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20th Century Fox presents
DVD ReviewIt's one thing to remake gritty, vintage screamers like The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—where the blood and gore output gets ratcheted up amid fast cuts and tight editing—and often those films are viewed alternatingly as sacrilege or entertainment—depending on your mindset. The remakes can be fun in their own right, but I'm one of those wackos who think the only way to pull any appreciation out of the new is to have seen the original. The sad truth is that many younger movie fans will only know the remake, and sometimes all of those glossy reimaginings just don't have the same long term bite as the originals they borrow from.
And here we get John Moore—a man who also handled The Flight of the Phoenix remake—taking on Richard Donner's 1976 classic about the arrival of The Antichrist. For fans of the original, there was probably some natural hesitation to Moore's version, because Donner's The Omen has held up so well over the years. Plus, in this era of slightly overdone, effects-heavy remakes there was a concern (at least on my part) that Moore would somehow trample on the simplicity of the original David Seltzer screenplay in favor of hollow jump scares and quick cuts.
It's really a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" and to Moore's credit he doesn't veer off the familiar path very much at all. And for a fan of Donner's film, I am thankful for that, though I'm sure there are just as many detractors would like to pistol whip Moore for not reimagining things more. But I think they might be missing the point of keeping it simple.
Taking on the Gregory Peck/Lee Remick roles are Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles as the well-connected couple who find themselves inadvertently raising the Antichrist, in the eventual form of brooding six-year-old Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). All of the expected bits of demonic creepy stuff from the original are here—such as the trademark impaling and beheading—as well David Thewlis wonderfully taking on the David Warner role as the photographer who ends up helping Schreiber's Robert Thorn come to terms with his familial fate and a nudge-nudge-wink-wink villainous performance from Mia Farrow (Rosemary's Baby) as the very protective nanny Mrs. Baylock.
Schreiber is typically quiet and intense, but of course has the unenviable and near impossible task of trying to fill Peck's shoes, a genuine challenge in its own right. Stiles, however, really steps up here, and gives the role of an emotionally confused mother a more three-dimensional feel than Remick did with the part, and her eventual post-post-post-partum depression is played well, without being shrill or overwrought. They actually seem more like a believable, real couple than Peck and Remick, and the way Stiles dips low as the film progresses really gives her character some weight and substance. I'm not talking Oscar-worthy by any means, just a very watchable performance where the actress does more nonverbally to express her grief than she does with dialogue. And that's where Moore is able to build off of, along with strong supporting turns from Thewlis, Farrow and Pete Postlewaite, who plays the ill-fated, prophecy-spouting priest.
The signature Omen moments are all here—along with a couple of new variations and tweaks—and aside from a couple of well-executed dream sequence jump scares, Moore offers up more of an homage than a reworking. The story itself is compelling, and the treatment here is about setting a dark, eerie, dread-filled mood, done without the kind of gooey effects excess that conceptually taints most horror remakes. There's no revisionist upbeat ending, no "let's set the story 200 years in the future", no "let's make Damien a girl" kind of marketing hoohah to get in the way. Purists—and I was one of them, at first—might argue the purpose of whether this needed to be made or not. I happen to hold Donner's original in very high regard, and I was pleased that Moore didn't feel it necessary to defile the whole experience.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Fox has issued an advance screener copy with substandard video quality, so in all honesty I can't comment on how well this will compare to the final street version. The screener print is no great shakes, with the transfer looking a bit grainy, with heavy shimmer and ringing, though colors and fleshtones are generally carried with an even, well-rendered palette.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: An effective and aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track makes good use of the film's rather complex sound design, and the score elements come through on cue to deliver some unavoidable jumps easily. A very solid .LFE track delivers some especially deep rumbles, making the experience here very enjoyable. Not gratuitously overmixed, but a nicely done presentation.
Spanish and French 2.0 dubs are also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Behind Enemy Lines 2, The Hills Have Eyes, X-Men: The Last Stand, Night Watch, The Omen: Collector's Edition
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Moore, Glenn Williamson, Dan Zimmerman
Extras Review: Extras kick off with a commentary from director John Moore, producer Glenn Williamson and editor Dan Zimmerman. Sure, some of the comments are a little over fluffy ("Pete Postlewaite is a force of nature!"), but the bulk of the material touches on the challenges of shooting in Prague and what Moore refers to as the "cracking story". Perhaps a little too much in describing what the characters are really saying, there is discussion of the use of the color red, an accidental Manchurian Candidate moment, 666 wallpaper, subtle matte work and a scene between Julia Stiles and young Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick that was shot in both Prague and Dublin. The rapport between the three is pleasant, and even while the content isn't always particularly deep, the track is generally listenable, more so during the bigger dramatic moments.
Other extras include Omenisms (37m:18s), a series of behind-the-scenes setups, interviews and director Moore exclaiming that there were "too many beyond normal film f***ups" during the shoot, with things like ruined negatives, etc. There's talk of shooting in Prague, Moore getting stressed out in various forms, Mia Farrow explaining the odd karma of an actor's life and even a few comments from original Damien Harvey Stephens (who also has a small cameo in this remake).
The Abbey Road Sessions (10m:16s) looks at the work of composer Marco Beltrami, and the subsequent recording of the score at the historic studio. It's interesting to see Beltrami walk through the variations of the main theme, and perhaps even stranger to see the very ordinary looking vocalists recording the ominous, menacing choir passages. Revelations 666 (22m:05s) is one of the pseudo-docs that purports to look at the history of the whole end of days things, but ends as a semi-promotional piece for the film, with Moore once again talking about the ruined footage and other weird things.
There are also three deleted/extended scenes (07m:07s), one of which is actually a slightly more violent alternate ending. Likewise with the two deleted bits, which are essentially gorier takes of the impaling and beheading sequences.
Things wrap with a small batch of trailers, with the disc cut into 24 chapters, available with optional English or Spanish subtitles.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsAs much as I generally question the need for horror remakes, John Moore's The Omen overcomes the challenge of being able to stand in the tall shadow of the original. Not the gory, fast-edit nightmare I was anticipating (as so many remakes feel obliged to do), and Moore stays very faithful in the storytelling. And that's good.
I enjoy the fundamental concepts of the story, and I have to step back a little to look at Moore's film not necessarily as a remake, but as a standalone. It's all mood, dark and stylish from start to finish, with a strong set of performances, especially from Farrow, Stiles, and Thewlis.
Yes, I know it's a remake. A remake to a film that I didn't personally feel needed to be remade, but it holds true where it needs to. Highly recommended.
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