Archive for Thursday, June 15, 2006

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June 15, 2006

"The Omen"

2 out of 5

This week I have to begin by giving kudos to Kansas City's own AMC Theaters. Last year, while everybody was trying to come up with an explanation for the "box office slump," AMC was apparently listening to audiences about complaints.

This open-mindedness has resulted in new policies and programs, which, although simple, now make AMC the No. 1 choice in theaters.

Complaint No. 1: It costs too much to go to a movie. AMC's solution: all day Wednesday and before noon on Saturday and Sunday, tickets are only $4. I'll admit this bargain does not accommodate my schedule too often, but I have tried to take advantage of Sunday morning movies. I can even make it to early church, then a 10 or 11 a.m. movie with plenty of time left in the day for household chores or other relaxation.

Complaint No. 2: Concessions cost too much. AMC's solution: the equivalent of the $.99 menu at a fast food restaurant. Concession stands now offer a few items that are only $2 each, or three for $5. Sure, these items may come in the smaller sizes, but who really needs a gallon of soda? It just makes you have to go to the bathroom during the movie. I'd even argue that while these items may not generate as much revenue, they probably cut down on the cost of waste.

Complaint No. 3: Audience noise is distracting. AMC's solution is the "Silent Partner."

This is the single-most revolutionary idea since, well, the movies. Before showtime, you can go to guest services and pick up a "mute button." During the movie, if there are "significant disruptions," you simply press the button and management will anonymously be notified. No more squirming in discomfort because you're afraid to ask the big, burly guy to be quiet for fear he may shoot you.

I could have used a "mute button" the other night while watching "The Omen" at a competitor's theater. In all my years of movie going, I've never seen two men stand up in the middle of the show and begin yelling at each other. "Just be quiet." "You be quiet." "Who are you telling to be quiet?" "That's my sister you're telling to be quiet."

But it was the most exciting thing about the movie. Watching the remake of "The Omen" reminded me of the television scriptwriter's strike in 1988. You may recall that this strike threatened to delay the start of the fall television season, so networks found scripts from already-produced television shows, like "Mission: Impossible," dusted them off, and filmed new episodes. Similarly, "The Omen" is nearly a word-for-word, shot-for-shot remake of the 1976 classic thriller.

Like so many remakes these days, the question is "Why?"

That's a rhetorical question; I can just imagine the studio executive who noticed on his calendar that this year was going to give us a unique date in history, 6-6-06. Rather than spend any time on development of a new story or twist, production was fast-tracked with existing resources. For the second time in two weeks, we've seen the backwards process of selecting a release date, then worrying about having a quality movie ready for that date.

I'm not sure, but I'm curious to find out, if credited screenwriter David Seltzer actually wrote a new script or just a couple of new scenes for his original story. If you're going to remake a classic, you've got two ways to go: either shoot a scene-by-scene update like Gus Van Sant did with "Psycho" in 1998, or make changes that reflect the times, both in story and style, like Marcus Nispel did with "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in 2003.

After a promising beginning that tries to make the concept current, "The Omen" falls back on the Van Sant approach.

I sat in the audience quoting lines before they were spoken and anticipating every scare. That did not make an entertaining evening. Rather, it made the experience long, slow, and at times, excruciating.

Casting is a huge problem in this version of "The Omen." It needed to offer something new so you could stop thinking about how Liev Schreiber, although a fine actor, is no Gregory Peck. At first, Mia Farrow seemed an inspiring choice for evil nanny Mrs. Baylock, but ultimately could not muster the same sense of dread as her predecessor, Billie Whitelaw. Appearance by other top actors, Julia Stiles, David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Gambon, only seem to highlight the silliness of the familiar words they often speak.

Directed by John Moore, a man with a name as generic as the style of this movie, the strategy for "The Omen" did pay off big time for Twentieth Century Fox. Movies aren't often released on a Tuesday, but "The Omen" did produce the highest box office receipts in history for that weekday.

I'd like to see some good come from this. I'd actually like to see a pair of original sequels that chronicle the son of Satan -- Damien -- at different stages of his life. But they have to veer completely away from the 1978 and 1981 sequels of the original.

Those were horrible movies, if not instantly forgettable. There's so much potential these days for cherub-faced/demon-hearted Damien. Why, he could grow up to be president, starting wars left and right to fulfill his prophecy.

Too close to reality? Then he could become a motion picture studio head, throwing darts at a calendar to determine release dates for an endless string of 1970s horror film remakes. Society crumbles as audiences suffer through a shot-by-shot remake of "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud."

Or better yet, in my mind, the son of Satan is a member of the theater's audience, shouting at the top of his lungs, "Who are you telling to be quiet?"

As he raises his arms in anger, his red tail comes flopping out of his pants, slapping in the face the woman he claims to be his sister.

  • Jeff Owens is co-owner of Couch Potato Video in De Soto and an avowed movie buff.

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