Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Movie Review: The Omen

U.S. Release Date: 1976
Running Time: 1:51
Rated: R
Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Stephens, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Troughton, and Leo McKern

Director: Richard Donner
Producers: Harvey Bernhard
Screenplay: David Seltzer
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

With its factual Biblical basis, The Omen shares something most films in its genre today do not, psychological suspense/horror and intelligence. The Omen is intelligently and accurately based on passages from the Book of Revelations (the final book of the Old Testament); the screenplay writer, David Seltzer, took aside almost three months of research before putting pen to paper in order to ensure, that from a religious aspect, the movie was believable. Not only is this film believable, based on what has been foretold in the Book of Revelations, but it has also been proven to be a shocking and scary tale of earth-shaking importance that has influenced many to pick up its inspiring sacred text and read.

After the up-and-coming American Ambassador to Great Britain and his wife give birth to a still-born child, the soon-to-be leader, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) adopts a random child from the hospital, and then keeps these two secrets of the adoption and of the death of their biological offspring, from his wife Katherine (Lee Remick). The unbeknownst “mother” soon develops a fear of her “son”, Damien (Harvey Stephens)—for strange occurrences continuously come about in the presence of the evil tyke. The possibility of their son being the Anti-Christ soon becomes apparent. The family is firmly warned of their son being the non-human, evil incarnate, progeny of the devil himself, and it is not until the people around him begin dropping like flies that Robert Thorn realizes that his boy must be stopped, concluding in an all-out brawl between the powers of good and evil.

The film uses Chapter 13 Verse 18 from Revelations as it main theme, “Here is Wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of man; and his number is 666.” The motion-picture explains the three sixes as the diabolical trinity, with each six equaling either, the Devil, the Anti-Christ, or the False Prophet. The number six is denoted as the opposite of everything holy, while seven, the number that appears so frequently throughout the Hebrew text, is signified as the almighty, perfect and holy numeral. To take a direct quote from the movie, “For everything holy, there is something unholy; thus, is the essence of temptation.” It is said that this contradiction exists just to offer evil as a tempting lure from the followers of all that is pious and good. Therefore, the film clarifies how the good balances the evil in this world, and justifies its apocalyptic goals by instilling the idea that man can triumph over temptation.

With such a well-selected cast, made up of Gregory Peck, Lee Remmick, Harvey Stephens, David Warner, and Billie Whitelaw, this film impressively utilizes every actor’s performance abilities and their individual skills of character development to the fullest. Even though Peck and Remmick seem just a tad bit bland and aloof, they are the big names of the picture, and their names alone played a huge role in assisting this picture’s popularity and profit tremendously during its initial box office release. Other than the film’s two main stars, the combination of Whitelaw (the sly and sinister Governess), Warner (the long-haired photographer who falls victim to the sudden and shocking sheet of glass scene), and Stephens (the chubby-cheeked five-year-old whose defiant, devilish stares are just as convincing as the scowls of the spawn of Satan himself), makes for a supporting trifecta of terrific portrayals.

After directing numerous TV series, Richard Donner breaks out and lets his talents of direction shine. Because 20th Century Fox finally gave Donner and The Omen a chance, he was unleashed into mainstream productions, allowing all of his future hits (i.e. Superman, Maverick, Lethal Weapon, and one of my all-time favorite, kid-adventure classics, The Goonies) to grace the multiplexes.

It would be both unkind and unjust to write a review of this film and not mention the outstanding, Oscar-winning score from Mr. Jerry Goldsmith. The best aspects of this film are not the horror and scares alone, but rather the sinister score blended in with the movie’s suspense. Goldsmith, a veteran to composing motion-picture scores, beautifully and brilliantly blends a Latin-tongued, almost Gregorian chant-sounding chorus, with the piercing strings of a string orchestra, the thunderous thuds of a timpani, and the attacking, accented, staccato downbeat triplets of the brass section, to create a truly mesmerizing musical score, which includes the Academy Award-nominated main theme song, “Ave Satani” (Hail Satan). With The Omen, Jerry Goldsmith was at the peak of his composing career and hailed his only, but well-deserved, Oscar to date. To all of those with a musical ear possibly interested in composition, this movie’s score defines how an ingeniously composed score can tremendously impact the viewer’s impression of the overall picture.

The Omen chronicles the Birth, the Child, and the Mark (666), of the demonic youngster named Damien, whose name happens to be ironically close to the classical spelling of the term demon, daemon. And while I would not recommend this film’s three supposedly-inferior, Damien-inspired sequels, the original is one that I would definitely recommend. With its accurate basis, thrilling death sequences, and creepy, but captivating shots of just the character’s eyes, The Omen establishes itself as a legacy in its genre. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004