Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Omega Man (1971)

Seen: On dvd on my laptop, rented from netflix.
94/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

When I went through my Vincent Price phase in high school I watched The Last Man on Earth, loved it (duh), and declared it the only worthwhile version of this story without even reading the source book. I figured anything with Charlton Heston wouldn't be worth my time, since that guy always comes off like such an alpha-male jerk. BUT turns out The Omega Man is actually pretty good, aw shucks! Heston stars as Robert Neville, a scientist who survives a devastating plague brought on by global war by inventing a vaccine, too late to save anyone else. Those who weren't killed by the disease were turned into vampire-like creatures who form their own cult religion and take to destroying all vestiges of humans' technological past. When Neville finds a group of struggling survivors, he sees hope for a future for the human race.

I was really surprised by how much I liked this movie. In the few other films of his I've seen, I've always kind of detested Charlton Heston. He just seems like such a dick, and his characters always manage to be racist and/or sexist. But he's actually sort of likeable here, and at the very least sympathetic as his character talks to himself incessantly and desperately clings to the memories of humanity's past glory. He's still basically an asshole but I could see through it since it's recognized that his years of solitude and resentment have turned him into one.

The script is strong, making a lot of changes to Richard Matheson's story but updating it to suit the time and in the end becoming its own thing- especially with the character of Lisa (Rosalind Cash), an awesome, super-tough black lady who protects a group of children who haven't fallen prey to the disease. Co-writer Joyce Hooper Corrington has a PhD in Chemistry (What? How did she find time? I know, amazing), so there is a smart undercurrent of biological terrorism at work here. The development of a vampire-y cult that represents the advancement of the human race- indeed, the complete re-working of the human race- is a scary prospect, though some of the ideas there are confusing or underworked. And I could have done without the over-hasty romantic angle, but I guess at the end of the world there's no time like the present. (To be clear: I'm cool with everybody banging whenever, but Neville and Lisa slip into a serious-relationship-love-type thing in like a day and that was off-putting.)

The Omega Man is an exciting thriller whose strengths reside in its haunting premise, emotionally resonant characterization, and smart screenplay. Though I knew the general story I still found myself really involved in the film and its vision of a new dominant society and the few remnants of past humanity who fight against it.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well other last-people-on-earth movies I dig include The Quiet Earth, Night of the Comet, and Zombieland. There are also the other main adaptations of Matheson's book, The Last Man on Earth and the more recent I Am Legend.

3 comments:

  1. Heston didn't seem like such a jerk in 'Planet of the Apes'...

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  2. Yeah... I actually quite like Heston too to be honest...

    Nevertheless... this review kicks ass as usual. I'm still worrying about seeing the fourth movie version of Matheson's source novel, the ridiculously titled I AM OMEGA (it's in the pile) to see how that one holds up (or not, I suspect).

    Didn't you love the cool Ron Grainer (The Prisoner, Doctor Who) score in The Omega Man with the water bell and stuff!

    This may not be the striaghtest adaptation of I Am Legend, I think The Last Man On Earth is pretty much the book done right, but this version is certainly the most fun!

    As always, you pretty much nailed this.

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  3. Vincent Price's original version in 1964's LAST MAN ON EARTH suffers from a meandering film-production value (ie, actor selection, script, direction, locale compromises) and OMEGA MAN definitely 'amps up' the power.

    Now, when you want to see what bottom-of-this-barrel looks like, try to waste time on Roger Corman's 1960 LAST WOMAN ON EARTH. Don't bring any sharp sticks - they might look like tempting alternatives to finishing this film.

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