Monday, 26 December 2011

Ill-Advised Remake Monday: The Omen


INT, daytime. 20th Century Fox's boardroom, sometime in the mid 2000's:

...So, we're agreed, gentlemen? Another Alien Tril...Quad...Quintilogy Boxset on DVD? Only this time, the box will be in the shape of an entire lifesize Alien Queen, and the discs themselves will be excreted from its anus? Genius!
Any more business?

Ah, yes...My Random Remake Suggest-o-tron came up with The Omen the other day, and I couldn't help but notice that it'll be June 2006 soon, so, you know: 06/06/06, so...

Well, I suppose...Isn't it a bit, you know, old?

No, it'll be great, honestly; we'll get some slumming actors, like the original did, toss in some in-jokes for the fanboys, and some of that CG blood that the kids love! It'll be awesomes!

All right...make the leads much younger and duller, chuck in some flashy and pointless dream sequences for shocks, oh, and a gratuitous 9/11 reference and we've got a deal! Now, lunch? [buzz] Marcy, could you send us in the usual six live puppies, garnished with the crushed hopes and aspirations of a generation of film students? And a Pellegrino? Thanks!


Yes, your correspondent is extemporising somewhat, but it doesn't take a huge imaginative leap to visualise the thinking process behind this film: Exploitable property+built-in marketing opportunity+more blood=PROFIT!! They really only forgot one thing; to actually make it any good. So, what did they stupidly change, what should they have let go, and is that REALLY HIM under that awful plasticky burn makeup? [Short answers: too much, those blasted dream sequences, and yes; hooray!]

To start with the plot...If you need me to describe it, then go away and punch yourself, hard. In the stomach. While you're getting your breath back, read on: Diplomat's wife loses her child at birth, diplomat is persuaded to unofficially 'adopt' an adorable orphan baby, feels no need to inform wife of change. Adorable baby grows up to be adorable tow-headed little boy, acquires insane nannies, Rottweiler; is surrounded by mysterious 'accidents' that plague those who attempt to inform Daddy Diplomat that Dimples may in fact be Satan Jr. (Spoiler! He is.). Everybody dies!

[While the 1976 original didn't start the Evil Child genre (Paging Rhoda Penmark!), it was an early example of the (still popular) Evil Solemn-Faced Little Kid subtype, and was almost-singlehandedly responsible for turning the name Damien (or Damian) from a Saint-that-worked-with-lepers-and-therefore-perfect-for-Catholic-familes baby name, to shorthand-for-Lucifer in within a generation. You think I'm joking? According to the Office for National Statistics, in the UK in 1974 the name Damien (or Damian) was the 64th most popular; by 1984, it was 97th, and by 1994 not even in the top 100.]

This remake doesn't fiddle about with the basic plot points TOO much (baby death - nanny death - new nanny - ominous priest - priest death - mum off balcony - dead mum - gratuitous archaeology - headless photographer - angst dad - nanny fight - dead dad), and is as successful as the original in chucking a splashy death at the audience just when things are getting too fidget-inducingly Bible-y, but it's what they ADDED that's my main problem with it.

The film starts with some priest-y enclave in the (heavily-implied) Vatican, viewing a short film on all of the newsworthy disasters of the last 20-odd years, and doom-and-glooming it about the imminent return of the Antichrist...This is necessary, why? Your writer was raised Methodist, and knows about as much of Catholic priests as I do of Quantum Theory but refuses to believe that none of them have read a newspaper since 1970. Unless the film is assuming that the audience haven't either? Or need to see footage of the Boxing Day Tsunami, 9/11, etc, which they had surely FORGOTTEN ALL ABOUT UP TO THAT MOMENT? It's an arbitrary selection of footage too; oh, so it's natural disasters, because God is angry, but's 9/11 and a civil war. So, it's the evil of people, but...ah, that was an earthquake. NVM then.

The film promptly cuts from this amazingly point-filled opening like it never happened (I'd like to pretend the same thing), and we start the plot proper. It trots along from point to point like a good pony until...well, you see Lee Remick (the mother in the original) could convey her growing paranoia and dread of the little bugger just with facial expression, body know, ACTING. The new girl...can't. So nuts to subtlety and let's have her dream-sequence some goatskullfaced robed jumpscares (that look nothing like they came off a Dennis Wheatley paperback cover from 1968 or anything)! Yes, let's do THAT!

As for the cast, well...I'm sure Liev Schreiber is a perfectly nice chap, but...charismatic? No. To the extent that...I actually forgot he was in the film while he was off screen. Yes; I'm embarrassed, but I want you to know that never happened with Gregory Peck. The supporting cast of Reliable British Thesps swaps wavering-Irish-accented Patrick Troughton for Pete Postlethwaite, whose accent bounces back and forth across the Irish Sea like the Fishguard ferry in a Force 9-er, and offers us scruffy David Thewlis in lieu of mod David Warner; I do not consider this an acceptable substitute. I suspect the casting of Mia Farrow as the 'nanny from the agency' is a bit of wink-wink gimmick casting for Rosemary's Baby fans, since she's no Billie Whitelaw, and far too mimsy to be convincing as a threat to the large stolid tree that is Liev Schreiber; and is there really any reason except someone's game of Weird Character Name Bingo to have Michael Gambon follow Dumbledore with Bugenhagen?

Still, in each dungheap a diamond, and there's an unexpected treat for all the watching House On the Edge of the Park fans (so, me and Brad Jones, then); yes, it's Giovanni Lombardi Radice, aka John Morgen, as Father Spiletto! Oh Ricky, you can even make a Roman Collar suspect! Don't ever, ever change! While I'm on this positive trend, I should take time to praise the Damien; I have no maternal instinct whatsoever, but this is an adorable, solemn small boy. I definitely felt a small hollow thump in the place where normal women have a biological clock. If I could somehow guarantee that my loins would yield forth something like that (and not, as I secretly fear, some squawking money-sink with a Hannah Montana fixation) then even I might be persuaded to breed.

So, on balance: worth a peek as a curiosity, but don't expect it to be anywhere near as good as the original, and brace yourself for random goatskulls, and the odd crashing misstep of taste, amongst all the lumbering solemness.

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