Remaking the original with only modest updates and augmentation, “The Omen” poses an intriguing question: Will a movie that scared the bejeezus out of moviegoers 30 years ago pack the necessary wallop and carnage to satisfy fans of blood-soaked modern horror? The answer is a qualified yes, if only because the premise of the Devil’s child loosed upon the Earth remains so inherently spooky, feeding the modern fascination with conspiracies and apocalyptic threats. Cleverly unleashing the film on 6/6/06 (a Tuesday? Why not), Fox should attract those yet-to-be born for the earlier version, while fostering curiosity among those who were.
David Seltzer, who authored the 1976 movie, receives script credit, as well he should given the mostly cosmetic (and in some ways beneficial) changes — including fleeting references to recent events, such as the 2004 tsunami and even Sept. 11, as signs of Armageddon.
The other major switch, less successful, involves going considerably younger with the leads, casting Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles (wasn’t she doing teen roles, like, two years ago?) as the couple that unwittingly becomes guardians of the Anti-Christ, played by cherub-faced newcomer Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick.
Pic labors a bit to explain how Robert Thorn (Schreiber), godson of the president, becomes the youngest-ever ambassador to England. From then on, though, director John Moore delivers what’s close to a shot-for-shot remake, with some savvy casting of supporting roles, including Mia Farrow (in an homage to “Rosemary’s Baby”) as Damien’s satanic governess.
Once again, Thorn agrees to take in an orphaned baby as a replacement for his own stillborn child. As the tyke grows, however, clues that something is different about him drip out slowly if not particularly subtly, and it’s mother Katherine (Stiles) who gradually recognizes them — animals acting up at the zoo, a nanny committing suicide, the kid throwing a hissy fit at the prospect of going into a church.
Eventually, Robert must also grapple with the truth, albeit after prodding by a mysterious priest (Pete Postlethwaite) who warns of an end-of-the-world scenario, and help from a photographer (David Thewlis) who begins to put the pieces together.
Moore (whose last film was another remake, “Flight of the Phoenix”) has a reputation for visual flair, which he introduces through eerie dream sequences, but in the main, he adheres closely to Seltzer and director Richard Donner’s template, from the prevailing sense of dread to the atmosphere of general gloom, interrupted by well spaced and effective bursts of gore.
That said, pic is deficient on a few levels. Shot principally in Prague theoretically to keep costs down, the production in places betrays a low-budget look. Also, the final act lacks the pacing, punch and suspense of the original — or maybe they just don’t breed Rottweilers like they used so. And while Marco Beltrami has delivered an evocative score, a snippet of the late Jerry Goldsmith’s masterpiece “Ave Satani” over the closing credits stirs a hunger for more.
Despite seeming too young, Stiles and Schreiber go through the paces gamely enough, with Schreiber — if lacking the gravitas Gregory Peck brought to the proceedings — still left wrestling with the daunting chore of thwarting biblical prophecy through the ritual murder of a little boy.
Of course, the first “Omen” spawned a pair of highly forgettable sequels, raising questions as to where a revived franchise might go. Then again, if Fox execs must confront the high-class problem of deciding what do for an encore, rest assured that it will be the audience, not the Devil, that makes them do it.