Examining Hollywood Remakes: The Omen

If you’ve seen the original version of The Omen (1976) and then you watch the remake from 2006, you have to ask “Why did they even bother?” The remake was barely even a remake. It was a shot-for-shot, scene -for-scene copy of the original. Released on the 30th anniversary of the original, it offered absolutely nothing new, except a more modern cast and some mediocre CGI effects. Other than that, this is a completely unnecessary, gratuitous photo-copy of the first version.

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About this film Rolling Stone Magazine wrote, “Not since Gus Van Sant inexplicably directed a shot by shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho has a thriller been copied with so little point or impact”. Recently, we did a dissection of the Van Sant remake of Psycho which was a similar situation to the Omen remake, being a beat-for-beat, word-for-word remake of the original. We discussed Van Sant’s belief that you could remake a movie exactly as it was first done but it would be a totally different, unique film. Maybe this was the same thought process that persuaded Omen director John Moore to duplicate the original version, down to the last shot.

John Moore is a competent filmmaker whose biggest claim to fame is A Good Day to Die Hard. The original version was directed by Richard Donner, who began the superhero film genre when he helmed Superman: The Movie (1978) as well as directing all four of the Mel Gibson Lethal Weapon films. Donner created a creepy, moody, atmospheric supernatural thriller, while Moore’s 2006 version is so lacking in imagination or creativity it justifiably stands at 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. (The 1976 original scores 86%).

To illustrate just how much of a blatant copy the remake is, here’s an interesting fact. Writer Dan McDermott worked on the remake and when the powers-that-be  read the script, they realized that there was so little difference between the two scripts that they gave the writer of the original film, David Seltzer, a screenwriting credit for the remake, even though he didn’t actually write it.

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The plot of the remake (which is identical to the original) is as follows: A Vatican observatory priest sees a comet, and informs the Church, who deduce that the comet confirms the beginning of the End-of-Days Armageddon. Meanwhile, the US President’s godson Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is informed by Father Spiletto (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) that his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) has just lost her baby, and due to health problems with her uterus, she cannot have another child. Spiletto suggests that Robert substitute another newly born baby (whose mother died in child birth) for his son. Robert accepts the child and gives him the name of Damien. Robert is soon promoted to Ambassador for London after a tragic accident eliminates the old Ambassador.

When Damien’s nanny commits a dramatic suicide at Damian’s birthday party, an odd replacement named Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow) comes to live with the Thorn family. As the years pass, momma Katherine realizes that her little Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is pure evil, while Robert is contacted by Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite), who tells him that Damien is the son of devil. When the priest dies in a bizarre accident, photographer Keith Jennings (David Thewlis) shows Robert evidence that his boy is actually the Antichrist. They travel to the town of Megiddo to learn from a man named Bugenhagen (Michael Gamon) how the demonic boy can be stopped. Robert is still reluctant until his wife is killed by Damien and Robert finally decides to use the methods he learned from Bugenhagen to kill the child, however the police arrive to shoot Robert dead. The final scene sees Damien now placed into the custody of his Godfather, the President of the United States. Damien smiles an evil smile at the camera as the movie fades out.

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The two differences between the films are the cast and the SFX. While the cast of the remake are talented people, they don’t measure up to the original actors. The first Omen starred the legendary Gregory Peck, one of the greatest actors in cinema history. Nothing against Liev Schreiber, who’s a fine actor, but he just isn’t in the same league as Peck, who starred in classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, Roman Holiday, Spellbound, Gentlemen’s Agreement, the Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear and so many others. He’s a five-time Best Actor nominee. Sorry Liev but there’s only one Greg Peck. The original also had Lee Remick as Katherine, David Warner as Jennings, Leo McKern as Bugenhagen and former Doctor Who star Patrick Troughton as Father Brennan. The most interesting bits of casting in the remake are Mia Farrow, who once starred in another film about the Antichrist called Rosemary’s Baby, and Harvey Stephens, who played young Damien in the original, has cameo here as a reporter.

The other difference between the two is the FX. The original was done with make-up and props, but very few special effects. The remake utilizes modern CGI—as when Father Brenan is impaled by a falling pole—but the visuals are rather mediocre. Surprisingly, the simpler visuals of the old one work better than the unimpressive CGI of the newer one.

This film doesn’t receive as much hostility and venom as the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho. That’s probably due to the fact that Psycho is revered as one of the great films of all time, so people were incensed at the disappointing effort. The Omen doesn’t have the status of Psycho so people weren’t as angry when this unimaginative retread was churned out. Regardless of that, it’s equally lazy filmmaking.

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Perhaps part of the reason that so little time or creativity was spent on this movie was because it was rushed out to meet the June 6, 2006—or 666—date. The studio wanted to tie in the religious connotations of the date with a film about the Antichrist. The 666 date was utilized heavily in the promotional materials. This did not help the final product. This movie is the equivalent of slapping a coat of paint on an old house and trying to pass it off as a newly built home. It’s the same movie with a cast transplant. So avoid imitations…Watch the 1976 Donner/Peck version.

That’s all for this week’s look at cinematic remakes. We’ll be back to dissect another one next week. In the meantime, check out our previous articles Examining Hollywood Remakes.