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Movie Review: "The Omen"

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Movie Review: "The Omen"

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disgruntled
Bobby's pick-up hockey game was cancelled last night because it's been hot in Maryland and the rink was literally turning to mush. So he emailed me yesterday morning to see if I wanted to go out to the movies instead.

We saw The Omen, on opening night, on the nefarious 6-6-06. *cue spooky noises* Our Snowden Square theater was the most crowded that I've ever seen it--and since we pick Snowden Square because it's not crowded with giggly teenybops, unlike AMC Columbia--and this is not a good thing.

Before I begin to rant review the movie: To all teenybops who might be reading this post: Relentless giggling at every "scary" scene in a movie is annoying. And it only tells us that you're really afraid of the campy horror but are afraid that by not laughing, you will show it. So please don't giggle. You are giving yourselves away and annoying everyone else. Thank you.

For those of you who do not know, the movie is a remake of the 1976 original where the son of Satan is born onto earth. Hilarity Chaos ensues. The 2006 Omen involved religious cover-ups and prophesies alike, as well as lots of simpering glowers from Damien and big, nasty dogs jumping out at inopportune moments. /summary

My biggest problem with this movie--along with many others of its genre, to be fair--is the continued reliance on jump-out-and-go-boo tactics to scare the audience. I can't help but to regard this as a form of cheating. The startle reflex results naturally in the release of adrenaline. The heart beats faster, respiration speeds up, digestion and other functions unrelated to immediate survival slow down (this includes sexual arousal, for you pervs folks wondering about that), and the body prepares to either face down a foe or run like hell. Naturally, when a true threat does not reveal itself, these reactions dissipate, but they linger long enough to create that nervous, "on-edge" feeling that is part of the point of seeing a horror movie. But to use almost solely a split-second biological reflex in order to create the kind of response that should be a product of psychology and atmosphere, to me, as a writer of horror and connoisseur of horror stories and movies, is cheating. Anyone can do that. I can sneak up behind my boss and pop a paper bag behind his head, but that does not make me a horror artist. It makes me a prankster and--if I am asking him to pay for that "thrill"--maybe a shyster too.

The Omen was almost completely devoid of the psychological horror or frightening atmosphere that makes a good horror movie. And if this was a highly experimental project--trying to create a horror movie around the notion of carniverous orchids attaching themselves to the brooches of old ladies worldwide, for instance--I could excuse it for maybe trying but failing. But this is about the son of Satan, for Eru's sake! It doesn't take much--in our world saturated with religion and Armageddon and conspiracy, from millenium fears to The DaVinci Code--to make people stop and wonder: "What if the son of Satan was born to mortal woman?" (as many believe the son of God was born in Jesus Christ) or "What if the prophesies detailed in the movie--armies rising up on either shore, et cetera, et cetera--really did happen?" Because, I find, the mark of a good horror movie isn't how many times it makes you jump in your seat or how much blood it can splatter in short time but that it makes you think; it makes you ponder possibilities that--walking into the theatre two hours earlier--you would have dismissed as absurd.

Walking into the theatre, as an agnostic and a skeptic, I dismissed the notion of a "son of Satan" as absurd. Walking out of the theatre, it seemed just as absurb, maybe more so.

The Omen doesn't make much of a case, in my opinion, for the prophesies around which it is based. The prophesies supposedly begin with a series of events heralding the birth of Satan's child, and the movie twists current events to fit the Biblical depictions: Mountains falling is the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11; fire coming from the sky was the explosion of the shuttle Columbia upon re-entry; waters rising and killing thousands was, of course, the Christmas tsunami of 2004. But one could choose any time in history and find landmark events that could be loosely interpretted--as these were--to fit the prophesies. Wars have raged, earthquakes have shattered the earth, tsunamis have drowned entire cities for the whole of human civilization. Just because events like 9/11 and Columbia feel very pertinent in our current context, consider how they will be viewed one hundred, two hundred, five hundred years from now. They will not carry the same weight and importance as now because that is attached by us, as survivors and observers of those events, rather than by the events themselves. Just as most of us recognize the magnitude of events like the stock market crash of 1929, it does not carry the significance for me as it did for my grandparents. They might see it as mountains crumbling; I see it as an event in history. It did not change my life in any obvious way.

Consider also that technology has made it possible to share and relive such events to an unhealthy extreme. Two hundred years ago, the tsunami in Indonesia would have gone unnoticed by most of the world. But television and Internet give us immediate access to news happening thousands of miles away, and transportation has brought such tragedies closer to home when Americans and Europeans (i.e. people we find related more closely to ourselves) become victims in events that--two hundred years ago--would have involved just "natives." And so earthquakes and tsunamis have been happening all throughout time--heck, small meteorites have even crashed into the earth!--but now it's just easier to hear about it. And so easier to insert a routine natural event into the prophesy du jour.

Furthermore, I was not convinced that "rising from the sea" was an adequate, fool-proof way of saying that the child of Satan will come from a political family. If you want to talk about overused metaphors and symbols, let's talk about the sea. It signifies permanence and change, wrath and tranquility, survival and destruction. To say that the sea is widely understood as meaning "politics"...well, I could just as easily say that the sea is widely understood as meaning love, prosperity, justice, rage--nearly anything. I could compare marriage to the sea...so the child of Satan will come from a marriage? Or maybe divorce is the sea, so he will be a child of divorce? Or abuse? Or maybe he just comes from a fishing family.

Dealing with Satan in a story is problematic in itself...or maybe opportunistic, depending on how a writer chooses to handle it. Satan is black-and-white, unequivocal evil (if such a thing exists). And this movie is black-and-white and unequivocal, with Good and Evil and nothing occupying the no-man's land in between.

The frustrating part about it is that it didn't need to be that way. Yes, the movie is based on the notion that Damien is the son of Satan, but the movie is not about Damien so much as it is about the people around him and how they react to the idea that he is the son of Satan. I don't see this as unequivocal at all. It seems to me that if I was being told that a child that I had raised as my own for five years was the son of Satan, that I was beginning to see proof of this myself, then my reactions and emotions would be anything but black and white. We do get a bit of waffling from Robert (Liev Schreibner) about whether or not he wants to kill the boy he's raised as his son...if you consider a one-minute escapade where he runs from the room and tosses the ceremonial knives down an alleyway to be "waffling." After that, it's pretty unequivocal.

Indeed, I told Bobby that the best character in the movie does little more but flit about in the background: The cursed photograph Jennings (David Thewlis, the man who brought you Professor Lupin in Harry Potter), when confronted by Robert with the accusation, "You would kill a child to save your own life?" kind of stares at Robert with wide-eyed disbelief like "Need you even ask?" After that, there is Good and there is Evil. There is never any doubt, never (really) any question that Damien is the devil's son and so must die. If you believe that Damien is evil, then you are Good. If you love Damien, then you are Evil. What an opportunity to create a truly complex, shades-of-gray story! What a way to get the audience rallying behind the murder of a child...only to cast doubt as to whether that child is really what the prophesy says he is. What, then, does that say about us, the advocators? I think of movies like Paradise Now and Downfall that I have seen this year, where--at a certain point--I realized that I was rallying for or at least empathizing with the "wrong" side...and then I think of The Omen and the opportunity that the movie had to do the same and didn't. And I can't help but feel that that was a tremendous waste.

A few other brief points that the writers/director of The Omen should take into consideration:
  • The son of Satan should at least be a little scary. Of course, this is a problem with actors so young, but I couldn't bring myself to be frightened of a green-eyed, chub-cheeked little boy who rather resembled a childhood version my character meryth being told that no, he could not have another piece of sugar candy.


  • Prophesies in themselves introduce a problem to plotlines: They kinda sorta give them away. When we're being told from the get-go what is happening in a movie, if we are to make it a plot-based movie (as The Omen undeniably is), then we should consider conjuring a very creative way to get from where we begin to inevitability. Or we should consider making the movie character-based and putting the cellophane plot in the background altogether.


  • I'm not one to question and ponder specific plot points, but I work in law enforcement, and I question the ability of a police department to amass a fully geared-up SWAT team and get them to a specific location over the space of no more than a few minutes. Of course, as Bobby pointed out, the writers had the trouble that the story is set in London, and British police do not carry guns as American police do. (Because I advocated for an overweight, disgruntled beat-cop with a doughnut in one hand and a Beretta in the other to fire the fatal shot, thus making himself a hero for saving the life of a child from a ceremonial knife-weilding maniac...or is he? Apparently, though, British cops may keep the doughnut but not the Beretta. Pity.) Still, one thing that will ruin a storyline every time is for a viewer/reader to scoff and say, "That's not possible." After a whole movie-worth of such scoffing, such an egregious impossibility rather--as they say--put the final nail in the coffin for me.


  • If you are going to kill off a guy's wife, at least have him a little sad about it. I mean, come on, Russell Crowe set the standard with some pretty believable grief-induced snot in Gladiator; I really think that's the least an actor can do these days.


  • And, lastly, if a writer is to choose a name like "Catherine" for his protagonist--i.e. a name that can be fractured into many monikers--then he should settle on no more than two versions of the name to be used. Kate, Cathy, and Catherine all in the same movie is annoying...and confusing. And pointless too.


My conclusion: Stay home for The Omen. Maybe rent the original, but certainly save your seven or eight bucks for cost of admission and maybe send into the fund that I am henceforth starting to teach writing basics to Hollywood screenwriters. That said, I am forced to give this movie a dismal one Keebler E.L. Fudge Elves Exist cookie out of four.
  • I've seen the original Omen, and I have to say that Gregory Peck carried that movie. It was fun, of course, but. . . maybe I should have seen it before I read Good Omens.

    It does irritate me when moviemakers forget even the simplest details. The one that makes me go arrgh! most of all is Farinelli. This is a fairly sensational biopic about the world's most famous singer, and it bears about as much resemblance to reality as. . . as. . . oh, Amadeus bears to the real Mozart. But Amadeus at least takes its music seriously. The producers of Farinelli bragged long and hard about the incredible! amazing! digital! morphing that they'd done to achieve the effect of Farinelli's singing voice. . . while doing absolutely bupkis to alter the actor's speaking voice. You know. . . the bit that would prove that Farinelli wasn't just some freakishly well-trained countertenor?
    • I saw the original Omen a while ago (I don't really remember it all that well) and I don't remember it being as egregiously bad as this Omen. Of course, my standards were also much lower. I figure this to be around the time that I saw Anaconda and thought, "OMG! What a good movie!" o.O

      Horror movies are famous for detail-based boo-boos. My favorite is still the one that had a paramedic's assistant peek into her science kit microscope and declare, "OMG! There's the blood of at least three people in this sample! And it's a year old!" I was a bit ticked because my science kit microscope never did DNA testing.

      Half the fun of the really baaad horror flicks for me is finding the boo-boos and railing to my poor husband about the egregiousness of writers unwilling to do even basic research. (And Bobby has endured way too many hours of movie-induced ranting from me, poor man!)
      • If Bobby needs a break, he can come and watch music-based movies with me for a while. . .

        It's been a while since I've seen the original Omen, but I remember thinking it was definitely of middling quality. My gold standard for horror movies is still Brian DePalma's Carrie.
        • Oh! I've picked it up at Blockbuster but never seen it! *adds to list of movies to watch*
          • You've never seen Carrie?!?!

            Wow. You are in for such a treat. It's a beautiful, lyrical, heartbreaking film. And a masterpiece of horror.
    • Good point about Farinelli---though I do love that film.
      • The depiction of Farinelli's rock-star-like life was certainly fun, and the singing was fantastic (if digital). I should watch it again.
  • I think of movies like Paradise Now and Downfall that I have seen this year, where--at a certain point--I realized that I was rallying for or at least empathizing with the "wrong" side...and then I think of The Omen and the opportunity that the movie had to do the same and didn't. And I can't help but feel that that was a tremendous waste.

    You know, the one thing I find really intruiging about movies is the fact how much they are able to manipulate the viewer. If you've ever seen A Beautiful Mind you will know what I'm talking about. It's always my prime example for movies that succeed in turning your brain inside out. That said, I do not expect every movie to go to extremes like that. But I think it's a pity when movies don't make use of this possibility at all. So many I've seen recently didn't make me feel one bit for the main character. Especially the stuff out of Hollywood. I do not know if it's really the movies that get worse or if it's me getting more critical the more I lean about the mechanics of movie making?

    Maybe rent the original, but certainly save your seven or eight bucks for cost of admission and maybe send into the fund that I am henceforth starting to teach writing basics to Hollywood screenwriters.

    Haha, I'd certainly join you in your mission without further hesitation. :)

    Oh, and talking about recent movies; Flight 93 is supposed to be excellent but I'm really debating with myself whether I want to see it. I fear it's a bit too early for a 9/11 movie for me knowing how I fought with a major lump in my throat for the biggest part of Munich...
    • Oh, yes, I've seen A Beautiful Mind! I remember that Teh Hubby and I went and saw three goodies right in a row: A Beautiful Mind, Minority Report, and...*drumroll* LotR! :^D

      And as a psych geek, ABM is required. My only criticism is that visual hallucinations are not a symptom of schizophrenia but more typical of substance abuse. Schizophrenia involves auditory and tactile hallucinations. So the imaginary friend on which the story hinges... *nixes* :^/

      I didn't see Flight 93 for the same reason as you: It's just too soon for me. It felt rather unpalatable to think that--knowing how long it takes to get a movie together--there was probably a screenwriter rubbing his hands together on the night after the attack, saying, "There's a story in this!" That's probably not nice or fair, but it was the feeling that I got when a 9/11 movie popped up less than five years after 9/11.

      On a related note, one of the best creative nonfiction pieces I've ever read was an account of 9/11 by an ordinary accountant-type who escaped the Towers that day. That story makes me cry to just think about it; it's such a simple piece--just a moment-by-moment account--but that is what I loved so much about it: that it wasn't trying to dress up the tragedy with philosophy and metaphor. Okie, I'll stop rambling now. ;)
    • On a related note, one of the best creative nonfiction pieces I've ever read was an account of 9/11 by an ordinary accountant-type who escaped the Towers that day.

      Is that story online? I'd like to read it.

      I echo what you have both said about Flight 93 (and there is also a World Trade Center movie being advertised, though I don't know when it comes out). I still catch myself watching hours and hours of documentaries about 9/11, reliving the moments and becoming really emotional every time. The idea of dramatising this--and so soon--just escapes me right now (as curious as I am to see Flight 93).

      I wonder if I will ever get to the point where I don't see it as some opportunist profiting off of tragedy. Do you think those who lived during the Holocaust said that about Schindler's List, decades removed from the experience?

      And oh btw Dawn... some British cops do carry guns, especially the special forces. Just last week they raided a house and someone was shot in the process. Even Heathrow airport police carry assault rifles (seriously).
      • Is that story online? I'd like to read it.

        I don't know, as I do not recall the author and the title is something bland that I have also forgotten. :^P I have it in (I believe) the 2001 Year's Best Essays. If I can't find it online to give you a link, then you can borrow the anthology next time that you come over. There are so wonderful creative nonfiction pieces in there aside from the 9/11 essay, so maybe you should borrow it anyway. :^P

        I wonder if I will ever get to the point where I don't see it as some opportunist profiting off of tragedy. Do you think those who lived during the Holocaust said that about Schindler's List, decades removed from the experience?

        I thought the same way, then felt kind of bad because it wasn't a highly sensationalized movie, i.e. with big-name actors and gratuitous action scenes...but I found it strange that every preview or interview that I saw about the movie, the creators of it seemed apt to throw up their hands right away and say, "This is approved by the victims' families! And we used actual participants in the actual events (air traffic controllers et al) in the cast! So this isn't a glob of Hollywood crap, really!"

        But does that really change the fact that bare years--maybe less--after 9/11, someone was busily devising this project with sole intentions of making money? Knowing that emotions are still high on 9/11, the film would automatically generate publicity and also an audience, something that they would normally have to pay heavily for and compete with other movies released at the same time?

        I saw few adverts for the movie; it's reputation rather preceded it. :^/

        Bobby and I were talking about it, and we both said, "It's just too soon." He brought up the point that movies about Vietnam have only recently begun being made. A movie like Saving Private Ryan, also, waited the better part of a century.

        Movies like that (and Schindler's List) seem to me to come with the purpose of bringing past events alive for a generation that did not survive them, to bring them beyond words in a history textbook. A movie like Flight 93 does not do that; we all lived it; we all know what happened. For all the creators' buzz about "glorifying heroes" and "educating the public," I wonder if those people really need glorifying or if we really needed educating. Seems to me more like an easy way to make money under the guise of a noble cause.

        And oh btw Dawn... some British cops do carry guns, especially the special forces.

        I know. :) I was referencing beat-cops, who--as far as I know--do not in the UK but certainly do in the US.

        Incidentally, in the movie, Robert Thorn was killed by British special forces packing a whole lot more than your usual Beretta. (Which is what the warrant officers and most Maryland cops carry.)
      • I still catch myself watching hours and hours of documentaries about 9/11, reliving the moments and becoming really emotional every time.

        I know what you mean. I remember one documentary about the guy who cleaned the windows of the WTC that was shot shortly before 9/11. They had a re-run of it some weeks after and I hardly could control myself when he began talking about how he's got the best job in the world. He died that day, as far as I remember correctly. :-/

        I wonder if I will ever get to the point where I don't see it as some opportunist profiting off of tragedy. Do you think those who lived during the Holocaust said that about Schindler's List, decades removed from the experience?

        I've been wondering about that, too. How much time must pass before it's okay to put events like that into a media that's - for the biggest part - supposed to entertain people? Or is it ever? I don't even want to belittle movies like Schindler's List for their effort, but it's some kind of dilemma nonetheless.
        • It certainly is. :) Especially in an industry that can make as much money as the movie industry! I know that it is unfair to filmmakers, but I sometimes can't help but feel that writing is a purer art than movie-making. I know that's wrong and silly. WTF is a "purer" art anyway? And there are certainly writers out there who have captured a following and churn out the same formulaic story with different characters and slightly different settings for twenty books...but most writers--even acclaimed writers--don't stand a chance of making the kinds of money that even an average Hollywood movie can gross.

          I'm kind of getting off-topic. ;) The point where I'm trying to get is that the stories about 9/11 that I read somehow feel purer and cathartic to me, whereas the movie feels like...profiting off of a tragedy. Dirty somehow. I don't care how many air-traffic controllers they used and how many victims' families approved the movie, and I recognize--when I think of it logically--that this is a very unfair and largely silly, emotional sentiment, but--like you and my sister (who is ssotknapsack, if you didn't know! :^D)--9/11 remains something emotional to me that rather defies rational classification, even now, almost five years later, so to see that first preview for Flight 93 (and I hadn't even known that it was coming out, so first thing I did was bury my elbow in poor hubby's side and hiss, "WTF??") provoked an unpleasant knee-jerk reaction.

          Ten, twenty years, I would have dealt with it better. Probably closer to twenty. ;)

          For me, the key to timing (though I admit that it is really tricky) lies in part in the motive of the movie. Movies about history that is history (versus something experienced) to most of the audience always seems to come also with the aim of bringing that event to life for an audience to whom it would otherwise be just a blurb in a textbook. I am not naive, and I know that moviemakers approach historical topics also to sell movies and certainly sensationalize...but there are so many excellent examples that have brought events to life for people who otherwise would think nothing of the sacrifices that were made. What I feel about WWII is more inspired by movies like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan than anything I learned in history class. (Where we spent one lesson, literally, on both World Wars.)

          But when the event is only five years old, everyone in the audience remembers it; we need no reminder of what was lost or sacrificed or how the world changed that day. So anything about such a subject as 9/11 (or Madrid or London or any of the current events that have really rocked the world) that panders to such an audience, to me, is going to smell of a cheap imitation, and beneath that, of the motive of making a profit from sensationalism.

          Okay, now that I've thoroughly ranted....

          *pets Carnistir*

          That's better. ;)
          • I guess the problem really is that - as you said in a way - 9/11 isn't history yet and will not be for some years. London and Madrid only remind us that 5 years are not time at all in history (Caranthir agrees, but well, it's not as if time was a big matter for him... ).

            And I can definitely understand your "WTF?" reaction. Mine was similar. :-/
    • It felt rather unpalatable to think that--knowing how long it takes to get a movie together--there was probably a screenwriter rubbing his hands together on the night after the attack, saying, "There's a story in this!" That's probably not nice or fair, but it was the feeling that I got when a 9/11 movie popped up less than five years after 9/11.

      Yes, that's about the same feeling I have about it. I remember a talk with my friends only shortly after 9/11 when someone remarked "I wonder when they'll make a movie of it..." Macabre as it may sound, from an objective perspective 9/11 is movie material, and - disregarding the fact that it's real and not fiction - not so very different from all the catastrophe/apocalypse-thingy movies out there. So sooner or later, I fear, there would have been a movie anyway. But the fact that there's one that soon only leaves a bitter aftertaste.

      That story makes me cry to just think about it; it's such a simple piece--just a moment-by-moment account--but that is what I loved so much about it: that it wasn't trying to dress up the tragedy with philosophy and metaphor. Okie, I'll stop rambling now. ;)

      No problem at all. :) That story sounds definitely interesting. I actually think that every kind of metaphor would be far too overblown for an event I still cannot seem to grasp with rational thoughts.
  • I've seen the original Omen and can't remember whether I liked it or not. I think I'll avoid this one.

    I need to get my ass into the theater to see Da Vinci Code and X-men III, which I'm sure I will enjoy. However, Sis and I did go and see David Wenham's new movie "The Proposition" and WOW!! I really should write a review of that and post it. Talk about heart-stopping gritty realism with a touch of the supernatural. Awesome stuff. Sis (Linda) and I do tend to like the independent films more so than the mainstream stuff lately.
    • I heartily recommend avoidance. I don't even know that it's worth renting. I'd say wait for it to come on TBS in five years! (If you have TBS in Canada, that is. If not, the Canadian TBS-equivalent!)

      DaVinci Code was good but not mind-blowing. I haven't see X3; I've heard it's gotten poor reviews, but I don't put much stock in reviews for genre movies. (I say this as I waste a few hours each week reviewing movies! Mostly genre! :^D) I haven't even heard of The Proposition, but it has been noted and I will look into seeing it. Bobby and I also tend to like the independent stuff too and David Wenham.... *pets* Faramir is my favorite 3rd Age Man because of him!
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