Alex Heard

Alex Heard

A weeklong electronic journal.
Dec. 21 1999 9:00 PM

Alex Heard

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Last night I skipped dinner with the jovial in-laws and aimed my rental car toward Manassas, Va., the only place I could find within a 50-mile radius of Washington, D.C., that's still showing The Omega Code, a feature film about the End Times starring Michael York.

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You may recall reading about The Omega Code a couple of months ago--like The Blair Witch Project, it came out of low-budget nowheresville and surprised the experts by earning tens of millions of dollars in a swift burn through Middle America. Any similarities with Blair Witch stop there, though. Code was produced by the Trinity Broadcast Network, a Christian outfit in Southern California whose top guy, Paul Crouch, is one of the more prominent popularizers of the doomsday prophecies found in the Book of Revelation.

I've been wanting to see this movie for months--I love novels, films, and artwork that grow out of apocalyptic beliefs, and I don't mean this ironically--but it's been impossible. I live in the Bay Area, and Code never came there. Soon after its release, a spokesman for Trinity said the distribution strategy specifically excluded cities that weren't evangelically churchy enough, which meant "no chance" for Babylon on the Pacific.

Code was screening at Manassas Mall. I arrived with time to spare, so I ducked into a Christian bookstore that contained a huge shelf-load of End Times tomes, along with an interactive kiosk offering scenes from other (less successful) apocalyptic feature films of recent vintage.

I'd never seen this kiosk deal before, and I monkeyed around with it so long that I almost missed the start of Code. Punch a button and you get a trailer for Vanished, a film from John Hagee Ministries about the crucial End Times event known as the Rapture--the moment during the Tribulation period when good Christians will be whooshed up into Heaven, just in time to save them from the rampages and torments of the Antichrist. ("It will happen," says the voiceover.) Punch another and--yegads!--it's Gary Busey, jawing vaguely through the potboiler script of Tribulation. Busey's not the only former marquee player who's found himself toiling in an End Times film: He was joined in cinematic purgatory by Howie Mandel, Margot Kidder, Jeff Fahey, "supermodel Carol Alt," and Nick Mancuso, who plays the Antichrist in both Revelation and Tribulation.

In Code, the Antichrist is good ol' Michael York, who looks like he just had a botox facial but otherwise does a fine job with a tough part. (My favorite Antichrist clunker comes when he's thanking a woman, a top international broadcaster, after her betrayal of a brave-hearted American who tries to stop York. "Ahhhh, Cassandra," he says. "My Jezebel. My ... Salome?") But alas, as screenplay fodder, the apocalypse has built-in problems, the biggest one being the vast sweep of the subject matter. To summarize very, very briefly what has to happen:

  • The Antichrist, a falsely charismatic agent of Satan, rises to become head of a Global Government. (In Code, York gets the exalted title Chancellor of the United World.)
  • He rebuilds the Temple in Jerusalem, where he's crowned top dude--a travesty known as "the abomination of desolation."
  • He murders a couple of guys, the "two witnesses," who have been standing in front of the Temple Mount prophesying the triumph of Good over Evil.
  • Though he has posed as a friend of Israel, he sets out to destroy it. He also requires anyone left behind after the Rapture to accept his mark (666) or face death.
  • He kills people for a few more years while the seas turn to blood, locusts swarm, earthquakes increase, the Four Horsemen appear, the Whore of Babylon struts around, and so forth. In time, Christ returns at the head of an army--weirdly, with a sword jutting out of his mouth--and kicks ass at the Battle of Armageddon. The Antichrist dies; Satan is thrown into a pit and a thousand years of peace, a k a the millennium, begins.

Whew! Putting that on the screen would require a huge f/x budget, so, none too surprisingly, when it comes time to cut costs, these movies usually look to the back half. In this respect, Code bummed me out. Instead of depicting Armageddon--which I really want to see, particularly the sword/mouth effect--it employed a deus ex cheapskate gimmick right after the abomination. There was no avenging army--instead, the whole planet was swallowed up in a white-hot cloud of nuclear-godhead righteousness.

Nice try, but not good enough: I give it two mouth-swords down.