Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Gregory Peck, Lee
Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitlaw, Harvey Stephens
Director: Richard Donner
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 111 Minutes
Release Date: June 20, 2006
“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six (666).” – Revelation 13:18
Ah, who could ever forget Damien…cute little devil, wasn’t he?
Damien, of course, was the one whose birth marked the beginning of the end in the classic horror thriller The Omen. Built from the book of Revelation up, director Richard Donner took a premise of a couple, an adopted baby, and the ultimate showdown between good and evil and turned it into 20th Century Fox’s biggest moneymaker (at least until Star Wars came out a year later), and the top grossing film of 1976.
It starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as Robert and Katharine Thorn. As the film opens, the date is June 6 and it is 6 AM. We learn their new baby died in birth. Feeling the knowledge will crush his wife, Robert takes a most unusual offer from a priest at the hospital: substitute another just-born baby for his own. This baby’s mother had died the same time as Robert’s real son, and had no family. Is it an act of mercy, or a deal with the devil?
The happy couple take the boy Damien (Stephens) from Rome to London for Robert’s job. But strange and ominous occurrences begin to happen. Damien’s nanny dispatches herself with dramatic flair. A bizarre priest begins showing up around Robert spitting forth insane sounding accusations. A photographer (Warner) starts to see some ominous foreshadowing in the pictures he snaps. Animals react badly to Damien, apart from a few zealous Rotweilers. And he reacts just as badly to a church. And so on.
The truth is more than strange…it’s terrifying. For as Revelation predicted, just as God sent His Son into the world, so the devil would send his. And the arrival of this antichrist would bring about Armageddon.
There is some mystery at play in the film, but as ingrained as it is in our culture, I dare say, no surprises. Not anymore. Part of the original pleasure of the movie may have been the constant is-he-or-isn’t-he play in the audience’s minds. That doesn’t exist today…even if you’ve never seen the film, the fact that there were three sequels (including the made-for-TV one), you know from frame one what the outcome will be.
Donner’s decision to take a more realistic and less fantastic approach to the material probably served the picture well upon release, but in hindsight, knowing what everybody knows, the effort seems a little clinical and sterile. After all, the 70s gave rise to many classic horror films like The Exorcist, Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes and more. Donner deliberately tried to keep his movie just on the safe side of true horror. As such, it doesn’t quite deliver the punch and seems a bit weaker compared to other movies of the era.
But there are still strengths…most importantly to me, like The Exorcist, The Omen’s approach to theological conflict and the nature of good and evil is to take it quite seriously. Religion doesn’t equate to superstition in the film…it’s the fabric of knowledge and power that could unravel the mystery and prevent the implementation of the darkest prophecies ever recorded. If only the damned people involved would just wake up and smell the sulfur.
The pace is deliberate as to create suspense, but there are moments when we’re waiting for the next event to happen rather than anticipating it. Whenever there’s a death, Donner telegraphs it completely. The surprises come not so much in the arc of archetypical horror, but by the slow revelations (no pun intended) of the true nature of the beast (pun intended THIS time).
The film, as mentioned, raked in big bucks and paved the way for a trilogy of films, and like many franchises, The Omen eventually buckled under the weight of its own prestige. But now, of course, it’s come back in a new remake, unseen by me at this point. So…is the antichrist now among us? Does he walk the earth? What would Damien be doing for real right now to shake our foundations? War? Pestilence? Natural disasters? Making The Da Vinci Code?
No one can say for sure how the prophecies will really manifest themselves. But with The Omen, at least we have some ideas to think about. And there’s even a handy book available to expound on them.
Fox’s anamorphic transfer is pretty good considering the 30 year age of the film. It’s a bit faded here and there, with some muted colors, but still generally good detail and only a bit of noticeable grain here and there.
Likewise the audio…the 5.1 remix doesn’t bring out the dialogue and effects so much, but it services Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score very nicely.
This double disc collector’s set is loaded! Disc One boasts two commentary tracks featuring director Richard Donner…the first is with his editor Stuart Baird, the second is with filmmaker Brian Helgeland. Both are enjoyable and informative listens; Helgeland helps bring a bit of a fan’s perspective to the proceedings.
The first disc also contains four segments with Jerry Goldsmith discussing his score, a look at the supposed “curse” of The Omen films, and a trailer.
The second disc is brimming over, starting with two tremendous featurettes. “The Omen Revealed” is a solid look back at the experience of making the movie. “The Omen Legacy” is even better; a detailed look at the full franchise with plenty of clips from all the movies and narrated by Jack Palance.
There is a DVD introduction by Richard Donner, a deleted scene with commentary, a 20 minute appreciation of the film featuring horrormeister Wes Craven, a photo gallery, and a screenwriter’s notebook. Truly an extras package to beat the devil!
The Omen has grown from mere movie experience to an indelible part of modern culture. It became an instant classic, scaring up box office dollars while sending fans scurrying back to their Bibles and churches to learn more. This loaded collector’s edition from Fox is a great way to relive the experience…or to indulge for the first time.