A mere 40 years after its original theatrical release (and 10 years after its faithful remake), "The Omen" has given birth to a television series and named it "Damien." Premiering Monday on A&E, it was created by Glen Mazzara, a veteran of "The Walking Dead" and "The Shield," and is just as drear and dreadful as that history would suggest.
Mazzara ignores the action of the movie's two big-screen sequels — though footage from the first film is used for visions and flashbacks, adding the late Gregory Peck and Lee Remick to its cast in the bargain — and adjusts the timeline to make its central character a 30-year-old war photographer, who is also unwittingly the Antichrist.
One violent day in Damascus — in the "Christian Quarter of the Old City," a title tells us — Damien (Bradley James) meets an old crone who speaks the same words, "Damien, it's all for you," that his childhood governess spoke right before hanging herself. (Cue "Omen" clip.) Soon, a younger older woman (Barbara Hershey as the cool and confidential Ann Rutledge) will arrive more permanently in his life. Like an Unholy Ghost, she has come to announce the Bad News: "It's a whole new world; the seals have been broken, the trumpet blown." She's not talking about Sea World.
There's a built-in tension between prophetic inspiration, which says, "This shall come to pass," and drama, as we think of it now at least, which relies on the possibility of denying expectations. With the main character strapped to the engine of predestination, the whole business can feel a little mechanical, no matter what twists and turns the tracks take.
Of course, once we've started down this fictional road, there's no reason that scripture would need to be closely followed (or ever has been) by a television creepshow. Who's to say that the Antichrist might not in some respects be a decent guy or that Damien couldn't turn his congenital evilness to good, like Dexter? Five episodes in, he is mostly just tortured by the possibility that he's been born to end the world. But after 2,000 years, what's the rush?
Caught between the murderous forces of good who want to cut the prophecy off at the pass, saving everybody a thousand years of tribulation, and the murderous forces of those who are interested only in profiting from the tribulation (the usual consortium of high-powered business types and deadly true believers), he is more acted upon, or acted around, than acting. He might be the Beast, but he's also the protagonist here, the biggest antihero of them all.
Still, the constant pre-apocalyptic jitters get in the way of James creating much of a character. It isn't until the fifth episode, really, that he is allowed to play a few scenes in which he resembles a person — scenes not underscored with upsetting noise designs or an aggressively chanting chorus out of "Carmina Burana." But that seems a break in the tone rather than a trend.
"The darkness is coming," says someone who has possibly seen not only the future but the dailies. The series, whose tone-setting pilot was directed by Shekhar Kapur ("Elizabeth") is often dark, literally, and usually dark temperamentally.
Damien's translator-sidekick-business partner Amani (Omid Abtahi) hazards a joke now and again, but otherwise this is a show almost completely without humor, an attitude that might get you through a two-hour movie but can wear a watcher out over the course of a TV series. (Not that Revelation is long on hilarity.) Damien highlighting Bible passages with a yellow marker, a tricycle from "The Omen" on display in a secret room, the old horror-film dodge in which reproductions of old artworks are offered as if they're photographic proof of monsters — these are things that made me laugh.
When: 10 p.m. Monday