Before delving into my review of the 2006 remake of the Gregory Peck starring 1976 classic horror film, I should point out that I have never seen the first film. Considering the hundreds of horror films that I have watched and dozens I have reviewed over the past decade, I am a bit amazed that I have never sat down to watch the film that made "Damien" a bad name to place upon your newborn son. Regardless, by not watching the first film, I do have the ability to review the latest incarnation of the story without and prejudice because of familiarity with the older motion picture.
That being said, I'll cut to the chase and tell you right away that I was not very impressed with "The Omen." Liev Schreiber. Mia Farrow. Pete Postlethwaite. There very good actors and when the trailer first hit theatrical trailer parks, I was quite interested in seeing the film because of the inclusion of Liev Schreiber. I loved the marketing of releasing the film on 06/06/06. In fact, I scoured a few stores hoping to conjure up a copy of this Blu-Ray release. Finally, I obtained a screener copy of the title to review and my anticipation and excitement was quickly replaced with disappointment.
This is not saying that "The Omen" is a bad film. It is a good looking film and well crafted. Some scenes are stunning looking. The actors do a commendable job and Liev, Postlethwaite and David Thewlis are very good in the skins of their characters. I wonder why Liev Schreiber is not a bigger actor. The problem lies in the storyline. Perhaps back in 1976, the concept of a demon kid who had people die around them was horrific. Today, it feels pedestrian and far from frightening. The hanging of the nanny was kind of shocking. After that, no deaths were unexpected and with each impending fatality being telegraphed before-hand, you know it is coming in plenty of time to prepare for the shock. It felt like next to forever when Damien was lining up his mother for her fall. The slow shot explaining how David Thewlis' character would meet his fate could not have better illustrated what was coming his way.
In "The Omen," Ambassador Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is told that his wife Kate (Julia Stiles) delivered a stillborn baby and would no longer be able to bear children. A priest talks Thorn into allowing a baby whose mother is dead to take the place of the dead infant. At the boy's five year birthday party, the nanny hangs herself from the roof of their mansion. Damien attacks his mother as they approach a church and other events start to have Kate believe that her son is evil. Soon, Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) begins to tell Thorn that the boy must be killed, but he is dismissed as insane until a freak accident kills the Father. Keith Jennings (David Thewlis), a photographer, convinces Thorn he has photographic evidence of an evil force denoting who will die and a hint as to how they will die. The two set off to discover the truth about young Damien and how to take care of the problem at hand.
From what I have read about the original film and from listening to the audio commentary, the plot is very similar. The commentary lays out some differences between the films, such as a shot early in the film to help explain how the younger Liev Schreiber was able to portray Robert Thorn, who was played by the much older Gregory Peck in the first movie. For those curious about the faithfulness of the remake, it would appear that the filmmakers did pay close attention to the plot and try not to deviate from the course too much. However, what worked in 1976 doesn't necessarily work today and aside from the dogs, there was not much in the updated film that provided chills and thrills. The film is well acted, well shot, but lacks any spunk and rushes along too fast to be a dark drama. I hate to call "The Omen" dull, but that is the best word I can come up with to describe my feelings on the film.
I was skeptical and critical of the earlier MPEG-2 encoded releases on Blu-Ray and at times felt that unless the Blu-Ray content providers would start using dual layer discs or convert to VC-1, that the format would always be a step or two behind HD-DVD. The first wave or two of releases helped solidify that set of beliefs. Fortunately, the mastering has improved for Blu-Ray titles and Fox's release of "The Omen" looks pretty good with an 18MBPS MPEG-2 transfer. In its 1.85:1 transfer, "The Omen" looks better than average when compared to many other Blu-Ray titles, and the gap appears to be narrowing in the current format war, but "The Omen" is still not a perfect looking release with some minor flaws.
First and foremost, detail is mostly exceptional. Most of the film has a nice three-dimensional appeal to it. Colors also pop off the screen. The color red, which can be problematic to reproduce, is used throughout the film and in a very bright variant of the troublesome hue, but on "The Omen," it looks sharp, perfectly saturated and does not bleed into surrounding colors and textures one bit. Other colors are also nicely saturated. One particular scene, where Postlethwaite and Schreiber meet under a bridge on a rainy evening has a near black-and-white appeal to it with its subdued hues, but red items in the background stand out dominantly and it is hard to miss the red raincoat wearing entity that moves in the background, a pre-cursor to the doom that awaits Postlethwaite's character. There is some pixilation and posterization on a few textures and later parts in the film show extensive film grain, but aside from that, "The Omen" looks very good.
"The Omen" features the first Blu-Ray title that I've encountered that features DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio. Unfortunately, my Denon receiver does not have the ability to convert the audio and the best I am able to do is run the title through my Playstation 3 and output the audio via a bitstream optical connection. My receiver does have the ability to accept bitstream data from the optical connections, but I'm unsure of how close to true DTS HD Master Lossless Audio I am receiving. If I allow my receiver to pull the signal in as a DTS track, there is a noticeable drop in sound quality, so I feel that my receiver is at least giving me an improved level of sound. I'm just not an expert on how the Playstation 3 outputs its bitstream data. Compared to the output from my Samsung BD-P1000 player, the PS3 does sound much nicer.
Technical details aside, "The Omen" sounds wonderful with bouts of quite aggressive sound design. Much of the film populates the front speakers and aside from those aggressive moments, the rear surround channels are silent. The .1 LFE channel emanates some powerful bass throughout the film and at least two scenes were deep enough to rattle some shelving. Vocals are clearly defined and nicely rendered. In two instances, I had some difficulty understanding what was being said. Once, Kate was supposed to be talking low enough that Robert had to get closer. Another instance was during the initial talk at the Vatican. I turned up the volume and things seemed better after that.
A handful of features accompany the Blu-Ray release of "The Omen" and comparing the list of what is available here to a list of bonus materials on the standard definition release, it appears that Blu-Ray is again being cheated of supplemental materials. However, Blu-Ray does receive one supplement that does not appear on the list for the DVD. The "Unrated Extended Ending" and the "Omenisms Documentary" have been omitted, while the "Devil's Footnotes Trivia Track" has been added. I, for one, would have preferred the list of value added content on the SD-DVD release.
First up for the Blu-Ray is a very informative Commentary by Director John Moore, Producer Glenn Williamson and Editor Dan Zimmerman. There was a lot of selfless backpatting in the commentary track and a great deal of time was spent detailing their remake to the original. I enjoy both Liev Schreiber and Pete Postlethwaite as actors, but the commentary also spent too much time giving them a tremendous amount of credit. It was informative, but at times it was tiresome. Of course, I would have loved to seen involvement by Liev Schreiber in the commentary track.
A small number of additional materials are also provided. A twelve minutes look at the composition of the film's score is included, Abbey Road Sessions Featurette and discusses what went into putting together Marco Beltrami's original music. The second feature, Revelations 666 Featurette, looks to have been a television special that tied together the "Number of the Beast" with the opening of "The Omen." I found it more laughable than entertaining and wondered why they didn't take more time to find a bit better 'experts' on the number 666. Finally, three Extended Scenes take a longer look at the gore in the film an the Blu-Ray exclusive Devil's Footnotes Trivia Track adds further details of '666' and is about as informative as the humorous documentary.
I had a lot of anticipation to see "The Omen" from the time I first saw the trailer until the Blu-Ray release. Thankfully, I obtained a screener copy and did not spend money on the title. I would have felt cheated of my hard-earned cash. Director John Moore crafted a great looking film with a fine cast, but gave the movie no soul. It plays out rather dully and goes through the motions of being a horror film, without actually providing scares. For my own home theater viewing, this one will be collecting dust while "An American Werewolf in London" entertains anybody wanting to see a horror movie in high definition. Hopefully, they never remake that one. Technically speaking, "The Omen" is a sharp looking Blu-Ray release and nicely renders the fine work done by DP Jonathan Sela. The DTS HD track sounds very good as well and hopefully in the next year I will have a newer receiver that uses HDMI 1.3 to get the full benefit of it. The supplements are very blasé about providing any depth or true entertainment value. I really did hope for much better from this release.