As I discussed in my review of Tom Savini’s dreadful NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 1990, there are plenty of reasons to remake a film. Many are lousy, some are weird, and a few even manage to be valid. The one behind the 2006 version of THE OMEN is one for the books: June 6, 2006 was coming, so Fox decided it absolutely had to release an OMEN on 6-06-06. Yes, folks, the brain trusts behind a multibillion dollar corporation remade THE OMEN to fulfill a release date. This is a lousy motive for a remake, and it produced a lousy film that, though not quite the abortion that is OMEN IV, is an insult to the original OMEN trilogy.
The original THE OMEN was about a politician whose child dies just after childbirth. He makes a deal to take a child whose mother just died, and raise him as his own, not knowing he and his wife may have just adopted the son of Satan.
Let’s talk about the differences between this film and Richard Donner’s original. Oh wait. As this one is almost an exact imitation of Donner’s, let’s discuss what’s different instead. Trust me, this will be a short paragraph. There’s an unnecessary prelude with a priest and a telescope charting a comet, followed by a tacky montage of real world atrocities, including the 9/11 attacks.
Oh, that’s right. That’s about it. And here’s why. I gather from the fact that David Seltzer is listed as the screenwriter; and that there’s a guy on the DVD’s doc discussing the script as if he wrote it; and that the guy’s name is blanked out; that director John Moore and company stole so much of Seltzer’s script, the Writer’s Guild had to get involved and credit Seltzer with the script. I remember my soon to be ex-wife yelling at me in the theatre as we were watching this, pissed off that I was spouting out lines with the actors, because I knew them by heart. Fox got lazy with this one, probably figuring they could pull a fast one and save time so they could reach their precious release date without a hitch.
As for the acting, I’m pretty sure this is how things went: Moore walked into a room a week before production. “Hello, Liev. Hey, Julia. Hey, kid who looks like he just soiled his shorts. Hi, Mia Farrow. Ok, take a look at this and I’ll be back.” Two hours later, Moore returned. “Ok, now that you’ve watched Richard Donner’s THE OMEN, I want you all to imitate those much better actors. Except for you, kid. Take a look at this.” 97 minutes later, “Ok, kid. Now you imitate the girl with the blank expression in OMEN IV. Oh, I see you’ve already got the look down. Great.” Look, I generally like Liev Schreiber. But making him do his Gregory Peck impression for two hours does nobody any favors. He just doesn’t have the gravitas of Peck, and his entire performance is a strain. I’ve never thought Julia Stiles was much of an actor, but watching her imitate Lee Remick is downright painful. Ditto for everyone else except the kid. Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick is a whole different problem. First, he comes across as too old to play a 5-year-old; in the original, Donner got a very naturalistic performance from Harvey Stephens, playing him as a boy who never suspects he’s anything but. This kid seems self-aware that he’s got something going on, and he’s too tall. Furthermore, his entire acting technique is to look bored. I understand he’s a kid, but there are better kids out there to play the Antichrist.
What little else Moore changed spits on Donner and Seltzer’s original vision. Why does Robert Thorn have to become Ambassador to the Court of St. James in England by way of his mentor’s death, as if he isn’t capable on his own? Why does the kid have so much dialogue, and speak it more maturely than any 5-year-old I’ve ever met? Why hire Michael Gambon, who when bearded looks like Leo McKern as Bugenhagen, and film him with a clean shave? Why not use exclusively Rottweilers as the devil dogs? Why such slow motion and showy photography? And don’t even start me on Moore’s over use of the color red. That is one of the lamest and most cliché gimmicks in all of film.
Oh and this version also offers up Damien in the middle of the night making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Nothing terrifies me like the Antichrist preparing lunch.
The most dramatic change involves the ages of Robert and Katherine Thorn. As portrayed by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, they were an older couple; with the death of their natural child, Damien is probably the last chance they have at being parents. Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles are so young, which takes away the gravity of Damien’s birth. The script gives some lame line about how Kathy may have been scarred during the birth of their child, but an American ambassador to a foreign country doesn’t get a second opinion? Think about that, because Moore and company didn’t.
And Moore goes about his way ruining the high spots of the film. Say what you like about THE OMEN, but it will forever be known for its iconic set pieces. The baboon attack at the zoo, the dog attack at the cemetery, Kathy’s accident. Moore changes the baboons, which were real and free-roaming in a zoo, to animatronics gorillas behind glass. The dog scene is my favorite in any horror movie; Moore’s is almost pitch black and employs so many quick cuts that I can’t even tell what’s happening. He even thought it necessary to jazz up the famous impalement scene with shards of stained glass. Not iconic.
And speaking of iconic, why didn’t Fox just re-use Jerry Goldsmith’s score, perhaps the original’s most famous element? They seemed intent on ripping off everything else from the original, and weren’t averse to using chunks of it in OMEN IV. Marco Beltrami delivers a serviceable score, but it pales in comparison to Goldsmith’s classic work.
Side by side with the original, the whole film pales in comparison. The problem with imitation is that it’s always inferior to the original. If THE OMEN is that fine Movado watch that Dad wears out to weddings and special occasions, then THE OMEN 2006 is the 12 buck version the shady guy is selling on the city street corner. It’s not art as Donner’s version was; it’s the cheap copy of the Mona Lisa that some local painted for the yard sale. A complete and utter waste of time, ultimately it’s no surprise that this film didn’t inspire a new DAMIEN: OMEN II, even thought it made $54 million, twice its budget.
And it made most of that money because of its gimmicky release date, the reason for its birth. Richard Donner tells it that Alan Ladd, Jr. offered to hold back on the release of THE OMEN for three days, to capitalize on the 666 of June 6, 1976. That was a brilliant marketing stroke that may have pulled some extra bodies into theatres to see a classic. 30 years out, Fox made a disastrous movie to satisfy a release date. There’s nothing classic about that, including the end product. My biggest fear is that this generation will take this flick as the real OMEN, not even knowing there was an original. And that should have no one singing “Ave Satani.”