The Omega Man (1971)

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The Omega Man (1971)

Post  BoG on Sat Mar 13, 2010 10:00 pm

This is one of my personal favorites from the seventies. As with a few other films, some of this may be due to it being one of the earliest science fiction films I've seen (I began to view these in earnest in the seventies). Many are fans of the picture simply for the sight of a gun-toting Charlton Heston, who seems enamored of such weapons. But, the weapons are merely tools - a methodology by which Heston's character, Neville, expresses his approval of individualism. Sound far-fetched? - more on that later.

This is the Last Man on Earth story done with gusto and panache, especially the first half of the picture. Many fans of this picture are often placed in the position of defending it or feeling guilty about admiring it, mostly due to the liberties taken with Richard Matheson's original novel (I am Legend). Yes, some of these liberties seem unnecessary and silly - what else is new in Hollywood?  Someone (s) thought the sight of albinos dressed as monks would be a great, scary visual and provide impressive-looking adversaries for Neville (Heston). Oops.  However, with some minor exceptions, there is very little else wrong with the film.

Upon a 2nd or 3rd viewing, certain plotpoints don't hold up well under scrutiny. One very minor one is near the beginning, something I noted from way back when I first watched it. Neville sits in an empty theater, watching Woodstock. It's one of the most memorable and effective scenes in the film.  But, this is a dark theater, right? It's an ideal spot for his enemies to sneak up on him. He sits in the center, very blase, not worried at all. This is at odds with his later concern about the sun setting. I would've, at the very least, sat in the back seats, against a wall. Neville seems to have done this many times before, without problems; of course, the first time he heads down into a dark cellar, he gets bushwhacked.

Towards the end, his new girlfriend (Rosalind Cash) goes for a last time of shopping and stays at it forever. In fact, she goes at it for so long, it's dark by the time she's walking back to Neville's home. Huh? Again, all of a sudden, there's a complete lack of concern regarding the lack of sunlight. Even if her brother hadn't made his fatal move, and she did not revert to albino-mode, it sure seems like things would've ended badly for her anyway due to such careless behavior.

CHARLTON HESTON is the last man.

ROSALIND CASH is the last woman...
PAUL KOSLO is the last college student.
ANTHONY ZERBE  is the last newscaster...
But, these clumsy moments aside, this film remains in many ways the ultimate Heston role. This was his rugged individual persona taken to the nth degree.  As he says, no one - not Matthias (Anthony Zerbe) or his band of mutates or any other organization - will force him out of his home until he's good and ready to leave.  The will or the whims of the majority do not necessarily hold sway here. Neville has staked out his claim, his piece of property, his land... and that's it. That is it. This says that without individual rights, we have nothing.  Heston, of course, enforces this point of view in his own particular style and a lot of it is unforgettable. Needless to say, he doesn't mess around. I watched this again recently and most of it still holds up quite well, against expectations.
This film has been released on Laserdisc, DVD, then HD DVD and Blu-Ray. BoG's Score: 8.5 out of 10

Omega Trivia: The earlier version of Matheson's novel was The Last Man on Earth in 1964, starring Vincent Price. The 2007 remake I Am Legend was released on DVD in 2008. Neville's adversaries were now taken to the other extreme as fully superhuman horrors rather than the clumsy robed figures of the seventies version. But, it was too much - they looked like video game creations, ping-ponging up and off the architecture. And the ending was far too abrupt, having no resonance; I caught myself thinking of Heston's final scene instead. Maybe they'll get Matheson's version right in the year 2035 (unless it really happens by then).