What Are Little Boys Made Of? (the Omen, 1976)

the_Omen_1976_PosterThe book of 1st John 4:3 states “but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”  A couple centuries back, the concept of pre-tribulation raptures and a singular big “A” Antichrist took hold. There was an obsession with this brand of dispensationalism in the 70’s.  There was the book the Late Great Planet Earth (which spun off a “documentary”) and a series of low budget Christian films starting with a Thief in the Night.

But Hollywood wanted in on this too. The end result is the Omen, directed by Richard Donner and starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner and one of the Doctors.

Robert and Katherine Thorne are grieving over their stillborn child when a priest offers the opportunity to bring home an infant whose mother died giving birth.  And so they raise the young boy named Damien as their own.  As time passes, strange events seem to surround the boy. He also behaves strangely, for instance freaking out as if in great pain as they approach a church. On his fifth birthday, everyone is shocked as his nanny publicly hangs herself.

The new nanny, who brings a large and imposing dog with her, is seemingly a bit odd. Robert is approached by individuals who claim his son is part of ancient prophecy. They hope to stop the rise of the Antichrist and are convinced it is young Damien. I mean, he is, because that is what the movie is about.

Peck brings an air of serious authority, which helps ground the film. There are some really effective bits, such as a photographer who notices a patter in certain anomalies of photos he has taken.

The film embraces the subject matter without any embarrassment. They are not worried about viewers thinking it is silly, and the performances give the story weight. The music by Jerry Goldsmith is quite iconic with it’s ominous church choir.

The Omen is one of the best Antichrist films, and holds up pretty well over forty years later.

 

Making a Monkey… (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, 1977)

Sinbad_Eye_PosterPrince Kassim has been transformed by his stepmother into a Baboon.  She wants her own son, Rafi, to inherit the throne. For help, his sister, the Princess Farah calls on her beloved Sinbad for help.  They go on a quest to save Kassim from his cruel fate.

After finding out that the only cure can be found in a magical region of the Arctic, Sinbad races against the evil Zenobia and Rafi, who use magic to try and sabotage Sinbad’s chances.

Harryhausen, as usual, delivers amazing and whimsical monsters, ranging from a giant walrus to a giant Troglydite. Margaret Whiting makes a deliciously over the top villain and Patrick Wayne is pretty good as the swashbuckling Sinbad.

This film, of course, suffers the same cultural problem of casting white people in non-white roles.  This was certainly treated as less of an issue as recently as the 70’s, but that simply does not make it less problematic.

In spite of this, I have always had fond memories of this film.  It is both exciting and whimsical.  It is worth noting that this film is written by Beverly Cross, who wrote Jason and the Argonauts and would go on to write the original Clash of the Titans.  Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is an enjoyable adventure in that same vein.

Boat Trip (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963)

jason_and_the_argonaughts_poster.jpgKing Aristo has been killed and his throne taken by Pelias.  But it is revealed that there is a prophecy that one of Aristo’s sons (wearing one sandal) would bring the downfall of Pelias.  But before Pelias strikes the child down, he is told that killing the infant will mean his own death.

Years later, a young man wearing a single sandal saves Pelias from drowning.  The young man, named Jason explains (not realizing who he has saved) that he is undertaking a journey to find the legendary Golden Fleece to rally the citizens against Pelias.  Seeing an opportunity, Pelias suggests this is a wise plan and encourages Jason, even offering him resources and a crew.  Men come and compete to join Jason on his ship the Argos.  Among the crew are Hercules and Acastus (son of Pelias and there to help hasten Jason’s death if necessary).

The film is full of trials and dangers.  When the crew is dangerously low on any rations and  out in the middle of the sea, Hera leads them to the Isle of Bronze. There, when Hercules disobeys a rule about only taking provisions, they face a giant murderous bronze warrior.  In another sequence they seek the wisdom of a blind man who is cursed to be beset by Harpies who eat his food and leave him only scraps for every meal.

Jason has assistance from Hera, but Zeus has made a provision that she has only five opportunities to intervene for Jason when he asks it.  Like the myths of old, Jason and other mortals are mere pieces of a game.  The gods here are a bit more jovial than in the old stories, where their jealousies and lusts were powerful driving factors within their relationships to each other and man.

This film is full of grand visuals, from a giant Poseidon parting cliffs to allow the Argos to pass and a multitude of amazing monsters, such as the Hydra and the famous skeleton fight scene.  Of course, the special effects are the work of the legendary wizard Ray Harryhausen.

My one criticism here is (and it is admittedly a big one) how the movie just kind of “ends”.  The actual story is not resolved.  Pelias is still king.  I don’t know if there was an expectation that there was be a second film…but it makes it feel like an incomplete epic.

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