Omen, The (2006)

The most impressive aspect of “The Omen,” John Moores slavish and trivial remake of Richard Donners 1976 horror flick is its opening day, 6/6/06, a strong marketing hook that Fox has been exploiting for months on billboards all over the map.

The other striking elements are its old-fashionedness, lack of irony, and lack of special effects. This is a straight retread of the 1976 box-office hit, one of the few decent movies that craftsman Donner has ever made. Like his predecessor, John Moore is a workmanlike helmer (he did “Behind Enemy Lines”), failing to endow the film with a current touchor stylishness, for that matter.

Perhaps we should stop asking whether the remake of a specific film was necessarywe know the answer–and look instead at how good or effective the “new” work is in its own right. By this standard, Moore's “Omen” is a below- mediocre flick that doesn't qualify even as guilty pleasure

Though there's a child at the center, this “Omen” is a thriller for adults, not that it demands much adult intelligence, but more so due to the characters' age and nominal plot concerning adoption. What this remake severely lacks is the class and stature that Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, as the parents of the devil incarnate, brought to the original film, elevating it way above its trashy text.

There's no enigma concerning this faithful retelling of the 1976 yarn, since both films were scripted by David Seltzer, a pedestrian writer. Intertextuality is provided in the presence of Mia Farrow (looking terrible), who brings fond memories of her eerie work in Polanksi's masterpiece, “Rosemary's Baby.” However, Farrow, too, is used as a marketing tool, rather than a fully developed character in the narrative.

In this rendition, Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is a young diplomat, the godson of the President of the U.S., whos promoted to the post of UK Ambassador, when his boss dies in an accident. (Shouldn't we stop using the President and the White House as screen settings or backgrounds) Years earlier, Robert made a decision to deceive his wife Kathryn (Julia Stiles), after the stillborn death of their infant, accepting another child without informing her. Together, they have raised six-year-old Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) as their son, with Robert going out of his way to closely guard the boy's real origins.

Their seemingly stable lives are disrupted, when Damiens nanny hangs herself in front of a crowd at the boy's birthday. Then, Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite), a mysterious priest, shows up and predicts horrible happenings for Kathryn and Robert. Brennan claims that Damien is the Antichrist, the human spawn of Satan. Needless to say, before long, Father Brennan finds his own sudden and violent death. The Thorns then hire a new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow), who seems to get along better with Damien than his other nannies.

Turning point of the plot occurs when a photographer named Keith Jennings (David Thewlis) discovers that that the photos he has taken may have presaged several of the deaths around the Thorns.

Some of the first film's scary scenes are recreated verbatim, and the film's efforts to say something more substantial about the primeval nature of evil, theology, and faith come across as pretentious and superficialeven by standards of “The Da Vinci Code.” In the press notes, Schreiber is quoted as saying that “the movie is about faith, and what you are willing to do in the name of faith.”

Religious icon and crosses are in abundant display and the film is so blatant about its text and subtext. The frequent use of the color red (in balloons, scarves, flowers, and bathrobes) reflects a desire to imbue the film with unity of form and dangerous mood, but instead calls attention to itself as a device. Damien, played by child actor Davey-Fitzpatrick, has deep blue eyes and occasionally projects disturbing malevolence, but he remains an enigma throughout the yarn, and is not scary enough at the most crucial moments.

The gifted Schreiber and Stiles, better known for their work in indies, are decent, but their offbeat looks and work against the picture's effectiveness. That has to do with screen presence. When Gregory Peck and Lee Remick portrayed the troubled parents, who know deep down that something is wrong with their boy but don't know what to do about their suspicions, we believe them, because both were endowed with decent and moralistic screen images, built on numerous appearances before.

But this is 2006, and both Schreiber and Stiles are too edgy and alert actors to behave in such an innocent way. It doesn't help that both thespians function as plot points rather than fully fleshed out characters

Context is everything: In 1976, “The Omen” was trashy but genuinely creepy, a tone enhanced considerably by the score for which Jerry Goldsmith won an Oscar. Thirty years later, “The Omen” is just a silly and trivial remake that's devoid of touch with the zeitgeist and doesn't qualify even as trash.

For the record

A fairly entertaining horror flick, “The Omen” made a lot of money and spawned two sequels: “Damien: Omen II” (1978) and “The Final Conflict: Omen III (1981), neither of which was any good.

The films were originally conceived as four parts, tracing Damien's rise to power from his childhood through adulthood and eventually to Armageddon, but audience interest slacked off considerably after the second film, forcing the producers to cut the saga short at three. In 1991, there was a TV movie, “Omen Iv: The Awakening.”

The 1976 film won the Best Original Score Oscar for Jerry Goldsmith, against tough competition from Bernard Herrmann, who received two posthumous nominations, for Brian De Palma's “Obsession” and for “Taxi Driver,” his very last score. Herrmann died a day after he finished recording Scorsese's film, which might explain why Goldsmith won.

“The Omen” was also Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song, “Ave Satani,” with music and lyrics by Jerry Goldsmith. The winner, however, was “Evergreen,” by Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams, the love theme from “A Star Is Born.”