In the Belly of the Beast: BRIAN TRENCHARD- SMITH on Megiddo: Omega Code 2
[Excerpt from the chapter "THAT's Godsploitation! A Blinkered View of Christian Apocalypse & Rapture Cinema" in Jack Sargeant's forthcoming anthology SUTURE 2]
At the helm was one of Australia’s greatest exports, the UK-born Brian Trenchard-Smith (or BTS), whose career spans over 30 years, from Antipodean actioners - The Man From Hong Kong (1975), Deathcheaters (1976), Turkey Shoot (1982) - to later lower-budget exploitation features such as Night Of The Demons 2 and the direct-to-video franchise. LeprechaunMegiddo is Trenchard-Smith’s aggressive rejigging of The Omen trilogy into a $20 million war movie - a low budget by Hollywood standards, but BTS’s largest budget to date, who clearly grabbed the cash and ran amok with a CGI paintbox, using the entire Jezreel Valley as his blank canvas.
Condensing The Omen through to The Final Conflict in first 30 minutes, Megiddo opens with the first stormy stand-off between future Antichrist Stone Alexander and his Christ-like younger brother David. The child Stone drops a match into his baby brother’s crib and stands back smiling while his Nanny beats out the flames. Stone is sent off to military school run by a concerned-looking General Francini (Franco Nero), who recognizes Stone’s innate genius but notes his complete lack of humanity. The kids taunt the impassive Stone with “Baby killer! Baby killer!” and is watched over by a Satanic Knight (Udo Kier) with his restless hounds of Hell.
As a young man, Stone (now played by Noah Huntley) catches the eye of Francini’s daughter Gabriella (Diane Verona) and proposes. Franchini finally uncovers Stone’s secret and tries to expose him, but Stone sets one of the CGI hell hounds on him and he dies of a heart attack.
25 years later, Stone (a campily pompous Michael York), now married to Gabriella, has wormed his way to the head of the European Union. He hurls his suspicious father off a third-storey balcony. By now, Satan has truly taken hold of Stone; he sends in tanks to an unnamed Middle East country to flatten a few peasant villages, then proclaims victory over terrorism by the United World Union. His grave-faced brother David (Michael Biehn), Vice President of the United States under President Benson (R. Lee Ermey), sits back and watches as the US is left out of the world block (clearly playing on America’s paranoia over “Fortress Europe”) along with renegade Red China. Benson goes with David to Stone’s European mansion to make him see sense - he shakes Stone’s hand, and a serpentine electric bolt shoots through the President’s bloodstream into the President’s heart and flattens him. David Alexander finds himself in the unenviable position of President of the United States.
Now convinced his brother is the spawn of Satan, David faces a no-confidence vote from his government, dodges an arrest warrent and is on the run. Meanwhile a vengeful Stone taunts God with “Pour out your bowls of wrath upon the Earth!” and within moments floods, riots, the Colloseum is knocked down like skittles by a buge meteor, and an earthquake tears the Sphynx in two. Stone strikes back in front of an enormous crowd in Africa and cuts them down with flames, screaming “Worship MEEEEE!!!!” and, in a particularly jaw-dropping moment, vomits a horde of bees that pour over the Great Wall of China.
China declares war on the United World Union and, along with the United States and South America, sends tanks into the Valley of Megiddo. At this moment of great worldwide despair the fugitive David Alexander emerges as the “chosen one”, a Christ-like figure of salvation, and sets out to halt Stone’s plan for eternal damnation. At Megiddo, Stone presides over a part-real, mostly CGI battle of Armageddon, then splits open to reveal the twenty-feet winged reptilian form of Satan himself. The sun turns blood red, then black, and out of the darkness, like a 50s Red Scare wet dream, the Second Coming erupts as a gigantic mushroom cloud that cuts a swathe through the unrighteousness.
Megiddo is evidently less concerned about scripture and more about action - there’s no Rapture, no Mark of the Beast, no Antichrist’s resurrection. Instead, BTS’s film is more about taking wild swings at Revelation for a wider audience - with deeper pockets.
BTS: Is ‘Megiddo’ still renting in Australia?
Andrew: Megiddo is, yeah. And it still trickles down to the same expression when they bring it back - "What the hell was that?" I think the whole church angle, the Book of Revelation angle, is so strong in it that it knocks people for a bit of a loop. I don't think they're used to seeing Church-funded apocalypse films.
During the Reagan years here in America, I think it was James Watts, the Evangelical Christian cabinet minister, was asked about the government’s rollback policies that were now damaging the environment. And he basically said, the environment doesn't matter - the Rapture is coming!
And, God will make it all over again if He wants to, so who cares, it's not important. What is important is for us right-wing Republicans to make as much money out of the environment as we can in the meantime….OK, he didn't say that. He didn't say THAT bit. Not out loud. Pardon me. I jest. And I'm a mind reader.
Yeah. Reading between the lines it's really quite a frightening concept.
Indeed, how did that longing for Rapture affect foreign policy? Nuclear Holocaust? No problem! Authoritarian Ideology of any kind is frightening, whether it is Calvinist, Islamic, or anti-intellectual Maoism of the Pol Pot variety.
Given the eccentric and irreverent nature of many of your films, Megiddo seems an odd choice. What do you say to critics who have accused you of using your skills to make propaganda for the religious right?
In a free society, everybody is entitled to get their message out there to anyone who will listen. That includes Evangelical Christians. There are 26 million members of registered Christian organisations in the US. One group of Pentecostal Christians, Trinity Broadcasting - wanted to make a movie about the battle of Armageddon, and were offering me the largest budget of my career. (So, careerism did enter into my decision.) But I had no qualms about telling their story, despite the fact that their message did not align with my spiritual beliefs. The Jewish line producer felt the same way. Of course I would not make a film for the Satanists. That’s a mental illness, not a religion. Or if the Taliban wanted an instructional film on “The Joy of Stoning”, I would also decline. In this instance, the Pentcostals wanted a product made – something they described openly as a “conversion tool”. Personally I find their philosophy a little judgemental, punitive and patriarchal for my taste, but they’re entitled to their views.
But what are your views?
Personally I believe that all religions are simply different cultural expressions of the same human yearning for answers to the meaning of life. Religions should be in harmony not conflict. How could “A Just God" create competing belief systems that encourage different races to make war upon one another in His Name? That would be cruel, and inconsistent with the concept of a benign super-intelligence capable of creating the cosmos. Empathy should make the world go round, not money. And this philosophy is common to all the great religious teachers that have influenced mankind. Treat thy neighbour as thyself. God is not the problem, we are. Society needs a moral code based on spiritual values - but throughout history, the ruling elite in different parts of the world always re-tooled religion into a control system. Some day in the future the world will unite under one religion, but it will be a religion that mandates racial and gender equality, embraces all major religions of the past as valid steps on the path to enlightenment, and applies spiritual values to solving economic and environmental problems. Not that anyone is going to take seriously religious instruction from the director of Leprechaun In Space, but those are my views, and the people who financed Megiddo are entitled to theirs also. It is important to have their views on display, so people can judge for themselves. So I said I would film their script, but invest it with a little of my sense of cinema humour at the same time. In this way, people not normally attracted to religious material might find it entertaining. Even revealing.
Let me digress on the subject of propaganda. It has its uses. Why? Because propaganda is a two-edged sword. It always reveals more about the people behind it than they realise at the time. Triumph Of The Will played very well to the German audience of its day. But to the rest of the world it was a clear warning to those still unconvinced as to where Hitler’s dreams of empire were headed. That film galvanised political opposition in England and America. There was much debate as to whether the director Leni Reifenstahl was a committed Nazi, an objective documentarian, or just a self serving careerist. Opinion will always remain divided. But her film provides mankind with a vital portrait of the arrogance and military triumphalism that imbued Hitler’s ideology, and a warning against allowing national pride to reach those toxic levels again. So propaganda of any kind – take cigarette advertising up to 1960 for instance – provides a useful addition to the public record. Let me hasten to add that I do not equate religious fundamentalists with Nazis, though the Taliban were getting close. The Pentecostals that I met through the movie all sincerely believed that their brand of Christianity was the way the world would be saved from despair. I saw their charities in operation. I met crack and heroin addicts they had rescued from skid row who were now living happy productive lives. There was a lot I saw that impressed me. But I just cannot buy this War-on-Satan thing as a driving force. Because I do not believe in Satan, this aggressive power of evil walking the earth, looking for ways to help people make themselves miserable. Satan is a metaphor for negative thinking. He is a fun movie character, but, like Jason and Freddie, he does not exist.
So how did you approach the movie?
As you know, I'm interested in genre gene-splicing. I thought, what this particular church wants to show its followers is a Cecil B. de Mille Ten Commandments type religious epic dealing with grand themes in allegorical terms on a world stage, culminating in the battle of Armageddon and The Second Coming. The script they gave me was florid melodrama, full of grandiloquent speeches substituting for relationships. It was The Greatest Script Ever Written, and changes were out of the question. That is, until Michael York and Michael Biehn both expressed their serious concerns about their characters, then I was allowed a pass at the script within strict guidelines. While giving the stars more meat to feed on, I tweaked the structure into something like: The Omen meets Airforce One in the End Of Days. They fight The Battle Of The Bulge ( Gulf War style) and are rewarded by The Second Coming. The melodrama of the piece could not be disguised so I embraced it whole heartedly. I pitched the tone of the film earnest and solemn for its religious market, and a little high camp for the secular audience, both of which were present on opening night. Stirring religious moments got applause, and a lot of Michael York’s dry asides got the laughs I was aiming for.
I'm sure that sociologists can deconstruct the film with glee, and they should. But hopefully there's my own small cult audience that might like it as high camp. That's why Michael York and I put in so many Biblical and Shakespearean quotes. He's a great Shakespearean actor so if you've got it, flaunt it. I felt if he had to make a lot of speeches, then they should be florid, literate speeches. Let him get his tongue around that, he's got one of the better tongues on the soundtrack these days. He used his Shakespearean skills to make the part constantly interesting. And you can't take your eyes off him when he's on the screen - he gobbles it up, with great skill.
You can tell he's not really taking it all very seriously.
No, he's having tremendous fun. So did I. I always have tremendous fun. Because I can always see the irony in things.
Where is Armageddon supposed to take place?
Prophecy suggests the battle will be fought round a hill overlooking the Jezreel Valley in Israel, the hill of Megiddo. This is the reputed site of the stables of King Solomon. It is also the site of numerous battles over the last six thousand years, a crossing point into the Jordan Valley. General Allenby defeated the Turks in 1918 on the Plain of Megiddo. Armageddon means “ at Megiddo “. So it's a place where strategic battles were always fought, so I guess that's why they nominated it for the 'final battle'. So I went there to check it out, and it looked just like agricultural land in Bakersfield, California. It didn't look like a dramatic landscape appropriate for staging the end of the world. I needed a place that evoked Masada, the mountain retreat where Israelite freedom fighters held off a Roman Army for three years, before committing mass suicide. Also, the 2000 Intifada was heating up. Israel was not going to be a healthy place to be shooting battle scenes from a Christian movie in a few months time. So we choose a part of California that looked like the traditional image of Israel, where the greatest danger would be driving the freeway to get there. In the Santa Clarita Valley, there is a place called Mystery Mesa, a large plateau which rises about 300 feet in the air and gave us a commanding 360 degree view of surrounding valleys and mountain ranges. Our Jewish line producer Larry Bettman was smart enough to spot it from the air in a light plane. It looked just like Masada and yet it was 30 miles from LA.
How much re-writing of the script were you allowed to do?
The original script spent nearly 40 pages on back story before Michael York is on the screen. Fascinating though the Anti-Christ’s childhood and military school experiences may be, the story treads water, the star is absent, and the audience is undoubtedly impatient. But the back story was ruled a sacred cow, so to speak. I streamlined and condensed as much as I was allowed to. The opening sequence was originally intended to be placed in the middle. I took it and placed it at the beginning, so at least we'd get Michael York up on the screen in the first few seconds, announcing his agenda, and the audience could immediately understand, oh, this is a sort of a Biblical allegory with grandiloquent speeches. And then it goes into strictly generic Omen-esque territory, so that people feel grounded in a familiar genre. Then, after some teenage romance to set up future conflict, and some slight grinding of gears, it changes genres into global political drama with supernatural trimmings. A bit of a dog’s breakfast – all over the place – but personally I like genre cocktails if they move fast enough and exult in their excesses. 4 movies in one has got to be worth watching.
Why is there a paintball battle in an era before the game was invented? Did you feel the need for another action scene and anything would do?
The only reason there is a totally anachronistic paintball battle sequence at the Italian military school ( Remember, this is 1975, guys!) is that principal producer Matthew Crouch, whose father financed the film, led his paintball team to victory in the State Championships, and he wanted the scene in the film. So that was that. Peripherally the scene demonstrates the Anti-Christ’s ruthlessness (if we were still uncertain) and his grasp of military strategy (take the enemy by surprise from behind). I introduced colored smoke into the battle and that gives the sequence an interesting look. On balance the paintball battle does give the film a burst of visual energy before a bunch of wordy sequences preceding the murder of the father. Then the structure motors along quite nicely (or absurdly, depending on your point of view).
Embellishing character within this structure had its challenges and restrictions. If you feel that there is a rather passive protagonist in the film, the Michael Biehn character, it's not for want of trying. I think he did a wonderful job, I hasten to add, but he didn't want to take the part until I could make the character as active as it is currently in the film. But the hero was not allowed to do anything on his own initiative that was not already pre-determined by God. The real hero of the movie is God, the protagonist is merely his tool. So this means that the heroic actions of the protagonist, which generally in cinema drama cause the tables to be overturned and the matters to be resolved in favour of the forces of good, in any allegorical tale, that formula was not permissible because the message of the picture is "Only God will decide, God will rule." And so you have to obey God's will at all times. Those are His chosen terms. So I originally wanted Michael Biehn to go up the hill for his final confrontation with his brother the Anti-Christ, with a tracking device in his boot, so that he could be the homing signal for Tomahawk missiles to blow up the Beast. But that was not God’s plan, it was explained to me. God required the protagonist to go on a suicide mission with no plan, just sacrifice himself. Then God would intervene, because everything is His show. He says when, where and how. Personally I have difficulty in reconciling this dictum with the massive amounts of Undeserved Misfortune in the world today. I have a problem with any belief system that models the spiritual world on tribal, hierachical command and control structures that have existed in human society throughout history, primarily to benefit the elites. Surely the Supreme Being is smarter and kinder than that? But what would I know? I am just an ethical hedonist who enjoys making movies.
Another of the script problems was that everyone was making speeches at each other, rather than having relationships. So what I worked on was to give Michael York a relationship with his wife, played by Diane Venora. Her part was so appalling no actress would take it! So I had to really clean it up and give her more to do, so that women were not just...
Hand-wringing kind of martyr types.
That's right. Or just clueless.
"I just realised he was the Beast!" Gasp!
Well, yes, that was a question Diane asked me often. "How come I have not really known all this time?" And I said, well, the only way you can justify this is that you haven't wanted to know. You know that there's a bucket under the bed, but you just don't want to lift the lid. You know something's there, but if you keep it hidden under the bed you don't confront your complicity.
But there is a little bit of a clue, too, that she's seduced by the charitable work with the poor that he's been doing, and so she actually does believe that he's doing good.
Indeed, his overt position is –“ I may be ruthless at business, but I’m just doing it so that I can pour a whole lot of money back into helping humanity”. So she turns a blind eye. The message there is that the Devil can seduce you with false values other than the obvious mercenary ones. Some of us can be seduced by our own sense of pride in our moral rectitude or level of compassion. The Devil will find your weakest point, whatever pride you're susceptible to, and exploit that. And you know, that's reasonably plausible. My view is that the Devil is a metaphor for selfishness, from which all human failings stem. But in this kind of movie it is fun to visually create The Beast. However, his final depiction in Megiddo by a sorry digital effect, scarcely worthy of Playstation 2, was my greatest disappointment with the film. That’s a problem with CGI. The experts assure you it will look great in the final render. When it doesn’t, it is too late and too expensive to start over. Overall, our VFX supervisors did a great job with limited resources, but The Beast let us down. He should have been really scary.
I'm really keen on the early scenes, the Omen inspired ones. The attempting to burn the baby. Which is always a nice moment! (laughs)
Well yes, I had fun with that. There was an attempted baby burning scene in the original script, and it had to take place, and there had to be this line from the evil kid: "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away." And that was an edict from on high. So I made the most of it. I mean, I've watched it with mothers present, and they shift very uncomfortably in their seats. But we were at great pains not to endanger the baby, or even the doll!
And of course, one of my other favourite moments is the first appearance of Udo Kier, because it was so totally unexpected! (laughs) I fell off my chair when I saw Udo.
Udo, yeah, he's great. He's quite a character.
So I've got a feeling that you're more than compensating the Brian Trenchard-Smith cult audience -
Well, I would HOPE so!
- by populating the film with people like Udo Kier and Franco Nero particularly.
Well, I'd like to take credit for that, but in truth we had to get some names that had some theatrical value in Europe. So that, we knew the film would get a theatrical release in the United States, because they were basically going to four- wall it, through whatever theatres they could get. Three hundred ultimately. But to make sure that it would get a theatrical release in Europe it had to have some European stars, in addition to Michael York, who certainly is a British name. Udo and Franco were friends with Larry Mortorff, one of the 'secular' producers. He's got thirty producer credits on movies. He's a lawyer, and a significant powerbroker in his own way in Hollywood. And he knows everybody, so he can call in relationships. He knew Franco and he knew Udo, from past films, and said hey, think about being in this. I talked to those guys over the phone and we worked something out. I mean, in the script Udo’s character had absolutely no part at all, and I just used every opportunity to have him as an observer in scenes. So we built him up as much as possible, but as far as Udo is concerned, it's still not nearly enough part! But it was all I could manage, particularly in something that had to be shot in 38 days. And in Italy, they work ten hour, not 12 hour days. But it was a wonderful castle, Bracchiano Castle, about a hour outside of Rome, which has been used in Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, and a number of other pictures.
So the question, I still haven't asked the question, how DID you become involved, in a church-funded apocalypse film? I mean, how were you first approached?
I was approached by a friend of mine who'd just had lunch with Mrs. Michael York. She said, "We're having real trouble finding a director that WE like for this follow-up to The Omega Code."
Because Michael York was listed as one of the producers.
Yes, well I'm sure that was an inducement for him to come on board the second one. And indeed, he's written a book about it - 'Dispatches from Armageddon' by Michael York. He kept a daily diary, which, I think, is an interesting rose-coloured view of things! But he's very kind to me, and to what I did, and yeah, I'm sure you could get that book on-line if you wanted. Because that could help you with your book, or your chapters, because there would be some quotes from him, relating to the film.
Anyway, Mrs York told this friend of mine, David Baxter, gee, I wish we could find a good director. And he says, "I know one!" I should give him credit for that. David Baxter is a young producer about to score with a lot of projects. And he's been a friend of mine since we met at the UCLA fencing club.
That sounds like a good place to network!
Anyway, David called me on my cell, and says, "Hey, get your reel over to Michael York's manager." And so I did. And so Michael duly saw my demo tape, and then I was called to meet him at a book signing he was doing for his book on Shakespeare. And as he said in his Megiddo book - ” five minutes later I could see that I was a man he could do business with”. And so he knew I didn't have a fixed vision, that I was going to be a conductor of fine instruments, as I often call myself as a director. You have to be a conductor of fine instruments, pick the brains of everybody and then weld their ideas into your ideas. I mean, immediately it was obvious that we should put Shakespeare in, Shakespearean quotes in the script. So when he saw my fondness for Shakespeare too, then I think that helped.
So then I was given to the Trinity Broadcasting people to have my professional past examined. I think they saw Britannic , the story of Titannic’s sister ship, which also sank. They deemed it very good value for money and special effects. I made it for $3.5M, ( perhaps little more than James Cameron’s catering budget!) So, they thought that I could handle a big look in a short shooting schedule. And I did. In fact, the schedule was originally going to be 44 days, and it was reduced to 38 days, which was a struggle but we did it. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world, it was great fun, and it may one day, someone will deconstruct it for a more popular audience.
I figured in some cases it probably would need someone holding their hands through it, saying, "Look, I don't think everybody's taking this so seriously, you know."
Much of the Christian press praised it, loudly.
Because they do...
And I am glad that the bulk of the Christian audience that saw it enjoyed it. Because how often does a big-scale VFX heavy Christian themed action picture come their way. Friends of mine called me after seeing it with suburban audiences a couple of weeks into the run. There was cheering in several spots and applause at the end. My job is to please an audience in whatever genre, so that was satisfying to hear. On the other secular side of the fence, I think only one reviewer got my tandem approach. Harry Knowles's Aint It Cool News review, well he had one correspondent who called it the kind of overtly high camp old fashioned B movie that they basically don't make any more. I'll take that as a great compliment.
That IS a good compliment!
Yeah, well I'm always interested in reworking a genre. Sadly only the faithful went on the release date, the week after the 9/11 attack. The secular audience stayed away from a film whose ad line stated….” In the beginning, the End had a name…( MEGIDDO )…That time is now…” Comforting words a few days after the worst attack ever on American soil. If they had written off the publicity expenses already committed to, and postponed the release till after Afghanistan – say February – and changed the ad campaign to a message of hope – then they would have done twice the business.
But according to an interview that I forwarded to you, the producers really did think that they were recording history as prophesied by the Bible.
Yeah, indeed, they said that God had positioned the release date of Megiddo to occur just after the terrorist attack when mankind needed to reflect on its ways. And there are those that believe that Biblical prophecy is about to come true, that we are in the time of Tribulation, which immediately precedes Armageddon, and will be followed by the Rapture. There are those that believe what George Bush is doing in occupying Iraq and inviting the terrorists to come there and fight American forces will bring about the very Jihad crusade that Ousama bin Laden set out to create, a clash between Muslim and Christian nations. However there are those that believe this is a Good Thing, because God will intervene on the Christian side, smite the heathen, and institute a New World Order. There are Right Wing Christians who justify American Imperialism as the Lord’s will. God created America to take control of the world for its own good.
A good way of disguising corporate interests.
Well yes! You'll die for what you're told is your God. But, if the God of the people who are telling you to die is -in truth- Money, then you've died for someone else's profits. I can't think of a justifiable war this century, other than World War Two. And again, if people hadn't been as craven and spineless and morally flexible in the 20s and 30s in relation to what was happening in Germany, Hitler could have been stopped. Hitler would have been avoided if the Treaty of Versailles had not been so punitive, and basically created the economic conditions that would bring about a fascist demagogue. And the present Middle East conflict would have been avoided if the British, French and Americans had not arrogantly carved up the Ottoman Empire to suit their own interests, while ignoring the interests and needs of the different ethnic groups in the region. One thing I didn't ask was, have you actually watched the first Omega Code.
One thing I didn't ask was, have you actually watched the first Omega Code.
Yes I did. It has a promising start, some interesting mood and atmosphere and intrigue... but I'm afraid that from the moment that Casper van Dien leaps over that sofa on the talk show introductory sequence - it's all downhill from there. By the end, it is confusing and hard to sit through. Michael Biehn said to me "Did you see that first film they made? I tried to sit through it FOUR TIMES and I can't get to the end!" Well - it has one or two interesting moments, but it wasn't the compelling thriller it was advertised to be, but the Christian audience were so starved of anything that related to their area of interest, they went to it in great numbers. And it spawned the sequel.
Well, it's the whole concept of the starving man in the desert and the box of Sayo biscuits. He's gonna LOVE that packet of Sayo biscuits when he finally comes across them!
I thought surely there was a better movie to be made out of this kind of material. And lo and behold, I got my chance to try. But look, none of our films are perfect, certainly not mine.
It's incredible. Have you seen the Thief In The Night series?
The ones that you mentioned, those Seventies apocalyptic Christian ones, I've never seen those.
Oh, those Seventies ones are absolutely amazing. And you know I'm interviewing the filmmakers on Thursday. They're trying to get a miniseries, based on the seventies apocalypse series, off the ground for some Christian cable network.
There is a rival group of Christian filmmakers, who make the Left Behind series.
That's the one, yeah. I can't remember the name of their company, but they brought out Revelation and Tribulation...
Right. They've done VERY well.
They've done incredibly well, and yet… they really ARE awful, they're true B films.
But that's how starved the Christian audience is, for anything that speaks to them as decent. I mean, what can you say?
It's really quite interesting, because they're involved with a ministry called the Jack Van Impe Ministry. He's, I guess, one of the big Pentecostal bigwigs, who organised, I don't know if you know this, he organised an internet - not a survey, but a petition, an internet petition, that was sent out to about a thousand cinemas across America, with the names of thousands and thousands of born again Christian names, saying "We will blacklist your cinema unless you start to play Christian product." And that was about two years ago.
So that may explain why Trinity was able to get Megiddo into four hundred cinemas.
Yeah. I think it was only three hundred at the end of the day. They lost the states of New York and Washington D.C. - no theatre there would book the film after 9/11. Every theatre in those states cancelled their bookings.
Why, because it was seen to be in bad taste?
Yeah. You see a shot of the Pentagon in the film - and when I saw it with an audience 9 days after the Pentagon was hit, the audience winced at that shot. Now, I don't think that means you should cut it out, I think you should release the film at a more sensible time. Or a more prudent time in the market, or at least wait and see what a prudent time is. Megiddo is not a film that would ever have gone out of date, because it is, in a way, already dated - a Sixties epic in modern dress. Ten Commandments meets the Book of Revelations. Good versus evil, the wrath of God, the clash of nations, brother against brother - hey, you know, sounds like good stuff. But anyway, they decided to embrace the disaster of 9/11 and make it all part of the plan. And I think that was a major credibility blot, when God did not reward them with boffo box office.
Did you say it only got about six million?
$ Six million. Which is half what its predecessor got, but it did ship at least 450,000 video copies in the US and Canada alone. And it's a better film than its predecessor, I say with my customary modesty, and it's by no means perfect. But it's an interesting effort. But it could have done substantially better if they had judged the mood of the country more prudently, spent a bit more time thinking about it.
It was almost like the case of the fundamentalist minister who came out within a week of September 11 and said that New York deserved it, because it was a city full of paedophiles and sinners and sodomites! You know, that sort of thing is not good PR for the church.
One element that is missing from Omega Code and Omega Code 2, which was in the Left Behind series, is the whole concept of a rapture.
So was it not in the job description to put in the rapture and...
I think it became ultimately a matter of budget. I mean, in the script, as Michael Biehn lies dying, he sees the Diane Venora character floating above him like an angel, so she's in heaven - but there was not a scripted rapture, other than the Mount of Olives splitting open and water gushing out. THAT aspect of the rapture, prophecy wise, was reflected, but the spirits all rising up out of the ground was not. And I think there was a genuine concern - perhaps a wise concern - by the producers, that it could look awfully hokey, it could look like something out of an early Sam Raimi film. Well, Sam Raimi would have done an interesting job on The Omega Code series (laughs).
I think so, yeah. If you look at those Seventies apocalypse films or even the recent ones, the Left Behind series, they always include the Seven Seals opening and the Four Horsemen. You sort of hinted at the whole thing about the Four Horsemen, the Pestilence and Starvation visiting the land, in a series of news stories.
Yeah. We were going to have more tribulation, we were going to have a blizzard of giant hailstorms smash the Pacific Design Center. There was meant to be all sorts of freak weather, which ultimately I got out of stock footage, and I created these little news broadcasts, to tell the audience about things we couldn't afford to do. Which is a low budget technique. But yeah, we could have had more, but that's the idea - God tests the people of the world with tribulations Will they still worship him in times of trouble? Or will they switch allegiance to a plausible celebrity who claims to be a benefactor to mankind, but really he represents the forces of evil. So those that side with the pretender, 'they will be cut down like winter wheat'. And that's the message
My point was that the other films are kind of almost beating the audience over the head with this whole Biblical Book of Revelations concept of the false prophet, and people accepting the mark of the Beast. In one film they're actually getting what looks like ink stamps on their arm, that kind of resemble bar codes. You know? And at one point the ink is kind of smudged, so it looks kind of shitty. And so I think to the credit of Megiddo you haven't kind of spelt it out to the audience.
I tried to eliminate scenes that would be so absurd in their internal logic that they took you out of the movie. However, there are those that believe the “ mark of the beast “ is your credit card number, and ultimately fallen believers will show their allegiance to the Antichrist by having it stencilled on their body, thus permitting them to receive food and water in the time of Tribulation. This was too complex a side issue for the film to explore. In the light of all my comments, I don't want to appear to be stabbing the movie in the back retrospectively. I'm really quite pleased that it is what it is, that it turned out as well as it did, given the fact that it was an extremely difficult film to prep in eight weeks from a standing start, including rewriting. And shoot in 38 instead of 44 days. The works.
In the light of all my comments, I don't want to appear to be stabbing the movie in the back retrospectively. I'm really quite pleased that it is what it is, that it turned out as well as it did, given the fact that it was an extremely difficult film to prep in eight weeks from a standing start, including rewriting. And shoot in 38 instead of 44 days. The works.
And the whole point of the article is particularly not to belittle the first Omega Code either, or to say that all these films are a little silly. You know, I'm seriously applying what is seen to be, what do they call it, apocalypticism, into that whole Christian theory of rapture, tribulation, armageddon.
You know why I think that the apocalypse movies and books and so forth are so popular right now, is because the world has become so complex, and so threatening. Not only are you threatened by geopolitics that you have no control over,and an environment and a food supply that is becoming more and more polluted and contaminated, you seem to be threatened by an economic system that becomes more and more oppressive to the middle class The rich get richer, the poor get audited, so that the once-contented, happy-little-vegemite middle class are now feeling the squeeze and they're frightened about the future. So if they can convince themselves that there's a future beyond the immediate future, that will give them what they've worked so hard all their lives for, to give them contentment and a life without fear, and all the things that Heaven promises - and all they have to do is obey the precepts of God's messengers on Earth, then that is some measure of comfort. But in a way, it's almost a neurotic reaction to a traumatic situation.
But it's a very human reaction too.
A very human reaction, we all search for the unknowable. I mean, my particular religious beliefs are completely different. I believe in the essential unity of all religions as different cultural expressions of the same search for the meaning of life, the imponderable, the unknowable. We don't know the answer. But we need to try to find it. So I believe that religion should not be a reason for conflict, it should be a reason for unity.
Well, that's pretty much my position too. But I'm sure that you didn't tell that to the Pentecostals! Unitarianism is possibly one of the big buggaboos or possibly one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse too.
Yeah, well, this is the way they are. Religion can be used as a control system, with a centralised authority that doesn’t like to share. But I would like to add that the rank and file Pentecostals that I dealt with on the film were all genuine decent likable people. On the last night of shooting, 300 Christian volunteers were swelling the ranks of our extras in the battle scenes. It was freezing cold. Groups of them huddled round small gas heaters for warmth singing Christian songs between set ups. I went over to one group to thank them for their contribution. And they decided to give me a blessing, crowding round me, laying their hands on me, even though I was not one of them. They prayed that I might find God like them. They were genuinely happy people. It was very sweet. I was touched. I accepted the blessing. Did it make me a better person? I think I am still the same. Perhaps it stopped me getting any worse! Anyway, that's it for the night.