This week’s Monday pick is the Charlton Heston Sci-fi classic The Omega Man (1971) directed by Boris Sagal. The film co-stars Anthony Zerbe (Mathias), Rosalind Cash (Lisa), Paul Koslo (Dutch), and Eric Lanueville (Ritchie).
The Omega Man was adapted from Richard Matheson’s brilliant sci-fi novel I Am Legend that depicts one man’s struggle in a plague-ravaged world. The concept was tried before in Hollywood first with Planet of the Vampires and then in 1964 with Vincent Price’s amazing performance in The Last Man on Earth, which borrows heavily from Matheson’s novel.
Charlton Heston stars as Col. Robert Neville, an army doctor who survives a biological war that begins in the mid 1970s between the Soviet Union and China. Most of the world’s population succumbs to the horrible effects of the bio weapons and countless millions meet certain death.
Flash forwarding two years, Neville tools about the sunlit streets of what was once downtown Los Angeles, foraging for supplies and making sure he gets indoors before sundown and before the other “survivors” emerge from their slumber. Neville is in fact the last man on Earth who is unaffected by the plague, while hundreds of dark hooded, albino mutants stalk and try to kill him because he represents the old world, the world that was responsible for their suffering.
Neville lives in a reenforced fortress that was once his old apartment building. The only way in is by a garage door, and then a freight elevator to the fourth floor. The building is powered by a huge generator, which Neville has to constantly keep stocked with fuel. This scene is where we begin to see flashbacks of the outbreak of the war, and its rapid escalation into global conflict.
Neville conducts patrol sweeps of the city by day, and hopes to one day find the family’s hiding nest so he can destroy them before they get him. To pass the time, Neville plays chess with a bust of Julius Caesar, which wears his green officers dress hat. Neville so desperately desires human companionship and constantly talks to himself in order to remain sane.
One such scene is in the beginning of the film as Neville is driving through downtown L.A. on an early Sunday morning. Neville’s convertible gets a flat tire and he is forced to acquire new transportation. Neville finds a used car dealership and spots a Ford Mustang that will suit his needs nicely. Trying to ignore the dead bodies that have been rotting in the dealership for two years, Neville pretends to have a conversation with the dealer.
“Uh huh, alright how much will you give me in trade for my Ford? Oh really? Thanks a lot you cheating bastard.” Neville floors the pedal and drives through what was once the front of the dealership.
The second greatest scene is when he finds an old movie theater that was playing Woodstock: The Movie. Neville replies “Great show. Held over for a third straight year.” Alone in the theater, Neville starts to repeat the lines in which a young man begins reflecting on his time at Woodstock over the last several days of the show. Neville replies “Nope, they sure don’t make pictures like that anymore.”
There are some lull points in the film, but the suspense is quite good as Neville soon discovers that there is a small tribe of young adults and children who are not affected by the plague. He uses his vast medical expertise to help the young tribe and one of its members who is fast succumbing to the disease and will turn into one of the plague zombies.
The Omega Man wasn’t a huge box office smash, but it became an instant cult hit with many fans, such as director Tim Burton who says that it is one of his all time favorite movies which he must always watch, especially if it is on TV. Many of the lines are tongue in cheek, and Heston is wonderful as the hero who battles against those who wish to destroy him.
One terrific flash back sequence shows why Neville is immune to the plague and why the family wants to kill him. Mathias (Zerbe) believes Neville is wicked and that he must answer to his crimes, the crimes of being human, a “user of the wheel” which was what destroyed the world.
The film’s premise was remade a fourth time in 2007 with Will Smith as Neville in I Am Legend. That film was a carbon copy of John William Corrington and Joyce Corrington’s screenplay that inspired The Omega Man. The film differs in several ways than the novel in the novel, mosquitoes spread the plague and the plague victims are turned into vampire like mutants who only come out at night. Neville spreads garlic plants and fashions wooden stakes in order to kill the vampires. William and Joyce Corrington took their chemistry backgrounds and decided to turn the plague into a man made weapon which decimates most of the planet’s population.
The Omega Man is available on DVD and Blu-Ray disc through Warner Bros. Home Video and can be rented through Netflix.