Suspected creative bankruptcy within the walls of Hollywood movie studios aside, the trend in remaking what seems like every popular horror film of the 1970s has become a hit-and-miss affair. A sparse few have actually managed to improve upon their flawed originals (a most recent example would be 2006's "The Hills Have Eyes
"), while others have succeeded by being in-name-only reimaginings (2005's "House of Wax
"). The rest, unfortunately, prove themselves to be just plain bad ideas.
Case in point: "The Omen," a truly pointless remake to the taut and suspenseful 1976 religious-themed suspenser starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. The predecessor may be thirty years old, but it still holds up perfectly well today and actually manages to never date itself. In heading up this new incarnation, director John Moore (2001's "Behind Enemy Lines
") sticks so closely to the source material that he actually has retained original screenwriter David Seltzer (2002's "Dragonfly
") and a lot of the same scenes and dialogue. What is sorely missing this time is any sense of spontaneity and tension.
When his son dies during childbirth, young politician Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) accepts an unthinkable offer in order to spare wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) the grief in knowing she lost a child: adopt another newborn baby whose mother has just passed away and who has no next of kin and raise him as their own. Five years later, the couple's happy life in London, where Robert is now a U.S. ambassador, begins to unravel. After their nanny (Amy Huck) dramatically hangs herself at little Damien's (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) birthday party, strange events begin occurring that all seem to lead to their son. Monkeys and gorillas freak out when Katherine takes Damien to the zoo. Damien becomes erratic when they try to attend a church service. Robert is sought after by Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) and warned that his child isn't who he thinks he is. And Katherine is plagued by disturbing nightmares and suspicions that Damien is evil and out to harm her. As the death toll mounts, Robert is forced to put some value in Father Brennan's horrifying claim that Damien is the son of Satan himself.
"The Omen" is a by-the-numbers retread that only goes to show that magic can't always strike twicenot even when virtually the same script is used. Scene after scene plays out in precisely the same manner as moments from the original picture, with small differences (the nanny doesn't break through the window when she hangs herself from the roof of the house; the pack of devil dogs attack suddenly rather than chillingly round up their prey in the cemetery sequence; the memorable baboon car attack is clumsily replaced with a single gorilla angrily trying to break the glass of his observation cell, etc.). Each of these changes are consistently made for the worse, and only aid in lessening the chills and forcing the viewer to remember how much better the scenes played out in the first film.
The actors, with the possible exception of Julia Stiles (2003's "Mona Lisa Smile
") in a committed and emotionally draining performance as the put-upon Katherine Thorn, come off as pale substitutes for their earlier counterparts. As husband Robert, Liev Schreiber (2004's "The Manchurian Candidate
") is unusually stiff and lifeless, his work indisputably no match for what the late and great Gregory Peck did with the part. Additionally, Pete Postlethwaite (2005's "Dark Water
"), as Father Brennan, and David Thewlis (2004's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
"), as photographic journalist and Robert's eventual confidant Keith Jennings, aren't as well-defined and indelible as they were in the 1976 version.
By comparison, Mia Farrow (in a 180-degree turn from 1968's similar "Rosemary Baby") does put a fresh spin on the malevolent Mrs. Baylock, the Thorn's new nanny and secret Satanic protector of Damien. Whereas actress Billie Whitelaw played Mrs. Baylock as suspicious from the start, Farrow recasts her as a woman whose outwardly cheerful persona hides her dark intentions. It's an interesting take, but Whitelaw was more plausible. Finally, newcomer Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick fills the bill for being able to coldly squint his eyes real good and look threatening as Damien, but that is all the performance is: a series of strained facial expressions.
The lack of surprises in "The Omen" and the dumbed-down, more explanation-heavy treatment the story receives bury any chance for this woefully inferior update to have a valid individual voice. Viewed on its own and trying to forget the earlier film, the movie still doesn't work. The new dialogue feels clunky, overwrought and stilted, prompting the occasional unwanted bad laugh. The death scenes are by and large grander, but somehow lack the same haunting punch they once had. The uneven pacing is all over the placedeadly slow when it should be picking up steam and too fast when it should be taking a moment to breathe and build genuine intensity. The jump scares, scored to thundering soundtrack cues, are cheap, ineffective and scream of desperation on director John Moore's part. Attempts to add timely relevance to its subject of the end of the world, complete with stock footage of the burning World Trade Center and the tsunami in Asia, feel tacked-on and exploitative in the context of an otherwise thought-deprived horror tale. It all adds up to one pressing question: why? If "The Omen" had to be remadeand it didn'tit surely deserved more respect than what this distaff, unimaginative regurgitation pays it.