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The Omen #30DaysOfFright

An American diplomat’s wife loses her baby in childbirth; he is replaced by an orphan baby. A series of strange and deadly accidents occur around the family, could the spoutings of a mad clergyman be correct, can five year old Damien Thorn really be the son of the devil? Having initiated the switch at birth his father now teams up with a photographer to discover the horrific truth. Can they stop the forces of evil before they become another accident?

o16The devil had already become something of a movie star in Hollywood, thanks to Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, The Omen saw him reach a box office high. I’ve always had a fascination with The Omen since I bought the trilogy as part of the Fox All Time Greats collection in 1987 from Woolworths in York.

We were on holiday there over Easter (irony) and what made that trip all the more memorable is that we also visited Fountains Abbey in Ripley, Yorkshire, which is where the finale of The Final Conflict takes place. Those VHS tapes took a serious hammering and I read the original books and the two further book sequels that followed.

These continue directly after the ending on the third film and were entitled Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 and Omen V: Abomination, both penned by Gordon McGill, who also wrote the adaptation of The Final Conflict.

The Omen has been a part of my life since I was at least 11 and, save for Jaws, is my favourite horror-related film. Like Jaws you could say that it taps into the disaster movie genre that was so big at the time with the likes of The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.

omen10Post-Watergate it’s also akin to the conspiracy thrillers of the period such as All the Presidents Men, Klute, Three Days of the Condor, Capricorn One and The Marathon Man. It probably shares most of all with The Parallax View as Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) uncovers something so vast it is almost hard to comprehend, and like Warren Beatty’s character in Parallax, everyone he comes into contact with comes to a sticky end. You could even say that in many ways the endings are very similar.

It is a fantastical idea and one that is writ large. The Exorcist was about a girl in her bedroom and set in one house, this is about the man who could be the next President of the United States. It’s something referenced by Kathy Thorn when she hears her husband has got the job of US Ambassador to Great Britain, a position once held by none other than JFK.

The Omen is set in the heart of the world of politics and takes place in London, Rome, Israel and er Windsor Zoo. It’s practically the James Bond of horror with its globetrotting. I guess The Da Vinci Code and their sequels do the same sort of magical mystery tour thing today.

omen4Whether you believe the story that 2000 years after the birth of Christ a comet that shines in the opposite place in the sky to that of the star of Bethlehem heralds the birth of the anti-Christ is one thing but the one thing you do believe is the performance of Gregory Peck. We follow it because he does, we share his idea that it is preposterous and then the slow realisation that this is all true.

The discovery in an abandoned graveyard that his son was murdered at birth and that the mother of the child he is raising is a jackal is compelling and heart wrenching. It’s all the more poignant as the year prior to filming Peck had lost one of his own son’s to suicide, something which he blamed himself for not being able to stop. Peck is of course an incredibly gifted actor and carries a huge amount of gravitas and that amazing voice. He is Abe Lincoln, he is Atticus Fitch, we will believe in him. With an actor of less stature it simply would not have worked.

The key moment where he receives a call to say that his wife has died, that phonecall he receives after she has gone out the window is crippling. He really has nothing to lose. All is lost.

And then there is that cold, numbed reciting of the “when the Jews return to Zion” poem as he lays motionless on the bed.

o15Peck is ably supported with former Dr Who, Patrick Troughton, in a fantastically memorable part as Father Brennan, David Warner as the photographer was something of a hero when I was younger and he’s great in this. And then there’s Mrs Baylock, if Damien is the anti—Christ then she is the anti-Poppins, no one had arranged for her to arrive either. She exudes quiet menace and malevolence at first; her final scenes raise the shock level to their peak.

o14The film also looks amazing in its widescreen which is used to brilliant effect utilising it to its full advantage and creating some mesmerising imagery that really set it apart. As well as the frame impressing so does the action taking place within in.

Director Richard Donner constructs some still impressive set pieces; it must have surely secured him directorial duties on Superman: The Movie two years later, in fact the Daily Planet helicopter incident could have come straight from The Omen.

omen2First there is the nanny, played by Jack Palance’s daughter, taking a rope-assisted dive from the Thorn mansion during Damien’s fifth birthday party, the way she falls and snaps back into that glass is horrible.

A suddenly windy day will always evoke thoughts of Patrick Troughton prior to getting spiked by a church spire; this was probably the only decent scene in the 2006 remake, Troughton’s role played with vigour by Pete Postlethwaite.

o12Kathy Thorn’s fall from the balcony whilst pregnant is also fantastically taut, and the scene is brilliantly executed, along with the goldfish. The effect of the camera following on the way down is still amazing. It’s my favourite single shot after the reverse zoom and simultaneous dolly shot on Chief Brody in Jaws.

And of course the decapitation by sheet of glass, with David Warner doing his own version of the head spin. You think you see more than you do the blood you think you see is pots of paint. For such a film with so many nasty deaths it’s surprisingly devoid of any real blood.

o11I also really love the set for the cemetery, it’s like a grandiose set from a classic universal horror film, it looks fantastic, gothic and moody. And then the devil dogs attack, as a scene it is relentless, as is the Goldsmith score which kicks into high gear. It’s Hound of the Baskervilles turned up to 11, is dripping with menace and quite frankly is absolutely knackering. Not that there is much time to get our breath back for the remainder of the film.

omen5Like Jerry Goldsmith’s score, the only one he won an Oscar for, the film just continues to build into a crescendo, become more frenetic and consuming. That’s what it does to Thorn and us; it needs to do that to convince us that he should kill a child.

Would we be able to do the same if we knew he was the son of the devil, even Peck hesitates as the child pleads “please, daddy, no!” It was always a difficult watch, even more so having a daughter around Damien’s age.

Peck is armed with the daggers of Megiddo, which have to be the coolest weapons of all time, I’d so pay to see Indiana Jones and the Daggers of Megiddo. But they do him no good, he is stopped with a policeman’s bullet, it’s downbeat but masterful.

omen1 We can hardly believe that Gregory Peck has failed. Or has he? We then see two coffins, one for Robert Thorn and his son, Damien? No, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal a small boy is holding the hand of the president. The little boy turns with a smile that breaks across his face, it is Damien.

The film may have dated a little but there is still no denying the power of The Omen, even after all these years, it’s still devilishly good.

And the story goes that if The Omen had not been the success it had been for Fox then they wouldn’t have been able to spend extra money on bailing Star Wars out. That’s what you call the real power of the dark side.

 

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Jurassic World: a raptor-ous return

3039097-inline-i-2-jurassic-worldFirst things first, Jurassic World is not a remake or a reboot or a reimagining, it is a continuation, some 20 years down the line, of events post the original Jurassic Park. In the ensuing years let’s just say that the Park, now World a la Disney, Sea and er Peppa Pig, has evolved somewhat in the last two decades to become a giant tourism monster which now needs even bigger monsters to ensure the return of punters.

Jurassic World, like the two sequels to the original before was never ever going to be able to play the sense of wonder card of the original Spielberg blockbuster, but it knows it and that actually forms part of the plot. In a sense, in part, it is a love letter to the original and perhaps that is why it has struck such a chord and made more money than expected, After all it is 14 years since the last Jurassic Park and that is a whole generation that has only grown up with it on TV.

jw2And the ethos of the park: having bigger and newer monsters to pull in the punters, is something not lost on the writers and filmmakers for that exact reason, Not only have there been three previous Park movies but we’ve also seen the return of Godzilla (twice) and King Kong take on a pair of T-Rex, not to mention a whole plethora of creatures in the likes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, so the film has to pull something out of the bag that we haven’t seen before either…with a brand new dinosaur.

The scope and scale of this entry into the series practically makes the original look like a small independent film, the original in comparison was a more intimate affair on a smaller scale,if such a thing could ever be said about the still impressive Jurassic Park. World certainly ups the spectacle with a fully operational park with nods aplenty to SeaWorld with its Mosasaurs attraction (nice touch with it essentially eating Bruce the Great White), DisneyWorld with its take on Main Street – where at one point it’s as if we hear echoes of Dr Ian Malcolm’s laconic wit from the first film when he says ‘but the pirates of the Caribbean don’t start eating the public’ when things start to go very, very wrong – and the giant escalators that reminded one of Universal Studios Hollywood.

It’s like the Park you dreamed of visiting as a child. And as with the original you do get the oh and ah of all the delights the new World has to offer, mostly seen through the eyes of Gray (Ty Simpkins), whose excitement we readily share. And because we know the dinosaurs the wonderful Jurassic Park theme reprise, amazing work by Giacchino, is utilised not for the introduction of a dinosaur but fr the wonder of the very park itself. And there is wonder and wow factor to be had as we see the park in all its splendour, even though we know it is going to end way out Westworld.

Of course the musical theme is as much a part of the Jurassic series as the dinosaurs, I couldn’t get it out of my head for at least the next day, but that isn’t the only footprint of Jurassic Park. Story wise it is essentially a retelling of sorts, writ large in every single way imaginable, but then so has pretty much every James Bond film. There are plenty of nods and winks to the first film though, that really celebrate and embrace it with confidence.

JURASSIC-WORLD-8Both the children in the original and World have a family that is breaking down (a Spielberg staple, here Executive Producer) and are only on the island to take their minds off it, well at least it does do that. There’s a lovely moment where the eldest son, Zach played by Nick Robinson, is in denial but the youngest, visibly upset, has googled his mum and dad’s lawyers and discovered they are divorce lawyers. it was very well handled on a monorail, where one of the passengers is reading a Dr Ian Malcolm book, Jeff Goldblum’s character. Later it is nice to see glimpses of a John Hammond statue, as well as cameos by Mr DNA (voiced by the film’s director Colin Trevorrow) and also a delightful moment from a Dilophosaurus, the spitting dino that killed Dennis Nedry.

And then there’s the more obvious, in a wonderful sequence, where the boys find the old Jurassic Park centre and the auditorium which housed the ‘when dinosaurs ruled the earth exhibition’, even coming across the infrared goggles that get discarded, a fantastic example of the audience knowing more than the characters. It was a genius idea that the boys find the original JP jeeps and get one of them working, In a way it was Jurassic World: Parks of Future Past.

There is also some fabulous juxtaposition in the scene where there is a field of decimated dinosaurs, there’s a real sense of dystopia and negative as opposed to the hope and positivity of when we first glimpse the vista of Jurassic Park after Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) see their first dinosaur. It’s also the scene where these aren’t just dinosaurs (or CG or animatronics for that matter) you care for them and you are sad when the dinosaur breathes its last. It evoked memories of Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend and the death of Littlefoot’s mum in The Land Before Time, the latter also executive produced by Spielberg.

Empathy built we also start to care and have feelings for other dinosaurs, especially when it comes to a major scene with the raptors where they are given their moment to shine as man’s beast friend.

For all its boom and bang, of which there is plenty and often, the film also relishes its smaller moments of focus or dialogue that also reminds one of the cleverness of the original and makes it just more than a bloated summer blockbuster lurching from one set piece to another. That Spielberg dust has clearly been strewn to ensure some of those little moments and nuances are just as remembered as the big and noisy ones.

The only returning character we get from the original series is Dr Wu, who is clearly as rubbish as he was in the first film but is played with relish by BD Wong, best known for being good on Law and Order: SVU, although he really does think what he is doing is not wrong. Last seen with an attaché case of specimens he will surely feature in any sequel, and at some point will end up being devoured by one of his creations.

Chris Pratt cements his position as a viable A-lister, and it is perhaps his biggest calling card for the part of one Dr. Jones, certainly he has the presence, likability and delivery. Pratt is a man of action in this, with a neat touch being that he is essentially a velociraptor whisperer and despite all the dinosaurs the ‘money shot’ of the film is definitely Pratt on his motorbike flanked by raptors. It works, is delightful and just brings joy. It may as well be us up on that bike exuding McQueen like cool.

He doesn’t really grow as a character, he’s been right all along like Charlton Heston in Earthquake, but he is something of a loner, he’s friendlier with dinosaurs than people but does become part of a family unit, with Claire, Gray and Zach by the climax.

Bryce Dallas Howard also impressed, as Claire, she saw the biggest change in terms of (limited) development of character and effortlessly switched from almost robotic towing the party line to all out Lara Croft protective Aunt.

There was lots of nice interplay between Pratt and Howard and they really fizzed, the sort of polar opposite dislike that you get in Raiders between Marion and Indy and original chalk and cheese, Hannay and Pamela, in The 39 Steps.

It’s Jurassic World, it was never going to be a deep and meaningful character study and to be honest we didn’t want it to be. We want a roaring dino romp and on that it delivers.

Ultimately this film is about working together as one, as a team, on several levels, as will become apparent to anyone seeing it. And ultimately that message is a deeply satisfying one, both from a human and dinosaur point of view.

I did miss Grant or Malcolm, perhaps next time we’ll get to see Pratt call on their services, and after a $500 million opening weekend, and the world’s fastest film to smash the $1 billion barrier, we won’t be waiting 14 years for the next instalment.

T-Rex_DigitalJurassic Park ended with the roar of the T-Rex as the banner proclaiming ‘When dinosaurs ruled the earth’ drops to the floor. With that opening weekend, the biggest in history, and it being the number one film in the 66 countries it was released in and the fastest film past the $1 billion barrier, that time is now.