Through Hell and High Water - 'Poseidon' and 'The Omen: 666'

Panic is natural, that moment of fight or flight, sink or swim, when your mind forgets what the options are and in the meantime decides to look busy.

Feature by Alec McLeod | 15 Jun 2006
Doomed! Doomed! We're a' doomed! Not one of Churchill's better lines, but hey, he won us the war, so give him a break. Panic is natural, that moment of fight or flight, sink or swim, when your mind forgets what the options are and in the meantime decides to look busy. A feeling perhaps not entirely unknown to many Hollywood executives, who, when they find themselves short on fresh ideas, reach for their film encyclopedias to provide them with 'inspiration' for a movie to spend other people's money on… again.

And so we come to 'The Omen: 666' and 'Poseidon', both released this month and both remakes of seventies films that cashed in on trying to scare their audience witless. 'The Poseidon Adventure' came first, a film which upped the ante from 1969's 'Airport', having swapped a potentially explosive plane for a cruise liner which capsizes upside down, forcing it's survivors to get to the bottom of it just to reach the top. It spawned a whole genre of disaster films which saw our industrious nature as being akin to picking a fight with Nature, the biggest mother of all. Cruise liners, massive skyscrapers, all signs of human arrogance, at which point Nature would step in to remind us what our industriousness is for; simply staying alive, a fight with Nature that is daily.

1976's 'The Omen' represented a battle with the supernatural world that is just as constant, an idea which had proven successful a few years previously in 'The Exorcist'. A more internal conflict with the unseen opponent of the Devil, it used the Book of Revelations to conjure an effective chiller which followed the raising of the infant Antichrist. Crazy name, crazy kid. It works because we all realise from early on what has to be done, but cannot see a way of it happening, empathising with the horrible decision facing the demon cuckoo's moralistic (step)father Gregory Peck, his teeth gritted so hard it's a miracle that his moustache doesn't fall off. The film was clearly political as well, speaking to a soul-searching post-Kennedy, post-Nixon America who could see that the righteous leader they felt they deserved as The Greatest Country On Earth wasn't going to come, and that perhaps the system was inclined to produce the opposite.

So, what about now? Can these remakes tell us any more that we do not know, or do they serve to remind us of lessons that we have forgotten? It is telling that the UK release of 'Poseidon' occurs in the same month as that of 'United 93', Paul Greengrass' film charting the flight of the third 9/11 plane whose passengers fought back against their hijackers. An important event in our history, told at a human level, and with the unprecedented backing of every family of the deceased passengers and crew, 'United 93' might turn some audiences off a glossy effects-driven disaster movie, not because it is close to the bone, but because it is so detached from our reality. Ultimately 'Poseidon' and its (to judge from the trailer, ropy) CGI effects are like the cruise liner and the skyscraper, technological follies built without understanding of their environment.

'The Omen's remake could, like the original, also tap into political paranoia, but will it pack the same punch? Nepotism, corruption, election rigging, warmongering, the criminal mismanagement of two of the nation's biggest national catastrophes, one organised by the shy cousin of his business partners, and the other the most predicted natural disaster ever, put in the hands of a horse trainer – all allegations made towards the current US President, a man known for using fire-and-brimstone religious rhetoric in his speeches to whip up public opinion. Watching a film which uses the same language to try to unsettle us, like 'The Omen: 666', just seems pointless. We don't need the Devil anymore, we have Donald Rumsfeld.

The potential problem with these films though isn't their relevance to society or the human condition, because who the heck goes to a Hollywood film to see that? Hollywood is in the business of 'shock and awe', and we pay our money at the big-screen, Dolby surrounded googolplex for a glimmer of that blissful panic-state that comes when we're in the overpowering presence of something big. The trouble is that these films in particular deal with ideas that we have become desensitised to, and all we end up doing is analysing the special effects like dossiers; seeing how much we can tell if it's a fake, having already decided it is. 'The Omen' and 'The Poseidon Adventure' come from a time when people were scared of losing control, whereas today's remakes meet a controlled audience who have been told to panic a few times too often, and now can't remember how.

Dir: Wolfgang Petersen, Stars: Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss. Release date: June 2
The Omen: 666
Dir. John Moore, Stars Liev Schreiber, Julia Styles, Seamus Davy-Fitzpatrick. Release date: June 6,