The Omen
Friday, June 02, 2006

Another remake, and another remake poorly done. Interestingly, it was written by David Seltzer, who wrote the original 1976 Omen.

I have never seen that version, so I went into the theater with only vague preconceptions. My friends all assured me that the original Omen was terrifying. I was looking forward to this preview, and not just because it was my first time out of the house with no children in six weeks.

There was a Lion King style preview, apparently the first few minutes of the movie, for the upcoming The Devil Wears Prada, starring Meryl Streep and former princess/beauty queen Anne Hathaway. The trailer was great! I think any aspiring screenwriter would benefit from a careful study, or at least by using it as a drinking game (every time you see lip gloss – chug!). In less than five minutes, the world of the movie is set up; the main characters introduced (without boring expository dialogue); we know our protagonist and are all ready rooting for her; we understand who Miranda is and that she is terrifying. Streep is on screen for maybe 90 seconds, and her bored, soft spoken lines instantly gut whomever she is speaking to. Wonderful. The posters could use a little work though.

Back to the Omen, unfortunately. The first five minutes of that movie are another lesson for the aspiring screenwriter – how to bore your audience and cause seizures due to eye rolling. This movie about the Devil’s child opens at the Vatican (shockingly different!). A priest observes a comet, or actually three comets, and then begins a frantic search through arcane manuscripts full of illustrations (apparently they are dumbing down the seminaries to match the regular universities.) Interestingly, due to recent cost cutting measures, he is not allowed to turn on the overhead fluorescents and must study by candlelight. I guess the Pope’s State Farm agent has no problem with having open flames around 500 year old irreplaceable documents. Maybe the open flames were a clever metaphor about where we were all heading, should Damien survive the movie. Or maybe director John Moore is trying to subtly piggyback on the success of Brokeback Mountain. Personally, I think it is actually just a poorly done, lazy way to establish mood.

I would like to say that hijinks ensue, but they don’t, really. There are a lot of missed opportunities for characterization. Miscasting didn’t really help. Julia Stiles is unconvincing at best as the wife of a 34 year old politico. Sorry, but making her wear her hair in a bun and throwing a high collared shirt on her in every take doesn’t make her any older, wiser, or more motherly. Pillbox hats and nubby sweaters also don’t add any weight to her acting (only her hips). Liev Schreiber, you're no Gregory Peck. There are many unanswered questions: why did they tell Robert Thorn they were switching his kid at birth? Why not just switch him? And, in a modern hospital, why would they kill his real child in the only way that would be detectable by skeletal evidence five years later? Why not poison/smother/fail to intervene in a complicated birth? Even burying him alive would make more sense! Why was a priest living under the subway, but was always clean, neat, didn't stink? Why do they bury satanic animals in a consecrated cemetary? Why didn't the flash reflect in the mirror when the photographer snapped it? Am I thinking this through way too much?

The scares are really more shock value – a grotesquely burned priest, a black dog jumping out of nowhere, a brief, nightmarish vision in the mirror. There are setups that never pay off; in the climax of the movie, the father fumbles and then narrowly escapes a guard dog to procure scissors. Three snips later, after Damien's identity confirmed, we are treated to an obvious framing of scissors in the foreground. The camera a few frames later zooms in for a close up of the scissors. So when the Nanny attacks the father, she uses some random axe that just appears in her hand.

At least we were spared the obligatory Blonde in her Panties shot slapped into every other horror movie I've ever seen. Too bad that doesn't make up for the amazingly poor research.

SoapBox Warning!!!

I am a Catholic convert. I have studied Catholicism, the early church, and other religions, not as extensively as I would like, but far more than most people. I own a copy of Eusebius, 5 different Bible translations, the Book of Mormon, and Reasoning from the Scriptures (The JW handbook). When people show up on my doorstep asking if I am saved, I invite them in for a theological chat. Even the ones who claim I am going to hell because I missed celebrating the Feast of the Seven Trumpets. It's especially fun when I offer the Mormon missionaries a beer "while I slip into something more comfortable", like painting clothes or a dominatrix outfit.

So why do most movie makers think that they can just slap some men in black dresses and a few gratuitous shots of St. Peter's Square, and all the sudden it’s Catholic? And why does every Satan movie involve Catholics? If the Catholic Church is hopelessly out of date, a nice traditional fairy tale with no basis in reality, and certainly the fate of your soul has nothing to do with what the Church teaches, (as portrayed in modern culture), then why, when facing Satan/Armageddon/Possession do people run find a priest? And why does the priest always have a drinking problem/hypocritical lack of faith/dark secret?

If anyone wants even a cursory list of the extensive mistakes in this movie, tag me in the comments. I’d be happy to oblige.

Oh, and save your ten bucks. Rent the original if you have to – I haven’t seen it, but it has to be better than this!

posted by Milehimama @ Mama Says at 6/02/2006 01:03:00 PM | Permalink | |