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A good modern horror score... but you just can't help yourself comparing
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Perhaps the first time in history that a film has been made purely to capitalise on a unique release date (6/6/6), 2006's The Omen seems utterly pointless. Not only does it follow the original film's script so closely that the "new" screenwriters had to take their names off it, leaving sole credit for the original's writer, but two of the reasons for the original's success are removed as well. Firstly, it featured some actors of wonderful presence, in roles one might not have expected to see them in - primarily of course Gregory Peck, but also Lee Remick, and a wonderful cast of supporting actors including David Warner, Patrick Troughton and Leo McKern. Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles are excellent actors, but they don't exactly fill the screen like Peck and Remick.
Second (obviously, to readers of this website) was Jerry Goldsmith's score. The original The Omen is an absolutely prime example of what a good score can do to a film - try to imagine it without the score it got, with anything else, and you have a pretty rank film in fairness, but with Goldsmith's magnificent music added, it doesn't become just tolerable, it actually becomes very good. While he elevated many poor films into respectibility, I don't think he ever made quite as much impact either before or after as on The Omen, which of course won the composer his only Oscar.
In the very definition of a thankless task, the man charged with following up Goldsmith's classic was Marco Beltrami, actually a former student of Goldsmith. I suppose one option would have been to simply use the original score, adapted slightly to fit new timings etc, but that route wasn't taken, so Beltrami did the only really sensible thing, which was to go in a completely different direction - anything else would have just left room for too much comparison and criticism. (Though the critics weren't stopped anyway - Goldsmith was probably never mentioned so much in his lifetime in mainstream film reviews as he was posthumously in his reviews of this new film, almost all of which mentioned his original music as being the best thing about the older one.)
Beltrami's fashioned a score which is pretty typical of his modern output. It's clever stuff, and appropriate for the film, but inevitably doesn't leave the same impression as Goldsmith's. For the most part, it is surprisingly low-key, with Beltrami going for chills rather than shocks; it's interestingly-orchestrated, but the suspense probably goes on just too long. "The Adoption" is a standout, being reasonably sweet on the surface but full of foreboding underneath.
"Ambassador Gets Fired" seems to be Beltrami's version of Goldsmith's "The New Ambassador", with a nice theme, though it's not so ravishing as the original (sorry to keep making comparisons, but I just can't help it). Interestingly, Goldsmith's "The New Ambassador" provides the only music which Beltrami uses in the body of his score, taking the brief piano motif from that piece and using it on several occasions.
Beltrami uses the choir in a very different way, probably wisely - "Damien's Tantrum" features a fairly distant wordless choir, which is very effective, and it develops into some chopping orchestral action music. It's in the action music that this score is by far at its strongest, and virtually all of that appears in the album's second half. "Scooter" is terrific, building fairly slowly into something really quite ferocious and terrifying. The lengthy "On the Heels of Spiletto" is pretty decent, driving along at a nice pace. Best of all is probably "Dogs in the Cemetery", with stabbing brass providing a really thrilling base for the action. Also cool is the solo vocal in "Drive to Bugenhagen", another excellent piece. The best track on the album is "The Altar of Sacrifice", an uncompromising piece which actually sounds like some Goldsmith action music (though not The Omen).
While everything is actually pretty good here, it is the ultimate case of "suffering by comparison" - it would be completely unreasonable to expect Beltrami to match the peerless Goldsmith's classic effort, but that's just one more reason why the whole thing seems pointless, it's not a reason to make excuses here - there are obvious comparisons to be made, for pieces which essentially score the same scenes - "Ambassador Gets Fired" / "The New Ambassador"; "Ms Baylock" / "The Demise of Mrs Baylock"; "Dogs in the Cemetery" / "The Dogs Attack"; "Altar of Sacrifice" / "The Altar". All of those Goldsmith tracks are absolute, indisputable film music classics in their own right, and sad to say even while some of those tracks on this new score are actually really good, they just can't compare, and while I commend Beltrami for putting a medley of Goldsmith music together for the end titles of the new film (called "Omen 76/06" on the album), it doesn't really help show his own contributions in a favourable light. They are perfectly good, and sometimes a lot more than that, but this isn't really anything more than an above-average modern horror score, when it is inevitably going to be compared with an absolute classic. It's important to try to judge it on its own terms though, and if you can do that, you'll find one of the more entertaining scores of the year so far.