Attack of the Clones

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The New York Sun

When Gus Van Sant attempted to clone “Psycho” back in 1998, one of his more dubious assumptions was that in carbon-copying Hitchcock’s classic, he’d somehow make it accessible to an uninitiated generation of filmgoers.

His execution wasn’t nearly as rigorous as it could have been, but judging from John Moore’s remake of “The Omen” (released today, naturally – June 6, 2006), Mr. Van Sant’s elaborate shot-for-shot replication was hardly necessary. The angles and the actors in Mr. Moore’s wholly superfluous retread may be different from the ones in Richard Donner’s 1976 demi-classic. But scene for scene, line for line, the new movie could scarcely be more familiar.

Mr. Donner’s “Omen” was at best an effective but shallow genre exercise – markedly less audacious than “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) or “The Exorcist” (1973), which had the nerve to situate their biblical horrors in the secular world. Given that the name Damien has surely decreased in popularity since the release of the first movie and that the film has been parodied to death (most notably on “South Park”), it’s to Mr. Moore’s credit that the remake manages a few chills anyway. There’s just something inherently creepy about Damien’s silent passivity. Maybe it’s the way he makes his PB&J with such a large knife.

This version has been updated for “realism” – notably in an abhorrent opening sequence that incorporates September 11,2001,the Columbia shuttle disaster, and Hurricane Katrina into the signs of the apocalypse. David Thewlis’s snooping paparazzo now owns a digital camera, which, as it turns out, prophesies deaths just as effectively as the old 35 mm. And one character has a digital watch, which of course displays “06:06:06” just before his car is destroyed in what Zoolander might call a freak gasoline spill accident.

The famous decapitation scene is more convincingly relayed here (indeed, this iteration might make Rube Goldberg proud), and on the whole the new “Omen” is a feast of risible art direction, including a dream-sequence with a bathroom that might have been designed by Le Corbusier and the most garishly over decorated therapist’s office since, well, “Basic Instinct 2.” Not only does Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) have a “666” birthmark under his hair, but here the numbers seem to be reduplicated throughout his wallpaper.

The metaphysics remain equally silly, though, and assuming Fox gave screenwriter David Seltzer a fresh paycheck (he also wrote the 1976 version), it seems somewhat high handed of him to repeat the same absurdities. Like Gregory Peck and Lee Remick’s ambassador and wife, Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles’s characters evidently live in a hermetic world free of relatives and friends, and neither of them has ever questioned that their child – in addition to being virtually mute – has never been sick in his life.

While we’re at it, would paparazzi really spend so much time monitoring the birthday parties of the children of American ambassadors to Britain? More to the point, are any of said photographers so skilled at Biblical scholarship that they could translate a reference to the “eternal sea” as a metaphor for modern politics? It might also have helped if Pete Postlethwaite’s sickly priest had spelled things out in English this time, rather than spouting cryptic witticisms in his Cockney/caffeinated cadence.

The resonances are mostly intertextual. This movie could have been called – to rework the name of a made-for-TV sequel to one of Mia Farrow’s other films – “Look What’s Happened to Rosemary.”

Ms. Farrow is no Billie Whitelaw as the demon-of-hell nanny Mrs. Baylock here, but she’s clearly better with children: Evidently when Ms. Farrow’s “Rosemary’s Baby” character crossed to the dark side at the end of Roman Polanski’s film, nothing could shake her interest in satanic child care.

The New York Sun

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