The Final Conflict Review
The FilmThe story goes that the executives at 20th Century Fox originally wanted a whopping seven Omen films to be produced. That they ultimately curtailed their demands from a septology to a mere trilogy (until the hilariously bad 1991 TV movie and dreadful 2006 remake of the original came along, at any rate) is something for which we can be thankful. Of course, the fact of the matter is that the public's interest in films about Satanism simply didn't last long enough to facilitate a series of seven films about the Antichrist, with audiences having moved on to getting their horror kicks from zombie flicks or good old fashioned slasher movies by the time the major studios, as ever several steps behind what the public actually wanted, came limping into the 1980s. Public hysteria over the occult just wasn't what it once was, with recent real world horrors like the Vietnam war instilling in viewers a taste for films which addressed terrors a little closer to reality than to the supernatural. Odd, then, that the producers of The Final Conflict opted to make their conclusion to the trilogy their most pious and sanctimonious offering yet.
But first things first, the plot. Damien Thorn (Sam Neill) is now an adult, 32 years of age (which, given that this instalment arrived a mere five years after the first film, must mean that it takes place almost three decades into the future - despite at least one reference to the year being 1982) and the controller of his deceased uncle's business, Thorn Industries. The prophecies state that the second coming of a certain Mr. Jesus Christ is about to occur in (where else?) England, something that Damien is determined to put a stop to. Concluding that the only way he can accomplish this is by becoming the American Ambassador to Great Britain (why so specific?), he hoodwinks the President (Mason Adams) into appointing him to this position and sets off to the so-called Angel Isle. Unfortunately for the Antichrist, a group of monks holed up in the monastery at Subiaco, Italy (previously glimpsed in the first film) also know about the prophecy and decide that now is the time to stop twiddling their thumbs and set out to do away with Damien once and for all...
If the above synopsis leaves you scratching your head, then your reaction is much the same as mine after watching the film. To put it bluntly, none of it makes a lick of sense, with the script continually telling us that certain events must take place without providing us with any evidence as to why. Why, for example, is it imperative that Damien hold the position of Ambassador to Great Britain rather than any other? I understand that it has to do with the power the title affords him, but surely any number of positions could have given him access to similar powers? It's not as if he actually makes use of his position, as most of his influence appears to be upon a ragtag bunch of devil-worshippers with whom he communes at clandestine meetings in the countryside under cover of dark. Why, too, after being repeatedly told in the first two films that the Antichrist could only be killed using all seven daggers of Megiddo, is a single one enough to finish him off in this instalment? Why are we continually told that the "Christ-child" has been born without once laying eyes on him? And why, in the final hopelessly baffling scene, are we introduced to an adult Jesus (at least I'm assuming that's who it's meant to be) after being told that "the Christ-child is safe" and hearing the sound of a baby crying mere seconds beforehand? Was the script being re-written throughout shooting? Was the ending hastily reworked during editing in the same manner as that of To the Devil a Daughter? (Both have a similarly choppy tempo and are equally baffling.) Was screenwriter Andrew Birkin handed a train-wreck of an outline and ordered to fashion it into a workable script without being allowed to change any of the plot beats? Or did he simply not give a damn?
On balance, I think I'm going to have to go with the latter as an explanation, as I see precious little evidence of anyone else caring. Richard (The Omen) Donner was originally lined up to helm this one, but legal battles surrounding Superman II prevented him from stepping into the director's seat. (He retains an executive producer credit, which suggests that his creative input was probably about on par with that of the coffee boy.) Into his shoes came Graham Baker, whose greatest claim to fame, prior to 1981, was helming an episode of The Sweeney, and who, judging by his IMDB profile, has done precious little of note since. He does have a better visual eye than Don Taylor, whose hackery seriously weighted down Damien: Omen II... but then again, he did have the support of two very talented cinematographers, Robert Paynter and Phil Meheux, not to mention the moody English locales that were sorely missed in Damien, so it's not entirely clear how much credit he deserves for the look of the film. What is clear is that he has next to no sense of pacing, botching set-piece after set-piece and padding the running time something rotten with numerous shots of people wandering about or sitting doing next to nothing. It's a shame, because on a handful of instances he does demonstrate something approaching a flair for mood, with a couple of scenes in Damien's inner sanctum managing to be quite chilling. He also does rather well with an extended set-piece involving a fox-hunt, which acts mainly as an excuse to ogle at the English countryside and showcase Jerry Goldsmith's fantastic score, but manages to be quite engaging in its own right. (And I say this as someone who would quite happily set packs of hounds on fox hunters and watch them run for their lives.) There's also a rather effective scene towards the start in which the then current Ambassador is driven to commit suicide after a chance encounter with a Rottweiler, culminating in the greatest exploding head this side of Scanners.
It's too bad he botches every other set-piece completely, with the death scenes - Damien's strongest element - coming across here as the weakest link. A lot of this is down to the sheer mundaneness of the killings. In the first two films, Damien was a force to be reckoned with, capable of dispatching anyone who stood in his way in the blink of an eye, whether by driving them to suicide or commanding the elements themselves to act against them. Who can forget the rising panic felt as Patrick Troughton was beset by a roaring storm during his desperate dash through Bishops Park in The Omen? Here, however, Damien spends most of his time getting others to do his dirty work for him, ranging from elderly priests to grinning boy scouts. Personally, I've always found priests and boy scouts to be decidedly sinister creatures, so I have to wonder what precisely Baker did to make them seem so toothless here. The answer, I think, lies in the fact that their involvement occurs during the most ill-judged sequence of the film: a series of murders of newborn babies that, bafflingly, appear to have been conceived to amuse rather than to shock. (Because murdered babies? Hilarious.)
That said, the ineptitude of Damien's foes makes them their own worst enemies, so it's little wonder that the scenes of their deaths are almost entirely without merit. In their first assassination attempt, carried out while Damien is being interviewed in a television studio, one priest, for some bizarre reason, opts to climb up into the rafters and wobble about above the set. Predictably, he falls off, but in the process manages to get his foot caught in some wiring and ends up swinging back and forth before the eyes of a suitably baffled Damien, eventually managing to get himself wrapped in a plastic sheet and set on fire. All this occurs without Damien lifting a finger. If this is the best his would-be killers can do, then he has little to worry about. Scene after hilarious scene follows in which the priests are whittled away due to their own incompetence, until only poor old Rossano Brazzi is left. It's little wonder that Jesus himself has to show up to deliver the final blow, as his followers clearly aren't up to the task. It's this final event, the most unbelievable piece of pious tosh imaginable, which finally succeeds in sinking the film (and the franchise) completely - deus ex machina of the worst and most literal kind imaginable, and the moment at which any lingering shreds of doubt as to the nature of what is going on are erased forever. In the first film, the horrifying events which took place were low-key and ambiguous enough that one could, at a stretch, argue that there were in fact no supernatural goings-on and that the Gregory Peck character was simply mad. With the second, this theory became much more tenuous, but still just within the realms of possibility. No such uncertainty is present in The Final Conflict, and I can't help thinking that, as with Damien, there was an opportunity here that the producers neglected to exploit. Imagine a scenario in which a paranoid Damien was convinced that he was the Antichrist and that the Second Coming was just around the corner, but with the events kept vague enough that the veracity of his beliefs remained in doubt. Instead, all we're left with is silly literalism that is so far-fetched and unbelievable as to be laughable. It's pure fantasy.
And yet... and yet, so shoot me, it is better than Damien. The main reason for this is Sam Neill, whose casting as the Antichrist is a stroke of genius and all but saves the film from being scuppered completely. Neill succeeds in exuding both charisma and menace at the same time, which are exactly the qualities the character needs, and all the best scenes involve him in some way. Whenever he is off camera, the film sags considerably, relying on a not particularly distinguished cast to muddle through the turgid script (where are Patrick Troughton or Lance Henriksen when you need 'em?). I gather that Neill has made it known that he doesn't think much of the film now, and I can't say I blame him, but he can rest assured that most of the strengths it has are down to him. Of course, Jerry Goldsmith's score also adds a lot to the proceedings, with the composer this time delivering a more overtly classical piece compared to his work on the previous two films in the series. The chanting choirs - more biblical than satanic this time round - can get a bit much at times, particularly when everything builds to a crescendo during the climax, but for the most part it works, and once again Goldsmith proves himself as one of the absolute best musicians in the industry.
As the conclusion to a trilogy, The Final Conflict is not even remotely satisfying. However, as I've said before, I prefer to look on the original Omen as a standalone film and the subsequent instalments as curious but unnecessary aberrations. As such, there's not really a great deal to recommend here, barring the impressive performance by Sam Neill and the knowledge that, limp as it is, it is at least considerably better than the 2006 remake of The Omen and a slight - very slight - improvement on Damien: Omen II.
After the slight blip that was the transfer for Damien: Omen II, image quality picks up substantially for The Final Conflict, bringing it almost to the same level as that of the original film. In fact, as far as overall detail levels are concerned, number three may actually be the strongest of the lot, albeit probably thanks to differences in the photography and the improvements that were made to Panavision lenses in years between the films being shot. Once again, the image looks very film-like, with only some minor noise reduction causing any problems for the bulk of its duration. Unfortunately, the final confrontation in the ruined church grounds lets the side down, with some over-zealous NR resulting in very waxy textures and an overly synthetic look which is at odds with the rest of the film. Still, a very impressive transfer overall for a not exactly treasured catalogue title.
For audio, we once again get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix as well as a Dolby Surround 2.0 track which I would imagine replicates the original theatrical presentation. The latter sounds a little more natural to my ears, with the dialogue sounding slightly more muddy on the 5.1 track, but there's really not a lot between the two of them. Even Goldsmith's score doesn't really benefit from much additional "oomph" on the 5.1 track, presumably because it was stereo to begin with, unlike the first two films, where the original theatrical releases were mono. It does sound a little deeper, but that's about it. Both tracks are perfectly serviceable, and, while they don't have the depth or range of a modern movie mix, you shouldn't expect them to.
As with the previous two films, Spanish and French 2.0 mono dubs are also provided, in addition to English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean subtitles for the film (but not the extras).
As with the Blu-ray release of the second film, the only extras here are the ones that have been ported over from the earlier DVD release:
- Audio commentary - If you found the Harvey Bernhard commentary on Damien a chore to sit through, I guarantee that you'll be fit to be sectioned after slogging through this yawn-fest featuring director Graham Baker. You know you're in trouble when, within 30 seconds, the speaker is umming and awing and having to resort to explaining when and where the film was shot in order to stall for time. Pretty quickly, however, he gives up even doing this, and the end result is something that can barely be said to constitute a commentary. For the bulk of the film's running time he is completely silent, and when he does pipe up, it's generally to narrate what is happening on-screen, leaving you wishing he hadn't bothered. This is one of the absolute worst commentaries I've ever had the displeasure of listening to, and it's made all the worse by my overriding impression that Baker doesn't care one iota about the film.
- Theatrical trailer - The by now standard murky, artefact-ridden, fullscreen 480i trailer, which manages to be slightly less spoiler-filled than its two predecessors.
As with Damien: Omen II, Fox have put together a pleasing presentation for The Final Conflict. It both looks and sounds better than was expected, and while the offering of bonus features is particularly limp, I can't imagine that many people being particularly disappointed at not getting to spend any additional time with this flaccid offering.
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