The Omen (2006)

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Pete Postlethwaite and Mia Farrow
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 23 October 2006

When the new American ambassador to Great Britain is killed in a bizarre accident, Robert Thorn is assigned his post and moves, with his wife Katherine and young son Damien, to London. Five years earlier, unknown to Katherine, Richard was approached by priest Father Spiletto who told him his new-born baby was dead but that he could take on another child with no family and care for it as his own. After Damien's nanny commits suicide at his birthday party, a mysterious replacement arrives to "protect" him. A ferocious dog is also brought into the house. Robert is warned by another priest, Father Brennan, that he has the Devil's son, and from that moment a catalogue of violent deaths follows as Damien's power grows. A photographer notices that strange exposure effects on his developed photos are conducive with the manner of the subject's death, and realises he himself hasn't long to live. When Father Brennan is killed, Robert Thorn is left as the only innocent person to know the truth. But has he the strength to take action against what, on the surface, appears to be a helpless young child...

Whenever a classic film is remade by Hollywood for a new audience the first question I have to ask every time is "Why?" Rescript a lacklustre flick and improve it, yes. But extremely well-made and memorable films should be left well alone.

It's years since I watched the 1976 original, directed by Richard Donner, and I can still remember almost every scene, such was it's impact. However, that came in handy when watching this new 2006 version, directed by John Moore.

As you might expect from a remake, it is almost scene for scene the same, but there are subtle differences. Katherine experiences a series of nasty but very well realised nightmares, in lighteningly-quick cuts, involving the evil of Damien. The set-piece when the photographer is decapitated is handled in a completely different way; instead of the large sheet of glass sliding from the back of a lorry, this version uses effects and new filming techniques to show a sequence of seemingly happenstance events culminating in a bracket swinging down from a wall. I did enjoy the headless body bumping down the steps, but that's just me! Another visually effective moment comes when Thorn is chased along a corridor by the dog and manages to temp it to jump straight through a trapdoor into the basement.

There are more than a few negatives to this film, some of which only fans of the original are likely to notice. Firstly, although all performances are pretty convincing - particularly Mia Farrow as the Nanny - the 1976 original benefited from a stellar cast. Gregory Peck was powerful in the role of Thorn, and Patrick Troughton as the priest (who you could say gets shafted) was wonderfully mad. There is a scene in the remake, when Katherine suffers her "accident", which is stolen straight out of Kubrick's The Shining. Damien on the scooter is directed identically to that film. Even the same sound and cuts are used. And talking of sound, the film score by veteran Jerry Goldsmith incorporates far too many Psycho shrieks.

But the main problem I have with this film is the somewhat nonsensical climatic scene. Having decided to kill Damien with the holy knives in the manner advised, Thorne thrusts the boy into the car, kicking and screaming all the way. He would have known there was a police motorcycle patrolman on the gate for security, so instead of gagging Damien, locking him in the boot and driving slowly and calmly out the gates, he ridiculously elects to swerve about, fighting the boy, and smash through the heavy gates at speed. Considering Thorn accelerates straight into town, skids to a stop outside the church, and has only been by the altar for less than thirty seconds, it seems that is time enough for the motorcycle cop to radio in for back-up and miraculously have five or six high-pursuit police cars arrive in seconds. And, for goodness sake, where the hell did the American SWAT team waving guns come from?! Now, isn't that all just a little far-fetched and ridiculous?

Nevertheless, The Omen (2006) isn't as bad as I've made it sound. I always try to keep an objective head when reviewing films. So, remembering the classic original, it would have been easy to hate the remake. But it's a perfectly competent retelling of an old tale. There is even an attempt to bring the story up-to-date with the 9/11 twin towers incident included in the prophecies, and army border patrols in Israel.

At the start of this review I asked the question "Why?". I think part of the answer might be marketing - and who can blame them. Aside from tempting younger generations (and curious older ones) to the cinema, there's also the reality of a revitalised franchise.

Special Features consist of a commentary by John Moore, Glenn Williamson and Dan Zimmerman; Omenisms (37 Mins) - a behind-the scenes featurette (during which the original Damien states that nowadays this would kick-off a career, but back then there wasn't many film opportunities for a six year old from Catford!); Abbey Road Sessions (10 Mins), following the music score; Revelation 666 (22 Mins), investigating the myth of the beast; Extended Scenes; an Alternate Ending, and Trailers.

Ty Power

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