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Amazing what they can make with soya beans these days.

Movie

The Final Conflict
aka Omen III: The Final Conflict
(1981)

 

Twentieth Century Fox remained broadly steadfast in their quality-be-damned approach towards sequels (and remakes) through various changes in management. Occasionally an Aliens would happen, but more common was the template established by Planet of the Apes (chuck out cheap sequels; miraculously, several of these were quite good). So it was most certainly the same studio that gave us The Final Conflict and, much later, A Good Day to Die Hard (from the director of The Omen remake). In many respects, Damien: Omen II appeared to be a functional sequel, dutifully following the inventive kill count of its predecessor, but it’s a positively inspired font compared to this trilogy capper.

Like Escape from the Planet of the Apes (also the third in that series), The Final Conflict chooses a retcon in order to pursue its premise. There, a couple of apes escaped a doomed earth and managed to “time travel” to the mid-1970s. Here, there’s more time travel. Damien is now 32, but the events of The Final Conflict take place in 1981, or thereabouts. Which would mean The Omen occurred in 1956. It would have been much more interesting if they’d decided to set it in 2003 (or just 1999/2000, for the sake of a significant date). Escape from the Planet of the Apes managed to justify its decision through its fish out of water, culture-clash approach and speculation on causality. Unfortunately, The Final Conflict has no such validation.

Screenwriter and Kubrick acolyte Andrew Birkin (brother of Jane) went on to several religious-themed pictures, including King DavidThe Name of the Rose and Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. All of those, as particularly patchy as the first and last of them are, have more merit than this one. Either divested of the budget to depict an apocalyptic reign, or of inspiration, we’re informed early on that Damien has been head of Thorn Industries for seven years. So there you are. That’s your Satanic reign. Can you say Antichrist anti-climax? Which means all that remains is for Damien to fail to kill “the Nazarene” (the Second Coming evidently manifesting as an infant) and, eventually, be impaled on a dagger of Megiddo.

Essentially, then, The Final Conflict is a huge missed opportunity. A fizzle. There’s even very little in the way of the corporate machinations that could arguably have saved the movie. After all, only a fool would assume a politician has more influence than the corporate elite, but for reasons of lukewarm apocryphal prophecy, Damien chooses to follow in his father’s footsteps and finagle the role of British Ambassador. On the surface, this is because the “Book of Hebron” foretells Christ ending his reign, “but it won’t be the Beast that’ll be destroyed”. There’s no strong reason for Damien to be Ambassador to achieve this (he tells the President he’ll need to resign in two years in order to run for Senate); he could simply relocate the Thorne office to the UK, but it adds a “build a bigger Death Star” element to the plot, calling back to both the UK and angling of the original while highlighting unflatteringly that the 1976 movie is vastly superior.

Promotion ReelThe economic crisis of the past decade has brought inflation, famine and chaos to every corner of the globe. Some label it the Great Recession. Others are calling it Armageddon, that final upheaval of the world foretold by the prophets of old. 

A promo nixed by Thorn opens The Final Conflict – well, following the unearthing of those handy Daggers of Megiddo – in which he is presented as the “world’s leading light” (a light like Lucifer, presumably) and the list of the company’s accomplishments includes medical teams, construction, engineering and feeding the world’s starving with soya. Indeed, one of the things that did amuse here is the manner in which no bones are made about soya being the foodstuff of the devil; Thorn Industries is encapsulated as producing “everything from nuclear armaments to soya bean food products”. Of course, they’re actually pretty close together on the Satanic scale (even more so if you credit the former as a hoax).

Alas, Damien is decidedly less deft in practice. One might hope for a satanic Gordon Gekko – or a more Satanic Gordon Gekko – so getting the drop on the decade to come, but there’s something rather vanilla about Sam Neill’s Damien Thorn. I don’t think it’s particular Neill’s fault; the entire movie is lacking in texture, so the Antichrist is hardly likely to be vibrant.

About the only element that works in terms of his influence is his “luring” of child minion Peter (Barnaby Holm) and “blooding” him after a fox-hunting trip. From then on, Peter functions as Damien’s pint-sized Stasi, getting the goods on anyone who might stand in his way (including his mum). Damien is very keen to corrupt the minds of the young generally, requesting the presidency of the UN Youth Council. There’s little opportunity for him to show his mettle, craftiness or cunning, though. Instead, The Final Conflict functions as a kind of laugh-free Oktoberfest sequence from The Pink Panther Strikes Again, with the Antichrist standing in for Inspector Clouseau.

Most of Damien’s rants are on the banal side, lambasting “the Nazarene”. Some of the language is suitably grotesque and unseemly (from “a numbing eternity in the flaccid bosom of Christ” to being “vomited forth from the gaping wound of a woman”), but having him spend his time running around, trying to ensure the deaths of any male children born between midnight and dawn on March 24 is strictly pedestrian. Although, news reports intoning “Scotland Yard has assured us that in their opinion there is no question of foul play in any of the mortalities reported” before levelling the charge of “scaremongering” sounds about right for a response to anyone attempting to uncover the unvarnished truth.

There’s an ongoing subplot regarding Israel being blamed for the Aswan Dam disaster in Egypt. Damien informs the President (Mason Powers) the “Nubian Liberation Front” were actually responsible. This produces a rare sly piece of humour as he observes “They claimed it submerged fifty percent of their homeland. Which of course it did… until now”. But one might have expected more focus on the relationship with the seat of power in the Western World. Unfortunately not. Indeed, most of the characters are sketchy at best (Ruby Wax makes more of an impression in a brief scene as the former Ambassador’s PA than the President does).

The assassin monks led by Rossano Brazzi’s Father DeCarlo are a nondescript bunch, a crucial failing for any yen to develop dramatic thrust. Lisa Harrow is fine as news show host Kate Reynolds, but the role is a sloppy means of ensuring Damien has a blind spot (she gets to stab him in the back after Damien has used her son Peter as a human shield). Don Gordon is notable as Damien’s increasingly nervy lieutenant Dean, but Omen II made room for Antichrist protectors left, right and centre; this picture suffers from the Antichrist’s rather barren landscape of disciples.

Kim Newman opined that The Final Conflict “redundantly spells it all out and thinks up lamely uninventive atrocities”. And yes, the deaths are here, although director Graham Baker intentionally put the brakes on overly gory depictions. The Ambassador, possessed by a hell hound, ensures a gratuitous “self-inflicted” gunshot wound kicks things off, and there’s an inept assassin forms a fiery pendulum during a TV appearance by Damien. Later, Dean’s possessed wife bashes hubby’s brains in with a piping-hot steam iron.

What might have been the series’ best opportunity to explore its themes is written off in borderline risible fashion. Baker was apparently hired after Birkin turned the gig down. He brings about as much to the proceedings as Richard Marquand later did to Return of the Jedi. Baker’s best known for the serviceable Alien Nation (a decent premise that always felt like it was missing something fundamental in the originality department), and no journeyman could feasibly have bolstered this into anything decent. Maybe someone as berserk as Ken Russell might have fashioned a gloriously OTT opera; it definitely needed a director who saw the script as a guide only (if that).

The Final Conflict Wiki page reports Fox planned to make Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 in 1984, with a Stanley Mann screenplay based on Gordon McGill’s 1983 novel featuring Damien Junior (born from Kate’s butt, I kid you not). There’s a definite citation needed on that one, though (The Final Conflict couldn’t even crack 1981’s Top 30 movies, although it doubtless did well out of the home-video boom). One could blame the movie’s relative failure on changing audience demands – this was the year of Friday the 13th Part 2 and Halloween II, and the slasher subgenre was in full swing – but it really comes down to something more basic. The Final Conflict doesn’t offer enough meat to be a “classy” horror, and it’s far too reserved to be a crude one.

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