The Omen Collection - The Omen Blu-ray Review
PictureThe big thing about all this is whether or not the films' hi-def images actually make much of an improvement over their previous incarnations. Well, the simple truth of the matter is that they do. The other films will be discussed in their separate reviews, so for now we will just take a look at The Omen.
The gloriously wide and meticulously framed 2.35:1 image from DOP Gilbert Taylor keeps its grain intact, which will be a distinct blessing to many people in this era of excessive digital cleaning-up, and, at first, this gives the impression that the picture is a little grubbier than previously. This, of course, is not actually the case. The grain is now a little accentuated in 1080p, that's all, but the resulting picture is hugely filmic. More of the damage has been restored and/or cleaned-up. For instance, the vertical blue line that cropped up on the extreme left hand side of the screen as Father Brennan makes his last-ditch run towards a holy sanctuary that will refuse him, has now gone. Just earlier than when this line was due to appear, a vague and very faint line does show itself, and it is true that the sides of the picture can occasionally still soften-up or lose distinction - but then, they always did. Certain other portions of speckling or age-related wear and tear are now much more bearable, though the early scenes in the film set in the hospital during the baby swap still seem a little choppy with small, but noticeable judders and wobbles.
The things that I had seen fit to promote from its previously restored version are now even better. The three-dimensionality that so presented itself, even in SD format, is now more obvious and satisfying. The scenes of Thorne sitting behind his desk in the corner suite at the Embassy when Father Brennan pays him a suspicious visit now possesses more detail in those buildings that stretch out in either direction behind him. The downward view of Bugenhagen's dig - that so amazed me with its intricate display of rocky depth and detail last time around - seems to offer up yet more forgotten treasures. That incredible framing - Brennan sitting on the bench as Thorne stalks away from him, the dogs surrounding our grave-inspectors, the image of the doomed priest walking across the playing field or nervously contemplating the growing squall around him, and the great image of Cathy looking up the staircase towards the spidery form of Mrs. Baylock perched on the landing, whilst Robert loiters way down at the other end of the ground floor hall etc, etc - is now presented to us with even greater depth and clarity. Far off objects - characters, buildings, vehicles - stand a little bolder than before, and, for certain, close-ups are superior. Faces reveal slightly more wrinkles and definition. So does hair - those seventies locks and the rather unsettling sight of frequent nasal sproutings. But check out those glistening, red-ringed eyes of Father Brennan. Have you noticed anything yet? Patrick Troughton is the catalyst for a “hell” of a lot of the improvements on this 1080p transfer. Whenever he is involved, the framing, the detail and the clarity seem much more pronounced and obvious.
The colours are more natural this time around, though one or two primaries can still leap out from the screen. Skin tones have altered from last time around, but are, again, a little more realistic - pinky for some, paler for others. Blacks are a little bit stronger, too. Thorne creeping about his house and dealing with the devil-dog, then discovering the 666 mark on Damien's head benefit from this greater depth of shadow and the subterranean discussion with Buganhagen is also moodier. However, there could be a couple of instances when the blacks are a tad too overwhelming, such as when Thorne takes a tumble down the stairs after a brief electric shock - that exhibits a great blue/white flash, by the way - and when he and Jennings observe the dogs on the hillocks around them in the graveyard. Contrast is great for the most part, though there are some minor fluctuations dotted about.
Edge enhancement may be spotted on some objects seen against lighter backgrounds, but this is definitely minor and nothing to be concerned about. Fast motion, such as the dog attack, the fall from a hospital window, a spinning head etc, is untouched by drag, blurring or smearing. I did spot some hazing and shimmering on some patterns and something that may just be a reflection on the lens captured just above someone's hat as the rugby match ends. But none of this really proves much of a distraction from what is, certainly, a superior transfer.
Last time around I granted The Omen 8 out of 10 for its spruced-up SD transfer. Putting this into perspective - an older film brought into the hi-def world and being compared to some stellar images out there on the format - the ratings scale goes awry. But, all things considered - an unmolested encode that reveals more detail, eradicates some, though not all of the damage - I am still going to award The Omen a richly deserved 8 out of 10 for its BD incarnation. It hasn't looked better.
SoundPreviously remixed into DD 5.1, The Omen (as well its companions in the collection) now garners itself a full DTS-MA lossless 5.1 track that brings the film fully into the next generation. And, thankfully, as with the prior surround track, there is nothing horribly bogus about this mix that screams out “Hey, listen to me - I'm a rear speaker that's actually active in The Omen!”
Dialogue isn't the best that I've heard. It is always clear and easily discernable, but it can sometimes sound a little flat and sunken within the mix. Mind you, some of the verbals in The Omen have always sounded like that - even in the mono - so for them to suddenly be hurled out into the soundscape with vitality would probably come across as quite fake. So, c'est la vie. But Damien's hollering and crying in the backseat of the car as he draws near the church during that classic scene of toddler-trauma - it's still not as bad as when one of your own throws a screaming fit on the floor of the local supermarket, though - will still rattle your nerves!
The pivotal gunshot is dealt a delicious slo-mo echo that is certainly felt through the rear right speaker, but The Omen, in honesty, does not present much in the way of surround activity that is really worth talking about. What this DTS-MA mix does do, however, is deliver some serious bass, a wide spread across the front and some terrific depth and power that the mono, despite its clarity and purity, cannot compare with. Now, the most obvious recipient of this boosted bombast is Jerry Goldsmith's score - and you won't find any argument from me about that. The low chanting, the percussion, the shrieking choral overkill, the piercing strings and the simple, heartbreaking piano lament are so much more impactful and clearer than in any other mix - the mono, or the previous DD 5.1 - that it would be daft to complain. Straightaway, the score seems to swell from further away than the speakers sit, and there is a subtle, but true, sense of it bleeding in from all around you during many of the more strenuous cues. The film needs this level of aural violence and plaintiff eloquence for its quieter, more intimate moments. Those final four notes of music after the dogs attack Thorne and Jennings in the graveyard, the momentous main theme, the amazing assault of the Killer Storm - combined with some enhanced effects such as the lightning strikes and the cracking thunder (love the metallic sound as both the fence and then the spire get hit!) - are all rendered with an emphasis that is crisp, tight and rewarding.
Likewise, the dynamics elsewhere can be just as dynamic. The trundling of the truck and the subsequent head-lopping for poor Jennings - just listen to that shattering glass and the terrible scream from one of the onlookers - and the sickening crunch of the ambulance roof as a body crashes through it, accompanied by a nurse's shrill scream. Hang on, there's even more glass and scream combos - we've got the nanny (“It's all for you!”) as she smacks through the window followed anguished shrieks from the partygoers down below, and the goldfish bowl shattering and Cathy's scream as she hurtles down to meet it.
All good stuff.
So, as you have gathered - and purists beware - I found the lossless surround track to be the most enjoyable. Full of vigour, full of satanic presence and totally in love of Goldsmith's score. Say no more. But, as with the picture, this also has to be assessed in relation to the moving times and technology. Yet, despite hardly wowing us with zip-around steerage and wild surround activity, I am still going to award The Omen a 7 out 10 for its lossless track.
ExtrasWell, there's more here than you can shake a satanic stick at. The Anniversary Edition of The Omen came with some good stuff, and all of that has not only been retained but, amazingly enough, even added to for this BD edition, meaning that Omen fans will be in seventh heaven - which is a little ironic, isn't it?
A brief Introduction from Richard Donner (from the 2006 edition) sets the scene in a quite matter-of-fact sort of way, although we are now given the added bonus of a much newer interview with the man in the fifteen-minute Richard Donner On The Omen, which Fox have also seen fit to present to us in full HD. A nostalgic and warm-hearted (which is odd considering our main topic is the Devil) reflection that combines a lot that fans already knew and some slightly fresher thoughts and recollections. Some familiar anecdotes are trotted out - the taxi driver's finger, the effectiveness of shooting 2.35:1, the tragedy that had befallen Gregory Peck just before he signed on for the picture - but what still gets me is that Donner, even now, clings to the belief that the film is just a psychological thriller and that the events in it are all just coincidences that conspire to screw up Thorne's troubled mind. Sorry, Richard, but with all due respect - you're just plain wrong, mate. Even forgetting that the story goes on with the sequels and totally reinforces the Devil's part in all of this, The Omen is pretty damn clear who and what is pulling the strings. I just cannot see it any other way - and I'm quite happy about that, too. Nevertheless, I like Donner and his movies, and I enjoy hearing him reminisce.
Then we find that the excellent commentaries that graced the previous edition have been lifted over also. The chat from Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird is a good one, even though it is sometimes a little raspy, dry and technical, but this is supremely built upon with the next commentary, that teams up the director with screenwriter Brian Helgeland (Man On Fire, A Knight's Tale, LA Confidential). In this track, the film is actually quite well examined from a lot of varied angles - from the casting and the shooting to the structure and the themes of the story. Whilst Stuart Baird reinforces the methods and mechanics of the troubled shoot, Helgeland probes a little deeper into the meanings of the story's heady and theological themes even if, for a lot of the time, he and Donner just bounce jokes and good-humoured deprecations off each other.
The BD release in this collection now boasts a third commentary track. This one, featuring critic Lem Dobbs and score specialists Jeff Bond and Nick Redman, may feel like over-indulgence to many because it tends to focus upon Jerry Goldsmith's score. Now, as you should know by now, this is exactly the sort of thing that floats my boat. Both Redman and Bond have been very active with movie scores over the years and both really know their stuff. The film, itself, its themes and its cast are discussed as well - such as why Charlton Heston turned the role of Robert Thorne down, the state of the movie industry at that time and, naturally, all of the big moments like impalements, dog attacks and beheadings. But the driving force behind all of this is Goldsmith.
Tying-in quite nicely with this is the Isolated Score track that showcases Goldsmith's Oscar-winning compositions in Dolby Digital (448 Kbps) 5.1. Now, I intend to cover the soundtracks for the original trilogy and the remake of The Omen separately, and in great detail, so, let me just say that the superb score is given a fabulous presentation here, though, as is the nature of such tracks, the experience can be slightly weird - being neither one thing nor the other. It is not the film, and due to the pauses in-between cues, nor does it feel like you are listening properly to the score. However, I certainly applaud Fox for doing such a thing and allowing those who are, perhaps, more casually intrigued by the power of a movie's soundtrack - especially one so prominent as The Omen's - the opportunity to have it available with the release.
Curse Or Coincidence featurette (6.20 mins) that also appeared on the earlier release. Chronicling the mind-boggling series of weird incidents that plagued the shoot - IRA bombs, lightning hitting the plane twice, accidents on-set, baboon antics and the wholly frightening tragedy that befell special effects man John Richard and his girlfriend as he was filming A Bridge Too Far - this is extremely thought-provoking stuff, going far beyond publicity hype and sensationalising. Donner doesn't believe in the curse at all. Check out producer Mace Neufield - he's a deadringer for Mickey Rourke!
The next piece, entitled Jerry Goldsmith Discusses The Omen Score, is something that I would normally have raved about. But sadly, this is just a slight reminiscence from the great man (one of the most successful and prolific film scorers ever) in the months that led up to his death. Resembling the Fast Show's Rowley Birkin QC, he gesticulates, slurs and rambles, but it is great to hear him discuss his monumental contribution to the film's success. Several key cues are referenced - Love Theme, Damien To Church, The Dogs Attack, 666 & Mrs Baylock - and with a Play All option the feature runs for 17.36 mins. The only way to really appreciate his score for itself is to get hold of that soundtrack. All of the scenes featured here are accompanied by dialogue and effects. The Dogs Attack - a really effective cue - is contextually ruined for the purposes of this feature because the dogs are continually barking and growling all over the track.
The documentaries that follow - 666: The Omen Revealed and The Omen Legacy go a little deeper into the production and the franchise as a whole. Omen Revealed (46.00 mins) is a great, though clip-heavy, retrospective making of that features all of the main men behind the production of the film. David Seltzer proves to be likeable and he delivers a simple but effective account of how the story came about and how he adapted the biblical text to suit the world of politics as he saw it. There is good about the casting. I like the way that they say David Warner developed his character of Jennings - he was playing a photographer, of course he developed it! Donner is very workmanlike, very low-key, but he becomes greatly animated when he talks about the infamous decapitation scene. All agree on how expert editing and timing garnered the best shock of all.
The Omen Legacy is a mighty, feature-length documentary (full length here at 102 mins) that is also available on separate SD. It is narrated in over-the-top hammy fashion by Jack Palance (his daughter Holly plays the nanny who hangs herself). Basically, this covers the original film, its two main sequels and the lousy TV film, as well as the background to all the productions, the casting and the influence that the saga has had. There is behind-the-scenes footage, discussion about the woeful TV pilot that was made with a view to getting a series optioned, and copious interviews with Richard Donner, Harvey Bernhard, Mace Neufield, David Seltzer and actors David Warner, Lance Henriksen and Lee Grant from Omen 2 and Lisa Harrow from Final Conflict. We also get some theological debate from barking mad Satanist Blance Barton and Catholic priest Dr. Felix Just. The whole thing proves pretty entertaining, but is not quite as comprehensive as it would like to be, with far too much attention bestowed upon the lousy 4th instalment.
The Deleted Scene runs for about 1.30 mins and is in rough, damaged stock. Detailing an alternative escape from the house with Damien in tow, this reveals a more violent attack by the dog on Thorn's car and the beginning of what would have been a nastier end for Mrs Baylock. The original audio is missing and we are treated to a commentary from Donner and Helgeland instead.
Then we get a Stills Gallery that covers some poster designs, behind-the-scenes shots and cast photos, plus the film's original Theatrical Trailer (2.20 mins).
And then we have the Screenwriter's Notebook, which is David Seltzer going over the genesis of the story once again. Running for 14.50 mins, he gives a more heartfelt (financial) explanation as to why he took on the project. With discussion of his inspiration, religious studies and political notions, Seltzer manages to add some more texture to the film's colourful backstory.
We also get An Appreciation: Wes Craven on The Omen. Running for a surprisingly meaty 20.15 mins, this is just the filmmaker doing essentially what I've done here - heaping praise and opinion on a horror movie that he loves. He manages to go through practically all the components that went into making the film the classic that it is and provides insight into why he thinks it remains so successful today. Richard Donner is singled out for a lot of kudos - particularly for his work with the baboons and how he provided a shocker with such stateliness in terms of filmic techniques. It is a smart piece overall, from a guy who knows what he's talking about. Or used to, anyway - Red Eye and Hills Have Eyes 2, pah!
The Omen now carries a Fox Bonus-View feature which allows you to see various picture-in-picture elements that have been extracted from the other various docs dotted about the disc. Universal did much the same thing with, erm, The Thing, when they re-appropriated chunks of the otherwise, awesome The Shape Of Terror documentary into a drop-in, drop-out gimmick on their recent US Blu-ray release. Entitled The Omen Revelations, this also features sporadic text trivia, but, on the whole, there is nothing new to be learned here that hasn't already been explored elsewhere. However, Fox deserve credit for giving us the option of these bite-sized snippets without excising the full course of docs in the process. And, if you want, you have the option of viewing these bits and bobs separately and in full-screen.
The Omen is a classic movie and thoroughly deserving of this array of extras. The earlier Anniversary release didn't do so badly, but this is a much better and more comprehensive examination of the cult movie again. If I awarded the previous version a 9 out of 10 for its extras, and this has even more good stuff on it, then ... erm ... yep, it's just going to have to get a 10!
VerdictThe Omen, as I've been at pains to make clear, is a bonafide classic of the genre, one of the foundation stones of the “modern” horror film and, as such, virtual royalty. Pitch-perfect direction and editing, a soul-chilling score and performances that have become utterly indelible all add up to a satanic event-movie that stands the test of time, defeating the effects of diminishing-return sequels and an ill-advised remake. Surprisingly, the years have been kind and the film still feels slick, well-produced and important.
Seeing it now on Blu-ray may not be quite the revelation that many may be hoping for, but it is a damn fine presentation, nonetheless. The image has been respectfully untouched by meddling hands and the extra resolution does, indeed, reveal things that have, hitherto, gone unnoticed. The older DD 5.1 makeover was more than decent, but the new DTS-MA sound mix certainly possesses more volume and slightly more presence than anything that has gone before, but it is still one of those personal preference things as to whether or not you can tolerate added dimensionality to what is, essentially, a mono track. Of course, the purists are catered-for anyway, so this should ensure that the audio options have something to please everyone.
The extras are superlative and there really isn't a stone left unturned regarding the production, its legacy and our continuing fascination for it. Fox have also employed the format to almost its fullest - just missing out on any BD-Live gubbins - and given the movie some PiP and other extras alongside the hi-def image and sound. My overall verdict for The Omen, as it appears here in this collection, is an unavoidable 10. I couldn't possibly award its companion-pieces such glory, though - as we shall see - but, being as this is one of my favourite films of all time, I couldn't possibly award The Omen anything less. The only complaint - which is actually directed at the full set - is the shoddy packaging that Fox has housed their discs in. It is flimsy beyond belief and most definitely not postal-friendly.
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