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The Omen

review by Anthony D.



Rated R

Studio: Fox

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw

Directed by Richard Donner

Retail Price: $24.99

Features: "666: The Omen Revealed" documentary, "Curse or Coincidence," short film, Commentary with Richard Donner & Stuart Baird, Jerry Goldsmith (composer) on four of his favorite themes, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround English, Dolby Digital 2.0 French Mono, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Search (20 Chapters)

"Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666."

Revelation 13:18; King James Version


On the 6th day of the 6th month at 6:00 am, in an unnamed year, a child is born in "The Eternal City" of Rome to Robert and Kathy Thorn (Gregory Peck and Lee Remick). Unfortunately for Kathy, the child is stillborn. Fortunately for the viewer, Robert is convinced by a priest to adopt an orphaned child and raise it as his own. With unexpected twists and turns, "The Omen" is the ultimate in switched at birth tales, for Kathy after a five-year lapse, begins to suspect that this child, now called Damien (precocious Harvey Stephens) is evil. The years spent as an Ambassador's wife in the outskirts of London make Robert write her fears off to psychosis, that is until a mysterious priest (Patrick Troughton) enters his office at the American Embassy with a warning to "Accept Christ as your personal savior."

As Damien enters his 6th year, unexpected and unexplained events surround the Thorn family. A joyous birthday party is interrupted by a suicidal nanny, who hangs herself shouting , "It's all for you, Damien." A new nanny promptly arrives unannounced and takes Damien under her wing. An attempt to take Damien to a wedding results in a serious temper tantrum. A trip to London's Wildlife Preserve proves trying for Kathy and Damien as baboons attack their car. The priest persistently pursues Robert, spouting Scripture and poetry, until he is killed in a freak accident.

Leave it to a wily photographer (David Warner), to put all the pieces of the puzzle in place. It seems that the photographs he takes are omens of impending doom for the people in the pictures. His camera is recording other-worldly signs: a mark resembling a noose is imbedded in a photo of Damien's first nanny - - a javelin-shaped mark draws closer and closer to Robert's mysterious priest - - and now a mark aimed at the neck is threatening his very own likeness.

On a far-from-merry Italian adventure, Robert and ---- find an abandoned cemetery where the remains of Damien's true mother, as well as the true Thorn son are ensconced. It appears that the Thorn child was murdered at birth, and that Damien's mother was not quite human.

But all of this is merely backstory to the crux of the plot - - Will Robert do the right thing and kill the boy he has raised as his son?

Before we reach that moment, director Richard Donner steers us through several shockingly suspenseful set-pieces of evil. Donner relies on the psychological terror rather than the horror aspects of the tale, and rightfully so. If Damien is the supposed "Anti-Christ," or merely a problem child is secondary to how Damien is perceived by those around him, viewers included. Short on gore, but long on character, "The Omen" is one of those films that remains with viewers long after its haunting final frame.

Framed in a darkly-lit anamorphic Panavision (2.35:1) aspect ratio, "The Omen's" presentation is best when watched in a fully-dimmed room. The beauty of Donner's wide-screen compositions are well-served on FOX's dvd. What I think would be a problematic film to transfer, "The Omen" goes from scenes in near-total darkness to the bright reds of photographers' darkrooms, turns out to be a nearly perfect digital transfer! No grain in the darkness and no bleeding in the darkroom scenes. Colors, subdued though they are, are honest. As for fleshtones - - WOW! What a contrast! One doesn't have to look carefully to see that Lee Remick's porcelain, pale skin is lovely even when up against Gregory Peck's ruddy, rugged complexion. Every crease is visible in the priest's careworn facial features. And to see Lee Remick's crystal blue eyes as crystal blue impresses me to no end! To see how carefully detailed this print is, I advise anyone to check out the jacket that Gregory Peck is wearing in Chapter 9 (A Priest's Confession), here is a subtly plaid, possibly tweed jacket, that under normal circumstances would read as one color - - the digital medium has brought the design back into place with barely a trace of moiring. Reds though, except for the previously mentioned darkroom scenes, traverse the red scale from orange to magenta - - every time an American flag is displayed, the stripes are a different hue. There is some minor signs of wear and tear, and occasion speckle will hit the screen, but those speckles never detract from the presentation. My one caveat is that "The Omen" on dvd, requires a completely darkened room to be seen properly, but it is the type of movie to watch in the dark anyway.

Kudos to Fox for having given us purists a choice! The original mono track in Dolby Digital, or a newly mixed Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. But what a difficult choice is now is: Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning score benefits greatly from the new mix, and after 1999's "The Mummy," this is my personal favorite Goldsmith score, but the original mono track is often harsh, especially where the strings in the orchestra are concerned. Had Fox isolated Goldsmith's score, I would have been heaven bound! The animated menu screens are presented with a nifty Dolby Digital 2.0 sound as well.

f course the first feature I accessed was the Jerry Goldsmith chat, and Jerry introduces clips from the film containing his favorite themes: "The Love Theme," which lead to his wife's recording a vocal version of on the soundtrack album, "Damien to Church" justly compared to John Williams' themes from "Jaws," "Dog Attack," which incorporates elements from his avant-garde score of "Planet of the Apes" and was used in "The Omen's" most suspenseful scene, and "666 and Mrs. Baylock," with its subtle rise to terror. Once again, though, the scenes are shown without isolated score.

Both documentaries are interesting talking head variety. Non cast members are interviewed, sadly, so the interviews are restricted to screenwriter, producer and director. The documentaries, due to their nature, could easily have been combined into one 55 minute documentary.

The audio commentary turns out to be as delightful a listen as "Charade's" audio commentary. Once Donner and Baird get going, they personalize the presentation with their story-telling, and even address the viewers on occasion.

The trailer is presented full-frame, and features a doom-laden voice over.

"The Omen" works on a variety of levels, despite the flaws inherent in its conceit. As a tale of psychological terror it is at it's best: here's Gregory Peck, an American icon of the Iron John variety, married to the never-more-beautiful Lee Remick rearing a child who could possibly be the son of Satan. Without these two strong leads, "The Omen" could have turned into a sub-standard horror flick delegated to the bottom of a drive-in theater's double bill. The believability these two actors bring to their roles - - they both play each and moment straight - - only adds to the ongoing suspense. The Mrs. Baylock of theater actress Billie Whitelaw presents a true force to be reckoned with - - if Damien is the Antichrist, then Whitelaw's Mrs. Baylock is the Anti-Mary-Poppins. "Doctor Who" fans will delight in seeing Patrick Troughton light years away from his element and "Rumpole of the Bailey" himself, Leo McKern puts an interesting spin into his cameo appearance.

But it is the direction of Richard Donner that ultimately makes this movie the thrill ride that it is. The widescreen compositions contain clues and keys needed to unravel the riddle of "The Omen," and Fox has certainly done right by him. After years of lackluster television work, and grade B movie work, Donner's acheivement in creating a real world with many shades of evil is highly commendable. It is to his credit that this becomes a highly personal journey film for one character, the roller-coaster ride that Robert Thorn is emotionally bound to is brought to the foreground, while the evil remains silently waiting off in the corners of the screen - - one of the most realistic thrills is activated when Robert walks into his son's bedroom late at night, only to be startled by a snarling rottweiler hidden in plain sight amongst Damien's stuffed toys.

This digital presentation of "The Omen" is most definitely a keeper for fans of this genre. "The Omen" holds its place in cinema history right up there with Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby," with its tale of "normal" people beset with "unusual" problems. And like "Rosemary's Baby," dies not rely on scenes of graphic violence to make it's point - even the most graphic scene in "The Omen," - and it's most notorious - - is relatively tame by today's horror standards. It pays not to analyze the fantastical tale too much for fear of finding the holes, so, sit back, turn off all the lights and enjoy! Once seen, the final shot will certainly haunt you.

Side Note: Also available as part of a four DVD boxed set, though NONE of the sequels can hold a candle to the original.

(3.5/5, NOT included in final score)




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