My intent over the next few weeks – – God willing and the creek don’t rise – – is to do a comparison between original films and their remakes. I can’t exactly explain why I decided to start with this movie as my first. I think I was just in a “horror film frame of mind” for whatever reason. Or maybe, it is because the original version is one of my favorite horror films of all time. I’m talking about the thriller, “The Omen” which was originally released in 1976 and remade this past year.
The remake of this film was released on of all days the 6th day of the 6th month of 2006. Get it: 666. Yes, I thought it was a bit hokey as well. However, it proved to be a successful hook for the movie because audiences did go to see it. However, it opened to mixed reviews. Many critics didn’t care for it, because the film failed to rewrite the original story; choosing instead to stay true to the original screenplay. Other critics didn’t like it because they felt the original film stood on its own and didn’t require a remake. However, a few critics also thought the remake had its own scary moments, making it worth seeing. While it is unlikely the remake will go down in history as one of the great horror films, I believe it did, indeed, have its moments.
The original Omen was briskly paced and riveting with some thoroughly scary moments without taking on all the blood and gore that seems to be part and parcel of today’s horror genre. The film starred Gregory Peck as Robert Thorn, the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. Lee Remick played his charming wife, Kathy. The movie opens at the hospital where Thorn is told that his son was stillborn and that his wife most likely cannot have more children. Knowing how much his wife wanted the child, Thorn is crushed. The priest at the hospital tells the ambassador that he might have a solution. At the same time Thorn’s son was stillborn, another boy’s mother died in childbirth. He suggests that the ambassador present that child to Kathy as her own. It seems to be a good solution and Thorn quickly agrees. Everything goes well for the first five years of the boy’s life. However, things begin to unravel when Damien turns five. At his birthday party, his nanny stages a dramatic suicide declaring “It’s all for you, Damien.” Soon after, a priest who gives Thorn an ominous warning about his son is killed in a freak accident. That unfortunately is just the beginning. As the death toll mounts, it becomes clear that there is something seriously wrong.
The strength of the original film was in the performances of Peck and Remick as well as the masterful direction of Richard Donner. Peck was perfect in the role of Robert Thorn. It was easy to believe he was a great politician as well as a devoted family man; two key pieces to the story. Remick was luminous and utterly charming as the film opened, changing into a depressed, sullen, lost, and totally terrified woman as the movie progressed. Donner managed to create the most chilling moments of fright from the most innocuous situations. The scene where the Thorns attempt to take Damien to a church is magnetic to watch. Jerry Goldsmith also added a great deal to the film with some creepy music.
John Moore’s remake of the ’76 horror classic certainly increased the quality of production value. But it basically remained true to the original story. Liev Schreiber was cast in the role of Thorn. He was credible, bringing much of the same kind of intensity originally shown by Peck. Sadly, however, Julia Stiles was not able to match the performance of Remick in the role of Kathy. Some actresses have a “presence” on screen that draws the audience into the movie. Remick had it but Stiles simply did not, at least in this film. I remain uncertain of the performance of Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien. I thought this child actor’s take on a couple of scenes was right on the mark. However, overall, I’m not sure he had the same spooky quality about him that the original Damien (played by Harvey Stephens) brought to the role.
Like with the original, the real action in this story begins when Kate starts to notice odd things about her child, such as the way other children don’t want to play with him, his strange provocation of animals, and his increasingly pronounced withdrawal from her. However, by the time she actually decides there might be something to fear, it may already be too late. This leaves her husband with the task of figuring out the mystery that is Damien. He ultimately embarks on a journey that takes him back to Italy and eventually to Jerusalem where he uncovers a truth he would rather not recognize.
What I liked best about the 2006 version of this movie is exactly what most critics hated: The choice not to drastically rewrite the screenplay. If something isn’t broke, I don’t see a need to fix it. The original screenplay was outstanding. Why change it? Of course, one could ask, “Then why remake the movie at all?” The truth is, this is a film that was made right the first time. It really didn’t need to be remade. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t enjoy the newer movie. I loved it almost as much as the original, albeit for different reasons. As I said, the original film’s strength lay with its performers and the director. The strength of the remake lay with some of the performances, notably Scheiber’s and that of Mia Farrow as the boy’s protector, as well as with the movie’s cinematography and set design. The scenes in the country and at the graveyard were breath taking and the inside scenes of the Thorn home were spectacular.
20th Century Fox made both versions of the movie. David Seltzer wrote the original screenplay and the film was directed by Richard Donner. It was 111 minutes in length and it carried an R rating for violence. John Moore directed the remake with changes to the script being made by screenwriter Dan McDermott. It was 115 minutes in length and also carried an R rating for violence.
I give the original Omen four out of five stars. At the time it was a ground breaking apocalyptic masterpiece with outstanding performances by two of Hollywood’s brightest stars of that era. I give the remake Omen three out of five stars, predominantly for the improvements in cinema photography and set design and the strength of Scheiber’s performance alone.
Note: If you have favorite movies that have been remade and would like to have them reviewed, leave me a comment or drop me a line. I’m open to all suggestions and ideas.