The Omega Man

The Omega Man - Released August 1, 1971. Directed by Boris Sagal

Charlton Heston seems tired through a lot of this film, and it's not hard to see why. He, (along with supporting cast Anthony Zerbe and Rosalind Cash) have to carry this movie forward through a very long 98 minutes. The story isn't always logical (or coherent ... Heston's character, Robert Neville, quips to co-star Rosalind Cash, playing Lisa, 'how did you ever see swimming fish in Harlem?' yet our whole story takes place in Los Angeles and there's no indication Lisa is from New York City. Is screenwriter John Corrington trying to tell us all African-Americans come from Harlem?)

There is also the issue of how Neville survived the plague which has rendered everyone (well, almost everyone) into albino, silver-eyed homicidal killers dedicated to a Luddite, medieval cult operated by crazed former-newscaster Matthias (Zerbe). Dressed in black robes (some have a sparkly "glam" surface, others are matte, no reason is given for the difference) the members of "The Family" are trying to destroy all vestiges of the technology they blame for the plague. They especially want to kill Heston, a "user of the wheel" who stands as a monument to the past they want to erase. At least that's what they keep saying, though from the littered and abandoned appearance of Los Angeles, they've not made any progress as there are cars everywhere and other remnants of the past. The only occupation we see the robed-ones pursuing is trying to kill Heston (who survived the plague because he took a shot of a rare antibiotic serum).

Neville is holed-up in his barricaded townhouse (Lisa calls it "A honky paradise"), equipped with food, guns, 8-track stereo tapedecks, and closed-circuit TV. He has surrounded his place with powerful lamps that cause the hyper-light-sensitive "family" to shrink away like vampires beholding a crucifix. As a token of his dedication to civilization, Neville has hooked up a fully-functional water fountain out front that gushes a flowing stream whenever Neville's electric generators are on. Because it lacks any utility to the script, it seems funny (and there's a lot of unintentional humor in this movie) though it might be a leftover from the original source of the movie, the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend which contained experiments with running-water in that books plot where Neville battles vampires.*

As was the brief fashion in the very late 1960s and early 1970s, Sagel's camera moves in and out of scenes and inward toward objects and faces in a style that might be called "groovy" and it dates the movie considerably to a specific blip of time in Hollywood history. Heston's character likes to drop into an abandoned movie theatre and watch the movie Woodstock (1970) which is full of teeming crowds of young people and this psychologically makes sense, since Neville is (for awhile at least) utterly alone in a city of dead corpses, but this footage also ties the movie down to s specific moment in time. As the movie grinds onward, Neville's unique status as "the last man on earth" gets diluted until it is meaningless as other survivors show up, and because of the threat of Anthony Zerbe's awkward black-clad army, the story is soon filled with a lot of running people in robes and it takes on the live-action aspects of a Scooby Doo cartoon.

Compromised by a filming style that went out of fashion almost as quickly as it became one, and written in a way that mostly sets up chase sequences that get repetitive quickly, The Omega Man has too few good scenes (there are some) and too many that are not.

*Only the general outline of Matheson's novel appears in director Sagel's The Omega Man. Matheson: "I don't know why Hollywood keeps coming back to the book just to not do it the way I wrote it. The book should have been filmed as is at the time it came out." Matheson's novel has been filmed three times and 'borrowed' from for many other productions. The most successful version was the $585 million dollar grossing I Am Legend of 2007 with Will Smith as Neville.

Original page May 2016

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