Sunday, June 25, 2006

"It's all for you, South Dakota Dark! It's all for you!": The Omen

The remake of 1976's The Omen (which, if memory for the original serves, is nearly a scene-for-scene remake) is the latest bit of stylishly directed crap in the career of John Moore.

Moore directed both Behind Enemy Lines and the remake of Flight of the Phoenix. Both are gorgeous movies, filled with perfectly comprehensible action sequences (a rarity in modern action direction) but dragged down by poor scripts and Moore's general inability to know what to do with his actresses. The guy can direct a pretty solid clench-jawed hero, but look out when he tries to get something out of his leading ladies.

Critic Armond White, well-known for being one of the biggest contrarians in modern film criticism (as well as one of the best WRITERS in modern film criticism), has talked fondly of Moore's films before (I'm most familiar with his argument in favor of Flight of the Phoenix in Slate.com's 2004 movie club, which caused me to seek the film out on HBO). And I see what White means. Moore is a fine genre director (of sorts), one with a pure vision that is rarely unsullied. The man knows how to string together a series of potent images to tell a story. It's a pity that story is so rarely worth telling.

The Omen contains no surprises if you've seen the original. It's a film constructed to meet a release date (6/6/06), and most of it feels perfunctory, from the overly foreboding score to the on-the-nose dialogue to the geysers of blood that erupt when characters are killed. Julia Stiles performance is one of the weakest I've seen from her, but Mia Farrow's evil nanny actually crosses the line of camp far enough to be entertaining. The cast is filled out with recognizable character actors from Liev Schreiber in the lead to Michael Gambon, David Thewlis and Pete Postlethwaite in important supporting roles, and all of these actors serve the story well.

Where the film shines, though, is in Moore's work. He constructs gorgeous screen pictures to serve a pretty silly story, whether he's creating a sense of dread at a sudden freak storm in London (complete with an eerie, red-caped figure running quickly across the background) or a snow-covered cemetery that manages to be both tranquil and chilling. The last third of the film (roughly everything after the cemetery) is not as well-directed, but this may be worth seeing for free on TV someday just for its gorgeous mise en scene.

Moore is not so good at capitalizing on the dread he builds. The scares in this movie are almost all of the cheap variety. A character closes a medicine cabinet door and sees a menacing figure in it. A dog suddenly leaps in to frame. And so on. The dread is punctured so quickly that the real scares feel almost laughable.

And this story is still pretty laughable. The idea is a good one, as it plays on a common parental fear (is my child really the devil?). And I like the story's Biblical parallels (particularly how it calls to mind the story of Abraham being forced to sacrifice Isaac), but everything about the storyline is just silly (especially if you were a devout student of Biblical prophecy at any point in your life). Why would it take so much to kill the young Antichrist, especially since Christ himself was killed through a fairly "normal" method? Why can no one else in the world notice the blatantly obvious things like a cemetery full of upside-down crosses? How does a jackal give birth to a human baby anyway?

In the end, The Omen is an incredibly interesting failure. I hope that someday Moore finds a script worthy of his talents. But this, assuredly, is not that.

1 comment:

David Sims said...

I really loved some of the stuff Moore did on Behind Enemy Lines (haven't seen Flight). I always thought he'd be suited to directing something like a Bond movie, cause he has a real eye for action sequences.
Can't remember any women in BEL, though.