev Schreiber shows a steely intelligence as Robert, though he lacks Gregory Peck's innate sense of gravity and humanity. I also was a fan of Julia Stiles in the Lee Remick role (though most weren't), as she effectively conveys Katherine's growing fear, confusion and eventual hysteria as she realizes her child is not her own -- or even human. But the film's most inspired casting coup is Mia Farrow, who is perfect as the Thorn's new nanny, Mrs. Baylock. That Farrow plays it so subdued and straight only makes the character even more hilarious. And little Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien may not strike the same perfect balance between innocence and evil that Harvey Stephens achieved in the original film, but he is suitably creepy. At least they didn't hire Haley Joel Osment.
Truth be told, 'The Omen' 2006 isn't really a terrible film. Perhaps if you see it fresh and with no knowledge of the original, you might enjoy it. But I can't help but feel it is an enormous missed opportunity. No effort seems to have been made to update the material for modern times. Audiences of 2006 are afraid of different things than those in 1976, which 'The Omen' shockingly fails to exploit. Religion's role in our culture also is going through a significant transition, so just the mere idea of a devil-child is not terrifying on its own anymore. 'The Omen' needed a fresher perspective and a bit more juice. Call me cynical, but despite all the updated snazzy visuals and special effects, I couldn't help but think that the only reason the film was remade at all was because Fox had a 6-6-06 release date to exploit.
Fox serves up 'The Omen' in a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p/MPEG-2 video transfer. Though considerably better at times than the standard-def DVD version (which was marred by excessive video noise and posterization, as well as inconsistent fleshtones) this Blu-ray version is certainly no home run.
Good news first. The source print is in fine shape, as you would expect for such a recent film. Jonathan Seia's moody cinematography is bolstered by rich, deep blacks and contrast that has plenty of pop. There is also no real dirt or other major blemishes to distract, though the film can be quite grainy at times. Perhaps faring the worst is the film's final twenty minutes or so, with some noticeable noise intermixed with the grain. There are other sporadic moments that suffer from posterization and more slight noise, such as Liev Schreiber and David Thewlis' journey to the fog-shrouded old cemetery. The sequence, while not a disaster, doesn't look much better than the standard-def DVD did. However, other moments possess a nice sense of depth and detail, such as the infamous "It's all for you, Damien!" moment , and the majority of interior scenes. Colors also fare quite well, with the rich reds quite striking. Again, though, as with the standard-def release, fleshtones seem to vary in consistency -- faces just look orange and muddy in many instances to the point of distraction.
As I mentioned in my review of Fox's 'X-Men: The Last Stand,' the studio's first batch of Blu-ray releases are the first-ever Blu-ray releases to feature DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio soundtracks. Unfortunately, as of this writing, no current Blu-ray players or A/V receivers offer DTS-HD decoding. That will change very soon with the arrival of the PlayStation 3 and other players and receivers, but in the meantime, there is no way to access the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on this disc at full resolution. So what you are going to hear without DTS-HD decoding is the core, lossy DTS soundtrack at a healthy 1.5mbps.
In the case of 'The Omen,' the film's sound design is somewhat front-heavy anyway, and is also hampered by poorly balanced dialogue. Surround use is sometimes muted or nearly non-existent. More intimate scenes don't fare well, and aside from the sometimes overbearing use of Marco Beltrami's bombastic score envelopment can be surprisingly slim. Of course, any time little Damien kills someone in a spectacularly gruesome fashion, the rears come to life with nice discrete effects and solid panning. Dynamics are as good as you'd expect for a medium-budgeted studio film, with clean and clear high-end and fairly deep low bass. Again, though, dialogue can be totally overwhelmed by the score and effects. I could barely figure out what the Pete Postlewait character was saying half the time without jacking up the volume. In short, my remote control got far too heavy of a workout with 'The Omen.'
Fox has ported over most (but not all) of the extras from the standard-def DVD release of 'The Omen' for this Blu-ray release. Unfortunately, they aren't very good supplements, but really, it is hard to expect greatness, given the movie itself.
Let's start with the two featurettes. Oddly, the hilariously-titled 37-minute featurette "Omenisms" is not carried over from the standard-def release, despite being the only real making-of on the disc. (Thankfully, despite its lengthy runtime and clever moniker, it is just your basic EPK with the usual behind-the scenes footage, as well as on-set interviews with cast and crew.) Instead, Fox has only ported over the shorter 12-minute "Abbey Road Sessions," which is really a look at the making of Marco Beltrami's score. Unfortunately, and no offense to the composer, it is no match for Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning original. Also included is "Relevations 666," a made-for-TV companion special interviewing various theologians and historians on the birth of "666" and other silliness. Unfortunately, this one has all the depth of "Lucifer: Behind the Music," though I can't say I didn't highly enjoy the whole silly affair.
The self-aggrandizement continues on the audio commentary with Moore and producers Glenn Williamson and Dan Zimmerman. This track reminded me of when I listened to Frank Oz's commentary on the DVD for the 'Stepford Wives' remake, where a clueless director fails to realize he made a movie that no one liked and wasn't very good. Here, Moore, Williamson and Zimmerman spend a good deal of time comparing the remake to the original, yet never seem to recognize how unoriginal their version really is. They also seem very excited by the big gore setpieces, which I dispute the dramatic effect of -- while audience-pleasing moments to be sure, do people really get off on this stuff anymore? It all seems pretty tired, but listening to this commentary, you'd think this was revolutionary, boundary-breaking stuff.
Speaking of gratuitous gore, also included are two extended death sequences, "Impaling" and "Beheading." Personally, I thought the ones in the final cut were effective enough, so these more gruesome versions seem a bit too over-the-top. Again, the camp factor goes into overdrive.
Ah, little Damien. I'd love to say we're glad to have you back, but truth be told, your agent should sue the makers of this film. You really deserved better material than just another half-hearted Hollywood "reimagining" for your triumphant return to the big screen, and I only hope you don't get stuck doing shot-for-shot, direct-to-video remakes of bad 'Omen' sequels for the rest of your career. In any case, the little bugger's Blu-ray debut is fairly good -- a relatively nice transfer and soundtrack, and a solid batch of extras including an HD exclusive trivia track. Still, given how lackluster the film itself is -- and the steep $39.95 price tag -- I'd say leave this one as a rental.