The recommendation to see this film came from an odd source. An internet radio show discussion about the biggest box office bombs of all time. Deep Rising did just over $11 million on a $45 million budget in 1998 with a cruddy January release date. This was undoubtedly a major failure on behalf of the marketing campaign because, for me, this is a fun, exciting, scary, and action-packed film that is designed as a crowd pleaser. This comes to us from Stephen Sommers whose follow-up would be the massively successful and entertaining The Mummy, and if you enjoyed that film I really believe Deep Rising should work just as well for you.
The most luxurious cruise liner in the world, owned by Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), is on her maiden voyage when it is damaged and attacked from beneath the sea. Meanwhile, John Finnegan (Treat Williams) and his crew, who have a policy of “if the cash is there, we don’t care,” transport what turn out to be a band of ruthless hijackers who intend to seize and rob the cruise. However, when they all arrive, they discover the passengers have mysteriously disappeared, but they are not alone. Something is lurking behind every deck and passageway, snatching the intruders one by one, and they all now must fight together to escape with their lives.
What pleasantly hooked me first is the good cast. It’s not a stunning set of acting jobs, but these are actors who were having fun with the material and strike a solid chemistry. I’ve been seeing Treat Williams lately in television guest spots, but as a fatherly figure. Him as more of an action centric lead was really good. He demonstrates a fun, lively charisma that keeps you invested in how this plot unfolds. He felt very capable and comfortable in this role, which was originally intended for Harrison Ford. If you can think of Air Force One Harrison Ford, I’m sure the idea fits fine in your head, but Williams really does a superb job in this lead role. One might expect having him and Famke Janssen billed as leads would add up to a particular romantic subplot. There is a relationship built up between them, but the film doesn’t slow down for them to develop it in a traditional way. It’s more of a bond built out of the intensity of the situation, but there’s some nice pay-off with them at the end. They work well together equally carrying the weight of the action nicely.
Famke Janssen’s character, Trillian St. James, is a thief who tries to use slight of hand to slip into Canton’s vault early on, and really only survives due to being locked in the brig. However, the character doesn’t have much to her after the thief plot has evaporated, and is certainly doesn’t show off Janssen’s incredible talent. So, it’s not a film that’s going to go deep into characters like Die Hard, but the action moves fast enough that you don’t really notice it. I also enjoyed the humor from Kevin J. O’Connor’s character of Joey, Finnegan’s fun and quirky mechanic. Stephen Sommers would use him very regularly in his films from here on out, and I think O’Connor is a very good actor showing a range from serious roles like in Lord of Illusions to outright comedy in The Mummy. It’s possible that not everyone would enjoy him as the comic relief, but for me, he’s a little charming and surely funny. I never found him obtrusive as he definitely works well with Treat Williams, but also has some good adversarial dynamics with the mercenary characters.
Wes Studi portrays the mercenary leader Hanover to great effect. The actor should be known to Michael Mann fans as he had a supporting LAPD role in Heat and a prominent role in The Last of the Mohicans. Here, the work as Hanover is not as demanding, but he portrays a solid adversary who holds a tenuous allegiance through this harrowing scenario with Finnegan. At anytime, he can be strictly in command, but he can be, usually, smart enough to know when to work side-by-side in order to survive. The actors portraying his mercenaries are very good especially Trevor Goddard who was Kano in the live action Mortal Kombat movie. I enjoyed him being in the movie so much that I wish he was in more of it.
I’m actually a big fan of Anthony Heald. I’ve seen him on screen a few times on Law & Order and Miami Vice, but my fandom is more from his great voice work on various Star Wars audio books. He’s got a lot of sly, ingenious talent, and he portrays Simon Canton very entertainingly. As the film progresses, you learn some unsavory, underhanded things he’s done, and Heald plays up that aspect more and more. He takes what appeared to be a very refined yet charismatic and cowardly character and deteriorate him into a despicable, enjoyably sleazy adversary. He was fun to watch, and the film deals with its less desirable characters with a lot of satisfaction. Overall, I think all of the actors do a good job as they seemed to all put their best foot forward for this fun thrill ride.
The pacing right out the gate is really solid. It keeps moving forward at a tight rhythm and pace to rarely ever linger on any one scene. This is aided by some signature Sommers humor that is sharp and succinct. The actors all have really good chemistry to make this work, and Sommers maintains the right balance to not sacrifice good tension and terror for laughs. Still, I was thinking about halfway through the runtime how the film was going to keep up this survival / escape plan plot for another fifty minutes, but it throws in a number of smart turns, dangerous obstacles, and thrilling sequences to achieve that. Sommers keeps the film rolling forward with a lot of momentum, and of course, people get picked off one-by-one escalate the peril. Sommers gives us a fine melding of horror and action with enough to satisfy whatever you primarily desire more. Plenty of people get killed and eaten in bloody fashion, and there’s more than enough gunplay and fiery explosions to amp up the excitement. Yet, overall, it’s just fun without taking itself too seriously.
By no doubt, this is a fairly simple plot. Deep Rising starts out as a covert heist mission on the sea, but intriguingly twists into a sea monster movie that requires everyone to fight to survive. Why they don’t just haul ass out of there is handled well as Finnegan’s boat needs hull and engine repairs. Yet, it’s not a simple task getting out of the luxury cruise liner as danger awaits at every turn and in every flooded deck. Even then, not everyone between Finnegan’s crew and these mercenaries can trust one another, and that plays nicely into keeping the adventure treacherous. This felt like a nice mix of The Poseidon Adventure and Aliens with a little dash of Die Hard for the thieves / mercenaries plot. I just really liked the close quarters feel of the ship which also reminded me of Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, but achieved with better results. There really is so much potential for a suspenseful movie set in that environment, and this film really delivered that to my satisfaction.
Still, as I was watching this I was waiting for something to pop up on screen to justify this film’s box office reputation. Just something stupid or low grade. I was enjoying it so much that I was expecting the CGI to be really bad, but quite frankly, in general, this is particularly good for the late 90’s. It’s rather on par with the digital effects in The Mummy for the most part, and the sea creature itself is impressively designed. That design is courtesy of Rob Bottin who was responsible for the groundbreaking and timeless creature effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing. There’s some traces of that in here, but Bottin is able to make it its own distinct creation. Tentacles are everywhere, and the long jagged teeth springing out from it are frightening. The tentacles frequently slither out from nowhere, or bust out from the hull or metal corridors. Sommers does a great job building up tension and suspense by gradually unveiling the creature. We get small glimpses of it, and even when you think you’ve seen it in all of its slimy, ferocious glory, the climax gives you the Coup de grâce. There are plenty of fun scares and thrills in how these dangerous scenarios unfold from well crafted tension to straight out intense action beats.
The action all around is just great with a really great, slick, high octane finale, and all of those thrills, tension, and intensity are well fleshed out with Jerry Goldsmith’s score. It just has a great driving rhythm and rousing, dramatic momentum to it, clearly reflecting the movie right on the mark. I didn’t expect Goldsmith’s name to be attached to this movie, but he really did deliver something solid that played up the strengths of it. It’s never going to amongst his revered legacy of work, but he did his job perfectly with this score by giving it just what it required.
Held together by some solid cinematography that always keeps the geography of these close quarters very coherent, and editing that maintains that consistent rhythm and tempo, I really have to say Stephen Sommers did an excellent job here. No one tried to make Deep Rising out to be more than what it was designed to be – a big, fun, suspenseful, action-packed ride. The film does have this sequel tease at the end, and while that was probably a fun final moment back in 1998, it’s not so much fifteen years later. Knowing the film bombed and no sequel was ever made, it just leaves you desiring a more proper conclusion to this adventure. Regardless, Deep Rising showed a lot of potential to be a hit. However, its failure was not the fault of the movie, but of a really underwhelming marketing campaign. The trailer feels like a slapped together direct-to-video trailer which conveys none of the film’s suspense or wider plot elements, and instead, relies a lot on CGI shots of the monster. That trailer sells this as a forgettable, cheaply executed movie. The poster campaign had some good teaser style ideas but lacked a big eye catching poster to encapsulate the film’s overall excitement and scare factor. It even resorts to promoting it as being “from the special effects team who made Total Recall and Star Wars.” How is that supposed to sell the quality of the movie? Beyond all that, a late January release was not a target for big box office success. Stephen Sommers made a really solid crowd pleaser of a movie, but was marketed lazily. That’s a real shame because this is a film I would’ve loved to have even seen back in 1998. It would’ve been a long time action favorite of mine. Still, I really like the tagline of “Full Scream Ahead.” Anyway, you can tell that I give Deep Rising a really solid recommendation. I thoroughly enjoyed everything it had to offer, and I think a lot of other people will, too.
Ridley Scott’s Alien is a remarkable classic that was kind of hard for me to appreciate fully until now. I did see the director’s cut screening in October of 2003, but it didn’t have the intended effect at the time. However, thanks the Cinemark theatre chain, I was given the chance to see Alien in its original theatrical cut. I went into the screening consciously putting myself into the proper mindset intending to experience it the right way. I have always appreciated the filmmaking and artistic talents of the movie, but now, I can connect with it on a level of beautifully crafted horror and suspense.
When commercial towing vehicle Nostromo, heading back to Earth, intercepts a distress signal from a nearby planet, the crew are under obligation to investigate. After landing on this hostile planet, three crew members – Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), first officer Kane (John Hurt), and navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) – set out to discover the origin of the signal which Lieutenant Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the ship’s computer soon decipher it as not a distress call but a warning. Onboard a derelict alien spacecraft, Kane discovers a chamber filled with thousands of alien eggs, and in investigating too closely, he is attacked by a parasite. When he is brought back to the Nostromo, the crew has no idea the danger they have brought upon themselves as this parasite soon gives birth to a vicious organism that is bred for only one purpose – death.
The strongest quality of this film that struck me was indeed the structure and pacing. While for a modern audience it might be too methodical, Scott makes every slow burning moment count for something. It’s all building towards something while establishing mood, atmosphere, character, or story. The best result from this structure is that there are segments where Scott gives the audience a sense of false security. This is best reflected in both after the facehugger dies and relinquishes its hold on Kane, and when Ripley has safely escaped aboard the shuttle at the end. You feel as if the danger has past, but especially with the former, you feel like another shoe is waiting to drop creating this lurking uncertainty. There’s still a long way to go in this film, and you know something much more threatening is waiting to emerge. When the ship ascends from the planet, it’s signaling the elevation in threat for these characters and the audience. And this film repeatedly elevates things to a new, unexpected level.
Scott also does an amazing job immersing an audience into the subtle sense of isolation and unsettling calm of the Nostromo. This has as much to do with the cinematography as it does the amazing sound design. The ship always has this ambient sound of probably the power running through it, which further unnerves an audience. And when things get loud, it gets very loud to evoke the terror and visceral rawness of the moment. This all creates a contrast of audio where Scott makes things extremely low and quiet when he wants to engage your attention and put you on the edge of your seat. Then, he blasts something onto the soundtrack to jar you out of your seat. I don’t find this to be jump scares. This is an excellent manipulation of suspense and tension to effectively and skillfully scare an audience. It’s putting you right in there with the unnerving feeling these characters are experiencing.
How Alien is shot is perfect in its use of wide compositions to reflect scope and solitude early on, especially during the excursion to the derelict spacecraft, and later on, how the cinematography moves in closer to highlight the claustrophobic nature of the Nostromo. Even more intense is when Scott has the shot get right into the actor’s faces during the peak of fear and terror to where you can see every bead of sweat on their skin. There’s some great and beautiful camera work from the large movements revealing the Space Jockey and using steadicams for sweeping movements. Yet, I also love the subtle handheld work that creates a sense of unease and rawness at times. The lighting schemes also create the signature Ridley Scott noir mood and atmosphere. Light and shadow are used to stellar effect enhancing all the unnerving, heart pounding sequences, and Scott is known for immersing his films in thick darkness. As the immediacy of everything reaches its apex as the self-destruct is counting down, the blasting exhaust vents and flashing lights intensely reflect the chaotic nature of the third act. It’s shocking to me that director of photography Derek Vanlint has an extremely short filmography shooting only six films over a thirty-four year span. Apparently, the bulk of his career was spent on television commercials. What he did here would make you believe he had a largely notable film career because it was indeed the work of a master cinematographer.
Ridley Scott was very much inspired by the sort of “used future” production design of Star Wars. Instead of the clean and polished aesthetics of a 2001: A Space Odyssey, he wanted something that felt gritty, textured, and lived in. The Nostromo is a very utilitarian craft with very few sleek designs. It was created to be functional and practical to maintain a sense of relatable realism for the audience. It has the feel of a factory, oil rig, or submarine with all of its enclosed tight spaces and metal gratings. And the design of the alien spacecraft and all things related to the Xenomorph by H.R. Giger are truly alien in all aspects. It has a dark, gothic elegance to it. Giger always meshes together this sexualized aesthetic with his fascinating and twisted designs, and it creates this unsettling undercurrent of sexuality to all of these creatures that victimize our characters. Many have read a lot into these elements, but for me, it simply makes for a frightening and completely unique biology. The Alien feels threatening in every way with all of its fanged teeth, exoskeleton design, and ultimately, it’s black as night sheen. This is a creature meant to inhabit the darkness as an animalistic hunter. How Ash describes it as the “perfect organism” has always struck me powerfully selling every single-minded quality about it. It will use you to breed, and then, the others it will kill. It has no other purpose to exist but to destroy. I also love how the film constantly takes you by surprise as we witness the Alien’s life cycle. First, it’s this tiny little creature, but next time we see it, it’s seven feet tall! There’s an added shot in the director’s cut that I always liked when Brett goes looking for Jones the cat, and while he’s cooling himself off with the dripping condensation, there’s a shot of it hanging from the chains above. This is before we know what the Alien now looks like, and so, you wouldn’t pick up on it unless you already knew. Now, it did take a little bit of effort to put Prometheus out of my mind just to experience the originally intended mystique and fascination with the Space Jockey, but I was able to get there. I still enjoy Prometheus, but I wanted to experience Alien in its purest form.
Now, despite this being a serious film of horror and atmosphere, the interactions of these characters portrayed by this excellent cast create some much needed moments of levity. I constantly found what Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton were doing to be immensely pleasing and funny. Parker and Brett are these two jokers who maintain the ship’s functions, and feel quite underappreciated for their hard work who try to leverage that out with some delightful exchanges. Kotto and Stanton have a great chemistry that brings some rich personality into the fold.
Tom Skerritt is very solid as Captain Dallas. He has that sense of authority and responsibility which clearly has him stand out as a leader. Yet, he’s fallible making decisions out of passion instead of adhering to regulations, but also, owning up to those decisions and errors. At the end of it all, he’s just a guy who wants to do his job and get home, but is forced to deal with something beyond his experience that ultimately does terrify him.
Then, we’ve got Sigourney Weaver who was an unknown talent at the time, and that played to an audience’s surprise. This one person that they are unfamiliar with in the cast is actually the heroin of the piece, and Weaver shows her stellar talent every moment she’s on screen. She holds her own opposite everyone very well projecting authority, strength, conviction, and decisiveness as Ellen Ripley. Yet, of course, the absolutely soul shattering terror that Ripley experiences is powerful through Weaver. She is vulnerable, but she can fight through it for her own survival.
This is unlike the constantly panicked Lambert who paralyzes with fear in the face of the alien, but her fear is entirely genuine and real with Veronica Cartwright’s fantastic talents making it something other than a potentially annoying character. Many would find themselves reacting like Lambert does, and it’s a testament to the characters that are able to keep their fear and emotions in check to carry onward.
Ian Holm’s performance is brilliant. It’s one of those things where you pick up on more in repeat viewings after you know the twist of Ash. You see the sinister probing eyes that observe a situation like it’s some lab experiment. Once you know who Ash is and what his purpose happens to be you can see his secret intent, especially during the chestburster scene. This twist is carefully setup throughout the movie in how he repeatedly enables the safe passage of the alien aboard the ship.
The great thing about these characters is that, despite the futuristic setting on a spacecraft, these are relatable people. They seem plucked straight out of our time and lives as rugged, blue collar space truckers. They’re regular people just doing a regular job, but it’s only that they’re towing ore across interstellar space instead of a highway or the like. They have realistic relationships such as Parker and Brett having some friction against the bridge officers because they get paid less even though the ship wouldn’t work without them. These people all have conflicts, friendships, and complicated dynamics between them, and this is further aided by very realistic and honest dialogue. The film surely doesn’t take time to explore the depth of these characters, but it is their behaviors and interactions that inform us of all we need to know about each one of them. That’s really how you write an ensemble movie, much like John Carpenter’s The Thing. You don’t need to get their life stories, you just need fully realized characters portrayed by great, suitable actors. And I would be remised if I didn’t mention John Hurt here. While he has the shortest screentime of anyone here, he puts in a solid performance that has a few moments of levity, but overall, is as authentic and strong as anyone else here.
The late Jerry Goldsmith seemed to regularly have conflicts with the filmmakers he worked with on how his scores should be crafted. Oddly, I find that in these cases, what it is that he’s pushed towards creating is ultimately the better choice for the film overall. Here, we get some great cues with the main theme being the best which exudes an aura of mystery, intrigue, and spookiness. It’s a subtle melody that does a lot to make things feel lightly ominous and dangerous without ever being overt. Simplicity can sometimes do so much in conjunction with how a film is shot and plotted. The music that Goldsmith composed here is exceptionally effective even if how most of it was used went against how he thought it should be.
Usually, when you know a horror film well enough, knowing where the scares are coming and everything, it tends to become less effective. However, upon this theatrical screening, many moments were still startling and scary. I really feel that experiencing Alien in the immersive environment of a movie theatre is the best way to do it. Maybe if you have a large HDTV and a stellar surround sound system, you could achieve that effect, but seeing all of the visual mastery on that large cinema screen was more than I could have imagined. It just gave me the amplified experience I was looking for with this movie, and why I was compelled and excited for this experience. Now that I’ve had that experience, my home viewing experience will be richer and more engaging.
It is undeniable that Alien is an eternal classic, but now, I am able to hold it up to that level of awe and recognition myself. Scott took what was a B-movie horror idea and turned it into an A-grade picture full of masterfully crafted artistry in all aspects with the cast being a glowing example. Ridley Scott is known for taking great care in creating immersive worlds not just on film, but for the actors and crew to live inside of. He locks you into this enclosed maze of a dark spaceship where the Alien could be hiding anywhere, and you feel the claustrophobic tension eating away at you. It can be a haunting, disturbing film for many, and while it has violence and blood, it is strategically used to intense effect. The same can be said about the Alien itself – only seen it shadows, in pieces. Scott only once or twice gives you a full fledged look at it. He keeps it like a startling nightmare – brief glimpses that horrify, much like Jaws. Unlike Jaws though, it wasn’t out of a necessity of the creature not working or being well designed, it was an artistic decision that worked brilliantly. There’s a lot of crap that was spawned from this film with bad sequels, poorly conceived crossovers, and a prequel that has proved divisive for many. Still, I can watch this film as a self-contained entity, and when done so, you can immensely appreciate that Ridley Scott and his vast team of highly talented artists and filmmakers made a stunning and iconic piece of science fiction horror.
I have LOVED this movie since I first saw it. I know this was met with mixed reactions upon release, and it was not a real lucrative success in theatres. Frankly, I am baffled by this. The Shadow, to me, is a marvelous film that is perfect Russell Mulcahy style, second only to Highlander. It’s also a film that was never given its due justice on home video, but thanks to iTunes, I can now enjoy this film in beautiful high-definition widescreen! I believe The Shadow to be a solid piece of work in every aspect as well as an immensely enjoyable superhero action film.
In 1930’s China, Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) is known as Yin-Ko, a murderous opium warlord, who is reformed by a Tibetan mystic who teaches him how to use his keen mental powers to manipulate others. As penance for his past misdeeds, Cranston masquerades as a New York City playboy by day and secretly plays the heroic Shadow by night, staving off evildoers with a network of agents and a cab-driving sidekick (Peter Boyle). A greater challenge arrives when a new enemy presents himself in Shiwan Khan (John Lone), the final descendent of Genghis Khan, who has received training from the same Tibetan master who instructed Cranston. Khan desires to have the once savage Cranston join him in his conquest of the world through use of an atomic bomb, but finds only an adversary. Meanwhile, Cranston encounters the alluring and intriguing Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller) who also possesses unique psychic abilities that complicate his life, but soon, they join together to combat the powerful Shiwan Khan.
Mulcahy shrouds this whole film in this wonderful mystique and atmosphere that is perfect for this sort of character. The entire presentation of the Shadow reinforces the supernatural element of him – the smoke, illusions, and psychic perceptions. He’s enigmatic to a vibrantly fascinating degree bordering on frightening. I love the lighting trick of enveloping Cranston in shadow when he utilizes his psychic abilities. The mystical and surreal visions we get as we delve into his psyche are stunning. This film really envelopes an audience fully and deeply into Lamont Cranston’s mind which is endlessly fascinating, if not quite disturbing. It also doesn’t bog us down with a lengthy origin story. It’s quite succinct, telling us all we need to know, and even touching back upon it as the film goes on. This way, it can jump right into the meat of the story. While I’m sure something like a 120+ minute film could be made from this material, like a Batman Begins, walking us through Cranston’s change from the barbarous Yin-Ko to the heroic Shadow, I like the straight to the point mentality of this film.
I honestly believe Alec Baldwin was a dead-on perfect casting choice. He has the dapper charm and charisma for Lamont, but with a tinge of shadowy mystique at nearly all times. As Yin-Ko, he is a chilling, violent warlord who is hedonistic in his bloodletting. He never ceases to satiate his lust for barbarism. In the middle of Cranston and Yin-Ko, we find the Shadow where Lamont uses the darkness within to battle evil wherever it hides. I love that Baldwin embraces and envelopes himself in that darkness, and even adopts a bit deeper voice, at times, that is both haunting and unsettling. His eyes are also magnificently piercing with that intense, razor sharp stare. Overall, I think Alec Baldwin put together a stellar and dynamic package here with a darker tinged hero with charisma, charm, and an edginess. His performance here made me believed that Alec Baldwin could also have been a great Bruce Wayne / Batman. He takes a character of complex depth and grim history, and makes him a nearly larger than life entity of justice.
Baldwin has such great chemistry with Penelope Ann Miller forging a unique but very pleasing romantic, lively relationship. That Margo also possesses psychic abilities makes her an intriguing counterpart to Lamont Cranston. She’s not going to be manipulated by his powers, and she can see directly into his mind, picking up his thoughts. It forces them together, much to Lamont’s dismay, but this allows for a unique synergy between them. They never have a love scene, but their bond goes so deeply into their psyches that a love scene would seem almost unnecessary. Miller brings a great deal of spirit and assertion to Margo Lane making her both an elegant beauty and lovely character to invest your time in.
And oh, do I love John Lone as Shiwan Khan. He has such theatrical presence that commands every scene he appears in. He has such passion with his performance embodying Khan’s admiration for Yin-Ko, but also, the lust for violent conquest. He hungers at the thought of the power and the barbarism. He’s a perfect villain who reflects upon Lamont as the man he was and is still haunted by. Khan challenges Cranston as an equal tapping into the deepest, darkest parts of his being, and even being superior to him in certain ways. Shiwan Khan is an intelligent, calculating villain with patience and the merciless will to enact his plans of destruction. It is an immensely satisfying portrayal from a very talented actor.
Tim Curry does a wonderfully pleasant job as the weasely Farley Claymore. He embraces this sleazy, cowardly, power hungry character with great zeal. He’s loving every minute of it, and he creates this great second foil that an audience can’t wait to see get what’s coming to him. Curry is always just so much fun to watch in whatever he does, and this is no exception at all.
This film makes gorgeous use of both digital and optical effects. For one, the filmmakers do an amazing job seamlessly recreating 1930’s New York with various matte paintings, back lots, miniatures, and more. This creates a fully enveloping reality for the film’s setting that has the feel of something made in that time period of cinema. The visual effects used to cloak the Shadow in various instances, and even to morph Baldwin’s face from Cranston to the Shadow are simply fantastic. I can’t really recall any film marrying optical and digital effects. It was either one or the other all the way, but I think Mulcahy saw the value in both technologies utilizing each to their best results. Even Jurassic Park only used CGI dinosaurs when it was necessary, and relying on animatronics for the rest. Here, it all comes together for a stunning and masterful visual experience.
The production design on The Shadow is simply astounding. It has rich, detailed art direction and production values fashioning an elegant 1930’s look. Everything feels authentic to the time with beautifully dressed sets. Khan’s majestic room at the top of the hotel is gorgeously draped with bold Asian designs in fabric, and the Cobalt Club is so elegantly realized. The costumes are excellent, especially those for Penelope Ann Miller who looks classy and gorgeous in those dresses. The look of the Shadow is awesome with the long brimmed fedora, black cloak, overcoat, red scarf, and the twin shoulder holsters. It’s a solid, yet simple iconic look that makes a striking impression. I love how the cloak flows giving the Shadow a floating quality that reinforces the wraith-like glimpses we occasionally get of him. Even the atomic bomb has a great art deco design. This art department really did an amazing job here leaving no detail unpolished.
While the story is rather typical of a superhero film, bad guy wants to conquer the world, it’s really the characters and their motivations that make it different. I always wonder what exactly a villain would do once they’ve taken over the world. What’s left to do when everyone is your enslaved servant? For Shiwan Khan, it’s not about being the ruler of the world, but indulging in the barbarism that comes with that power. He doesn’t want to sit back and enjoy himself. He wants to see the world tear itself apart in savagery and war. He wants to strike terror into humanity, and see it descend into fear and butchery as he pits one army against another army. The added dynamic between Khan and Cranston makes the story all the more compelling to me. When you’ve got a hero and villain so tightly interwoven and connected like this, it creates a great sense of depth and intrigue. Lamont must battle an adversary who is his superior, but gradually, must grow his abilities to eventually match those of Khan.
The film also features some smart, timely, and appropriate humor. Mulcahy balances the darker atmosphere and peril with some quirky moments that never take you out of the vibe he’s running with. The rhythm and chemistry between Baldwin and Miller creates plenty of levity, and there are even a few jovial bits with the now late Jonathan Winters, who portrays Lamont’s Police Commission uncle. Mulcahy keeps the movie fun while still delivering thrills and intrigue on a grand tapestry.
The climax is just stunning from when the Shadow enters the Monolith Hotel to when he and Khan finally clash. It’s a visually awesome sequence with some great effects shots. All the shattering glass creates an amazing dramatically intense impact. There’s a great sense of triumph for Lamont here as he is now taking the fight directly to Khan instead of lagging behind him, and the touches of character growth are excellent. Alongside that, you’ve got some fun yet perilous moments with Margo and her scientist father, portrayed by Ian McKellan, trying to chase down and disarm the ticking time bomb that will nuke the city. It’s fun stuff that still maintains tension in this solid climactic sequence.
Top all of this with a fantastic Jerry Goldsmith score, and I personally believe you’ve got a great, fun film on your hands. I have never had any criticism for this film as I enjoy and love it thoroughly. It’s a solid superhero film with a retro feel that is realized with vibrant vision by Russell Mulcahy. He was the right choice for The Shadow bringing his great eye for cinematography and fantasy with an air of mystique to this very mysterious and fascinating character. Anyone who has not seen this film is someone I strongly urge to do so. I don’t understand where the negativity came from over this. I think it’s a grand example of Mulcahy’s best work, and what made him the filmmaker that I love. He gets great performances out of everyone in this cast, and just hit the style, tone, and atmosphere just perfect as far as I’m concerned. The Shadow feels like a film that should have been a surefire hit, and be held in great admiration to this day. Instead, it has merely a cult following, and has been saddled with a full screen DVD release. Fortunately, it will finally receive a widescreen Blu Ray release this June. Until then, you can rent it from iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.
First off, I do not hate this movie. There are things I like about it, I find some parts funny, but there are obviously bad aspects to it. However, I’ve always found something enjoyable about it even if it is a mess of a movie. As anyone who has regularly read my reviews knows very well about the summer of 1989, where movies were concerned. It was massively huge with numerous blockbuster contenders hitting almost every week, but Star Trek V, despite being projected to do very well, really took a nose dive at the box office. It was one of the bigger disappointments of that summer in relation to its projected success. The main reason for its failure? The ego of William Shatner, who was the film’s star, writer, and director, who took on a project he didn’t have the skill to deliver based on the studio’s restrictions and his own misconceived vision. Even Gene Roddenberry went on record calling the film “apocryphal,” and most simply regard it as if it never happened. There are undeniable reasons for that, but I seem to be one of the very few that gains some entertainment value from this movie.
On Nimbus III, the Planet of Galactic Peace, a renegade Vulcan named Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) has taken three ambassadors hostage with a radical plan. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the newly christened U.S.S. Enterprise-A, which has ship-wide malfunctions, are recalled from shore leave for a rescue mission to the planet, but the distress call attracts the attention of a Klingon Captain intent on making a name for himself by engaging a Starfleet vessel in combat. The rescue mission goes awry when it is revealed that Sybok has used a unique telepathic ability to draw the hostages under his sway. Matters are further complicated when Spock (Leonard Nimoy) reveals that Sybok is his half-brother, also a son of Sarek. Sybok and his followers thus seize control of the Enterprise to fulfill his lifelong search for the fabled planet of Sha-Ka-Ree where he believes all life began, and that God himself waits for them. Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy struggle to regain command of the Enterprise from this apparent madman before they reach the supposedly impenetrable Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy. However, what awaits them on the other side is not what any of them expected.
This definitely had a peculiar behind the scenes scenario for such a problematic film. Star Trek V had the second largest budget of the franchise up to that point, and so, it wasn’t a matter of a lack of money for director William Shatner to achieve his vision. Instead, it seems to come down to both a mishandling of the budget as well as terrible timing all around. Industrial Light & Magic was responsible for the visual effects work on the films since The Wrath of Khan, but when this film went into production, ILM was hard at work on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Constraints of time and money meant the filmmakers of Star Trek V couldn’t wait for them to be available, nor could they contend with what Spielberg and Lucasfilm were paying ILM to secure their expert services. It’s also slightly ironic since both films were distributed by Paramount Pictures, and released within about two weeks of one another. So, Shatner and Paramount had to go with a lesser effects company, and the lower grade results are obvious. They simply do not measure up to the dynamic and gloriously cinematic quality of ILM, and this further impacts the overall level of quality of the movie. Shatner had wild ideas for this film that were axed either in scripting by the studio, or simply because they could not be achieved with the resources he had. Apparently, none of these ideas were anything better than what did make it into the film, and in most cases, were far, far worse. The biggest of which was instead of encountering an evil entity claiming to be God, they would literally meet God himself, and do battle with the real Devil. As bad as you thought it was, it was intended to be terribly worse.
This film is indeed bad with foolish concepts that shouldn’t exist in a Star Trek story, and has some terrible comedy. It also portrays much of the regular cast in a very uncharacteristic fashion. With the loyalty they’ve shown, especially in The Search For Spock, it is difficult to accept that they would so easily turn against Kirk in favor of Sybok’s telepathic therapy. So, why do I enjoy this film at all? Camp value. I do find some of the comedy funny in a very ridiculous and cheap way. Yes, it is badly written low brow, broad comedy, and it is surely not the context I would want the crew ever depicted in again. Yet, when I take the film as a lower grade feature, I can just indulge in the camp value of it all. I find myself quoting lines from this probably more than any other Trek film. Where the humor of The Voyage Home was very situational stemming from the “fish out of water” context of the film, here, it is just out of place, awkward, and silly. While I do enjoy it, I can still look at it objectively and critically. Simply put, William Shatner did not demonstrate good screenwriting abilities on this film. I will grant that it is very incompatible to have comedy of this sort in a film about finding God. Shatner tries to balance broad comedy and serious drama, but that is just not a combination that mixes.
However, while the film is wrought with out of place humor and silliness, there are some excellent dramatic and character moments found throughout. I like Kirk, Bones, and Spock sitting around the campfire talking about how Kirk knows that as long as he has his friends around, he knows he won’t die. They have saved each other’s lives so many times that this does resonate for me, and is quite a good moment of depth and insight into James Kirk. He says he’ll die alone, and that was something that always stuck with me. Thus, making his ultimate demise in Star Trek: Generations even more of an insult. The scenes between Spock and Sybok have some fine dramatic substance as their shared history is played out. And undeniably, the scene where Sybok has McCoy relive the death of his father is the most powerful scene of the film, and possibly DeForest Kelley’s most profound acting in all his tenure as Leonard McCoy. In these moments, Shatner, as director, does get the dramatic side of the film down nicely, and is definitely helped by very strong acting talents. Still, they are not enough to raise the film up to respectable standards since there is so much low grade junk weighing it down. They are mere glimpses of a stronger and more tonally consistent film that could have been, if handled by better talented filmmakers. I may enjoy the film, but certainly, I will never deny that it is filled with a lot of crap.
Case in point is that what thin semblance of a plot there is doesn’t make much sense. It’s hard to fathom why Sybok would choose such a worthless rock of a planet like Nimbus III, a failed public relations stunt of peace, to launch his quest from. Obviously, he had a starship transport him to the planet in the first place, and so, he had the means to secure interplanetary travel at some point. There was no express need for him to travel to Nimbus III just to hijack a ship. I mean, there are far easier ways of obtaining a starship than taking ambassadorial hostages on a desolate planet no one gives a crap about. Thus, all Sybok really needs from this planet are followers to bear witness to his quest, and he chooses the dregs of the galaxy. This doesn’t seem like the most efficient or credible plan to me. Beyond that, the most that is going on is Kirk, Spock, and McCoy trying to take back control of the ship, but by the time they have the chance, Sybok’s already arrived at his destination. From there, it’s just a matter of exploration and survival. The entire subplot of the Klingon Bird of Prey hunting the Enterprise is more of a minor action plot device, and doesn’t feed into anything substantive. The themes of religion and finding God also aren’t really explored by any of the characters, except for Sybok, and he does tend to come off like a fanatic or cult leader. That is entirely intentional, but it also diffuses the poignancy of the topic. No one takes the issue seriously because he is viewed as a delusional person who is risking lives for his own fanatical validation. More time is spent on discussing who Sybok is, and the power that he possesses than his belief in finding God at the center of the galaxy.
I also have to criticize the idea that the Great Barrier has been perceived as impenetrable. The key idea is perception. I can’t wrap my head around how everyone is dead-on certain that no ship can survive entering the Barrier when no ship has ever tried, nor have they acquired any data on it to support such a claim. All they know is that no probe has ever returned, which hasn’t stopped starship captains from entering into the unknown before or since. Everyone considers it dangerous, tantamount to madness and suicide to try, yet the Enterprise and the Klingon Bird of Prey traverse it without even the slightest problem. Even taking the film by its own warped logic, if passage through the Barrier is merely a matter of belief that it is an illusion, that still doesn’t explain how the Bird of Prey was able to make it through. If the ships had to survive some danger to pass through that ominous barrier, then I could say that these fears were justified. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The idea simply doesn’t hold any credibility.
Furthermore, the physics of space travel are completely screwed over as it would take decades for the Enterprise to reach the center of the galaxy even at top warp speeds. Of course, the most lauded criticism of the film is why would Starfleet send Captain Kirk out on an important hostage rescue mission in a ship that is falling apart. Starfleet does say there are other ships in range of Nimbus III, but no experienced commanders. So, it wouldn’t be difficult to put Kirk and his crew on one of those vessels for a temporary assignment. It also doesn’t make sense that the fleet would build a brand new Constitution class starship when two films ago, which in the chronology of Star Trek was maybe a couple months ago, the original Enterprise was essentially called old and obsolete with no plans to refit it for continued service. The original intention was that the Enterprise-A was rechristened as such from the U.S.S. Yorktown, but this film screws that idea over completely. The idea of the Enterprise-A being a shambles is simply to remove the convenience of using the transporter to rescue the hostages, or allow for an easy escape for our heroes when the evil entity turns on them. Still, you can have the transporters be inoperable without the entire ship being a disaster. Of course, it’s also there for more moments of humor when turbolift doors won’t open, or the Captain’s electronic log book, which is independent of the ship’s systems, goes kaput. The U.S.S. Enterprise presented here is as much of a mess as the film itself.
Now, there is foolishness and stupidity abound in this film that really cannot be taken seriously because it hardly takes itself seriously. I’ve barely gotten started on the criticisms this film deserves. I could go on and on about the inanities and stuff that doesn’t make sense, and normally, I would keep going for quite a while to really scrutinize it all. However, this has already been detailed by SFDebris in his Opinionated Trek Movie Guide videos. I almost didn’t go forward with this review for fear that most of what I would say would just be a retread of his review. He essentially covered it all in excellent fashion. However, what pushed me forward with this was sharing what I do enjoy about the film, despite its flaws. I can enjoy the badly conceived and poorly executed aspects of the film while still finding genuine merit in a few areas. What originally motivated me towards doing a review at all was giving credit to one aspect of the movie that I have never heard anyone offer before. That is the performance of Laurence Luckinbill as Sybok.
The filmmakers originally wanted Sean Connery for this role, but again, due to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, they had to look elsewhere. However, unlike the visual effects, they did not end up with a low grade result. Luckinbill instills great passion and theatrical zeal into the role. He is very charismatic, making Sybok a personality to contend with. He’s not out to destroy or seek vengeance upon anyone. Instead, his threat is based in his radical ideology, and that required someone not intimidating but vibrant and intelligent. He didn’t need to be cunning and lethal like Khan, but a man who views himself as enlightened but is perceived as a con man, similar to the televangelists that inspired the character. Yet, Luckinbill makes the character interesting and compelling as well as sympathetic by the end. When Sybok realizes the error of his ways, he takes responsibility for his arrogance and ego, which creates a great character arc. I think Sybok has a good ending which redeems his character, but unfortunately, its poignancy is overshadowed by the remainder of the climax with Kirk seeking to escape the evil entity. Luckinbill created a fascinating character through his performance that I actually would’ve loved to have seen more of. I think exploring Sybok in more depth would be a great thing in this actor’s talented hands. If placed in a better film, I think both Laurence Luckinbill’s performance and Sybok himself would have gained more praise, but far too often, a marvelous performance is overlooked due to the quality of the film it appears in. Luckinbill carried a lot of weight on his shoulders with this movie, and I think he carried it with more ease, grace, and integrity than anyone else in the film. While the script written around Sybok is certainly not the smartest or most logical, the character himself is given a credible life by this actor, and I think he deserves a lot of overdue praise for what he did.
The other performances are especially mixed. Even with much of the humorous content, I do feel that Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly do a very solid job, maintaining far more integrity than the script would suggest they could. Much of why the humor amongst them and Shatner works any bit as good as it does is because of their long standing chemistry. They’ve always worked beautifully together, and that goes a long way in this turbulent film. James Doohan is certainly entertaining handling the cheap humor pretty decently, and just being his charming Montgomery Scott self. I do genuinely laugh at his comedy moments. However, the rest of the main cast doesn’t have as much to work with, either good or bad, and thus, doesn’t offer much for me to comment on. Cynthia Gouw, however, puts in an entirely disingenuine performance as the Romulan Ambassador. Her line deliveries lack any substance, and she comes off like a hollow shell of a person with her light airy voice and naïve smile. There is no acting ability in what she does. She just smiles and looks pretty for the camera, which makes it no wonder that she was a model before attempting to be an actress. The usually great David Warner is criminally wasted in the role of St. John Talbot, the Federation Ambassador on Nimbus III. There is nothing in the role for him that is worthwhile. The only fortunate result from this is that this introduction into Star Trek allowed for him to take on two far more impressive roles in Star Trek VI and an excellent and powerful two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Beyond this point in this cast, it just becomes far too one dimensional to even bother mentioning. Captain Klaa fits solidly into a Klingon stereotype, but he is nothing more than that. He’s just on a shallow quest for glory.
Now, yes, I must address William Shatner as an actor here. There is an obvious ego trip going on in front of and behind the camera. This doesn’t necessarily lead to a bad performance from him, but you can definitely see how the film is designed to raise James T. Kirk up while pushing everyone else down. Shatner is entirely capable of delivering great performances, but it does take the right director to know how to wear Shatner down to get it out of him. Nicholas Meyer, director the second and sixth Star Trek movies, says on one of his commentary tracks that he had to run many takes with Shatner to get the right one. This was, as he said, because Shatner would start out trying to act like a big star in the spotlight, but as the takes went on, he’d get more worn down by the process and then give the more natural and real performance. That’s where Meyer would find the gold, and I imagine Leonard Nimoy had a similar process on the previous two Trek movies. When Shatner is directing himself, it’s inevitable that more of that big star ego will show through, but there are several moments of solid dramatic acting from him. It’s not a terrible performance at all, but it could’ve used more wrangling in, more molding to shape it properly. Regardless of the acting, there is just no denying how overly focused this film is on Kirk. Shatner takes every opportunity that he was allowed to separate Kirk in any way from the rest of his crew. Either by them betraying him, or simply being at odds with Spock or McCoy, Shatner wanted Kirk to fight this all on his own, but that simply is uncharacteristic of especially those two to abandon Kirk at all. Whatever logic he had to break, or characterizations he had to betray, Shatner was going to focus that spotlight on himself as much as possible. Thus, that is the film’s crucial failing.
Now, I never realized this myself, but a friend of mine pointed out that Star Trek V is actually the film that’s actually the most like the television series. The lower grade effects, the slight corniness, and the use of the rocky California desert as some generic alien planet are purely straight from the original television series. The storyline has the feel of something from the original series as well, in concept, anyway. Encountering strange larger than life entities like in The Squire of Gothos or The Doomsday Machine, passing through cosmic barriers like Where No Man Has Gone Before, and the Kirk action sequence along a rocky landscape like in Arena all tie the movie strongly to the roots of the television series. Granted, the writing of this film is a long way off from the best standards of the series.
The last thing to really give note of is composer Jerry Goldsmith’s return to the franchise here, and he brings all his original themes back with him. The great opening fanfare, which had become the theme for The Next Generation by now, and the excellent Klingon theme return in great fashion. It’s a very good score that is quite to my general liking, but Goldsmith just had terrible luck by being saddled with the two most critically bashed films of the series so far (the other being Star Trek: The Motion Picture). He wouldn’t return to Trek again until First Contact due to the critical and commercial failure of this movie.
Despite my own personal enjoyment of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, I cannot defend it as a whole. There are admirable parts to it, but they are grossly overwhelmed by all the negative qualities present. I happen to enjoy this on a campy, bad movie level, but there is hardly anyway I forge a set of conditions under which I could generally recommend it. You’re either going to like the movie for the low grade work that it is, or you’re going to hate it, passionately. There were plenty of problems surrounding the development and execution of this film, but they do not excuse much at all of the end result. William Shatner believed he could make this movie work with his objectionable story, and the studio mandates of making another “fun” movie like The Voyage Home. He failed miserably, and this nearly killed the film franchise entirely. A better director never would’ve touched this film with Shatner’s script, and a better screenwriter would’ve scoffed at the film’s concept. I can certainly see why people revile this movie so much, but for me, there are far worse Star Trek films in existence than this one. However, others have thoroughly scrutinized those movies in far more depth than I can get to, and I have nothing new to say about any of them. That doesn’t mean I don’t have some critical statements to make about one of the more highly regarded films in the franchise, though.
The Omen is one of those classic horror films that has received vast amounts of praise over the years. It was widely heralded upon release, and gained a powerful reputation of horror since then. It’s also a film that I have never paid much attention to. I’ve watched it a time or two before, owned the DVD for years, but it’s never really stuck with me. Six years ago, a remake was released that was almost a carbon copy, but I recall it having some things I liked about it. Still, I always felt that both versions came off about equal, in their own ways, but that’s an old assessment. So, on this Halloween, I have decided to take a fair look at both films to judge them apart from and against one another. Which one do I prefer? Which one does it better? I hope I will have an answer at the end of these two reviews.
Robert and Katherine Thorn (Gregory Peck and Lee Remick) seem to have it all. They are happily married, and he is the US Ambassador to Great Britain, but they want more than to have children. When Katharine has a stillborn child, Robert is approached by a priest at the hospital who suggests that they take a healthy newborn whose mother has just died in childbirth. Without telling his wife, he agrees. Years later, after relocating to London, strange events – and the ominous warnings of a priest – lead Robert Thorn to believe that the child he took from that Italian hospital is evil incarnate. The Ambassador is approached by photojournalist Keith Jennings (David Warner) with startling evidence that supports the claims of Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton). From there, both Thorn and Jennings must take a journey to uncover the truth.
After watching this, what I find striking is that, despite all the great talents and potentially ripe subject matter at hand, this film made barely any impact on me at all. I can tell you that the film starts me off on the wrong foot with a score that is way too overbearing and obvious, but I will get to that, in depth, later on. It sets the wrong mood for me right out the gate telling me this is not a film of subtlety, but one of shock moments and broad strokes. Turns out, that’s exactly what I got.
Early on, there is an extreme lack of suspense or setup to dramatic or horrifying moments such as the nanny’s hanging. It just happens without any buildup of anticipation or tension, and the traumatic potential is barely dealt with in the aftermath. Events that should have adverse emotional effects on the characters don’t seem to have lasting impacts. Even before that, there’s a wholly unnecessary scene where the Thorns are just walking along, and then, freak out when they don’t see Damien trailing behind them. The score goes melodramatic for a few seconds before they find Damien unharmed just standing around. The moment served no purpose whatsoever, and it was even handled in a very clunky manner. The film doesn’t take its time to craft suspense to setup an audience for the chilling moments of horror. It just sort of drops them in front of you like a bag of bricks.
The thing The Omen really seemed to not take advantage of is building a looming aura. While there are moments which are strongly implied as being supernatural, that feeling is just fleeting. We are never given a lasting sense that there is a subversive, sinister force weaving its way through the background. The film also seemed to lack a natural flow of events in its long first act, and partly because of this, it takes nearly forever to build an atmosphere or sense of perceived direction. It takes nearly half the film until there’s even a sustained sense of dread or momentum for more than one scene. In the second half, for a very long stretch of time, Damien’s not even present for the threat of what he is to be sustained. There’s a simple rule in good storytelling which is “show, don’t tell.” The film takes more time telling us about what Damien is instead of showing us. Anything we are shown feels too disjointed due to that lack of natural flow in the story. Also, I certainly have no qualms about a slow burning film, but it takes until almost the one hour mark before anyone gets motivated into the action of the plot. Until then, it sort of meanders along with mysterious and murderous things happening, but no one really doing anything in light of them.
This happens when Jennings begins to convey the foreboding details behind Damien. The notes of Father Brennan about the child, and the startling evidence of the photographs are revealed to Robert Thorn. These are interesting moments which actually do nicely give us insight into the truth of the matter. Yet, it could have been used to actually create a foreboding atmosphere of terrible dread and urgency, but there’s barely any atmosphere in this film at all. I never got a sense of impending doom or urgency at any point in time. The film becomes so focused on the origins of Damien and what needs to be done about him, almost no time it spent exploring what he’s capable of. While surely the son of Satan shouldn’t be allowed to live, no time is devoted to conveying what he himself will do if not stopped. There are obviously forces around Damien causing all this death and tragedy, but he’s barely done anything threatening. All we get are people repeating the Bible passage about “from the eternal sea he rises,” but no one bothers to translate that into terms a regular person can understand. It is never put into a real world context.
The priest’s death is a tad ridiculous as he just stands there for several long seconds, waiting for the spire to fall and impale him. There’s more than enough time for him to run away from it, but he just stands there. If I look up and see something falling from several stories high about to hit me, I lunge out of the way. This isn’t nitpicky. This is challenging the intelligence of the filmmaking on display. There are any number of better ways to have plotted out and edited that scene for more immediate impact. At times, such as this one, the filmmakers try to overdramatize these death scenes. Other times, they under dramatize them to where they have almost no impact at all. If you want a better example of these sorts of deaths done better, just look at the Final Destination films.
I dearly love the work of the late Jerry Goldsmith. He was a magnificent composer. However, when it comes to The Omen, I don’t think I’ve heard a score more devoid of subtlety in my life. Every single music cue is loud, verbose, and melodramatic to the point of it being obtrusive. It treats nearly every moment as the biggest dramatic, climactic moment in the film. It’s well composed, powerful music, but it’s just too over-the-top for my tastes. It just bludgeons your ears with music. Moments that are shot and executed with a lot of suspenseful tension are ruined by the blunt instrument of the bombastic score. People have praised this score as having made the film more terrifying for them. For me, it kills the mood time and time again, and tries to force more drama upon you than the scene calls for.
Gregory Peck was an immensely acclaimed actor, but I’m a little divided on his performance here. He does have a very good presence conveying a hefty weight of drama. However, I feel he overacts in a few too many scenes. He exaggerates the drama or horror of the moment a little too much, pulling the film out of its grounded sensibilities. It’s another aspect of the film that could’ve used some more subtlety. Following further down that path, actor Patrick Troughton pushes his performance as Father Brennan way too over the top into bad B-grade movie territory. It’s a one dimensional crazy man who is very hard to take seriously.
On the other hand, as always, I think David Warner is excellent. He’s one of the finest character actors around, and he really handles the role of Jennings with grace and urgency. I don’t think I’ve ever seen David Warner not give a good performance, and here, he really shows the value and quality he’s consistently brought throughout his career. Also, Billie Whitelaw is exceptionally good as Mrs. Baylock. She is effectively creepy with a definite psychotic edge, and a pair of fiercely evil, chilling eyes. I wouldn’t want that woman roaming around my house.
Harvey Stephens does a fine job as Damien giving him a rather exhuberant fascination that implies his evil. Although, that evil never really manifests in a knowing way. It’s more of a screenwriting issue that Damien himself isn’t very active in the plot. Regardless of that, Harvey mixes both the innocence of a child with an underlying, evil nature. You can tell there is something not right about the child, and that is effective enough for what the filmmakers were going for.
Unfortunately, I was left with a blank impression of Lee Remick. She has so very little to do as Katherine Thorn that I just have nothing to say about her performance other than it was okay. Normally, if I have nothing to say, I say nothing, but I thought it was important to mention this as it ties into a lack of emotional depth in the movie. That is something I will touch on, again, later.
The effects work is a slightly mixed bag. Most of the death scenes have very impressive and somewhat elaborate effects. The decapitation was especially well done. On the bad side, while people were amazed by the shot of Lee Remick’s fall from the balcony at the time of release, today, it looks comical. It’s more like something from a parody of the movie than an actual effect to take seriously. It has absolutely no realistic quality or impact at all. What would’ve improved it is shooting it at a slower frame to generate more motion blur, and thus, creating a sense of velocity and visceral impact. Richard Donner might’ve been going for a slow motion approach, but it clearly wasn’t shot in slow motion, just performed in slow motion. Also, the prosthetic make-up on the burned priest is very primitive by even the standards of the day. It’s terribly unimpressive work. These are only minor gripes, but the film doesn’t have a lot of make-up or visual effects to comment on. That’s neither a good or bad thing, just a statement of fact.
Another real problem I have with this film is that no one is scared out of their minds at any point. I mean, it is the Anti-Christ, the son of Satan they are dealing with, but never did I feel like anyone was in dreadful fear over this reality. At least in The Exorcist, the characters were petrified by the fact that they were facing down a demon, and their fear really carried the weight of urgency and threat in that film. Here, the closest we get is our final moments with Jennings as he tries to convince Robert Thorn that Damien is no innocent child, and that he should be destroyed. Even then, it’s more a matter of conviction than fright There is such a lack of emotional depth present in this movie which results in a very mild sense of fear. This is aside from something like the dogs attacking Thorn and Jennings in the cemetery. I’m referring to people having a deathly serious fear about Damien. The characters are more afraid of Mrs. Baylock, the psycho nanny, than the actual spawn of the Devil. To me, that seems really, really backwards. He might only be a small child, but if the kid is supposed to be perceived as apocalyptically dangerous, I think our fear should be directed towards him, instead.
While the film does have its potentially shocking moments of brutality and death, I think the scary qualities are entirely religious based, and I have no such beliefs. I watched this film waiting for it to give me something to be scared or tense about, but nothing ever came. Even the climax, aside from the violent confrontation with Mrs. Baylock, lacks a driving sense of dramatic intensity. It would seem that the subject matter is what scared audiences, not so much the execution of the ideas. I don’t think the style of filmmaking holds up thirty-six years later. While it’s rather well shot and edited, which I give much credit for to Gilbert Taylor and Stuart Baird, respectively, there’s just a lack of plot cohesion and momentum in The Omen. This film had talents who were masters at their crafts from Taylor and Baird to Goldsmith, Peck, and Donner, but maybe, this wasn’t the right material for some of them to tackle. Richard Donner tried to convince himself he was making a psychological suspense thriller instead of a horror movie, apparently because thinking of it as a horror movie made it uninteresting to him. Obviously, I can’t help but take a serious issue with that point of view. Yet, what he was trying to make was indeed a horror movie, and I don’t think it’s really his forte as a director. He knew how to shock an audience, but demonstrated no ability to even attempt to craft suspense. I think it just comes down to subtlety. It takes no skill to shock an audience. To genuinely scare them through atmosphere and suspense requires quite a lot.
Honestly, I didn’t expect The Omen to hit me as this blunt and shallow of a film, and I know there are going to be people reading this shocked at this severe criticism considering the film’s status as a “classic.” However, no art should ever stand on reputation alone. Time is not kind to all movies, and some do not stand that test of it. Not to mention, for someone who has no religious beliefs, I need more than just the ideas this film presents to scare me. You’ve got to work at it. You’ve got to earn it, and this film didn’t try hard enough. The only thing that did stick with me over the years about the movie were my issues with the score, and so, I did go into the film bracing myself for that. Still, I was willing to give the score a chance to showcase some subtlety, some grace, but there was next to none where it counted. I really wanted this film to give me something impressive, something that really grabbed me, but it gave me nothing. I was almost wholly underwhelmed by the 1976 version of The Omen. At this point, I cannot fathom why I even own this movie beyond the fact that I have it in a beautiful steelbook DVD case. The creepiest thing in the movie is the last shot of the movie, and I do mean by a very wide margin.