Studio: Warner Bros.
US Rating: PG
Film Length: 1hr 38 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
Audio: English, French, Spanish, German and Italian Dolby Digital Plus 1.0
Subtitles: Optional English, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese and Swedish.
The Film - out of
In 1968, Charlton Heston starred in the immensely satisfying and influential Planet of the Apes. In many ways, that groundbreaking and original sci-fi masterpiece was a precursor in tone and emotional feel of The Omega Man , the 1971 cinematic adaptation of Richard Matheson’s book, ‘I Am Legend’. Both stories, sci-fi tales, deal with the desolation of humanity and the struggle to hold on to the remnants of what it is to be human, and survive an outside foe. It was talking apes in the ’68 classic and pale hippies three years later.
Despite tonal and construct similarities, The Omega Man veers off the path of classic adventure and into the murkier realms of camp.
Charlton Heston stars as Robert Neville, supposedly the last man alive who lives a solitary life speeding through the empty streets, shopping in the abandoned stores and hunting a ‘family’ of things (who resemble a cult group of pale faced hippies). Neville, a military scientist, has survived the demise of humanity by being able to inject himself with a trial vaccine against the chemical plague that spread through the world.
The story opens several years after the ‘end of the world’ and the persistent solitary existence has turned Neville into an odd character, a man who talks to himself and the figures of other people (their corpses or busts). The last man alive is fighting to stay sane.
What appeared in Matheson’s book as a family of vampiric creatures are simply a band of violent ‘people’ who have abandoned the structure of the previous, capitalistic and ‘sinful’ society and now see Neville as the last vestige of an evil by-gone era. Led by Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), this family, who are terrified of the light, seeks every night to pluck Neville from his secure abode and pass judgment on him.
Neville discovers, on one of his hunting jaunts through the abandoned city, that he is not alone when he comes across a beautiful woman, Lisa. Lisa (Rosalind Cash) introduces him to a small band of survivors, mostly children, who despite being infected are slow to turn into blind followers of Matthias’s hippy clan.
Warner Bros. The Omega Man is an odd creation. The film tries very hard to present its concept and ideas with sincerity, even the more laughable ‘family’ approach to the films foes, complete with uniform robes and dialogue that stretches the limit of credibility. But something is amiss. Perhaps it is the ‘television’ feel of the production and camera work from the late Boris Sagal (father of Katey Sagal, voice of Leela on Futurama), or it could be the nature of how the original story was subdued in this adaptation, switching out the vampire idea for what the cover bills as ‘sinister neopeople spawned by the plague’. I could never accept the ‘Family’ as the reasonable outcome of a planetary catastrophe, certainly not with their often bumbling and amateur attacks on Neville in his dwelling.
Heston is another paradox for me. As an action star, which this role is for at least 50% of the time, he comes across as lumbering and altogether awkward. As such, he isn’t convincing in that capacity. Where he does succeed, however, is in the more intimate moments during the film, such as when he is playing chess with himself or going about his routine, clambering for some normality where little exists. And it was that concentration on how man survives alone that worked as the greatest element of the recent Will Smith version, I Am Legend. But Will Smith’s version explores this with much more intensity. And, despite being touted as merely an exciting modern adaptation with great visual effects, it manages to be altogether more haunting and scary than previous versions (with the creatures not spewing hippie lines and gathering in silly conclaves).
The story is an exciting one, and there are times in The Omega Man where the film exploits that nicely - capturing the empty city streets (filmed on Sunday’s when no-one was out and about – well, almost no-one). The film also does a good job of changing up from the norm, casting an African American to be the love interest to Neville, quite the move for that time and Rosalind Cash is really very good in the role (and very sexy, too). But it isn’t enough to be able to excuse the silliness and occasional carelessness of the movie as a whole.
Warner Bros present The Omega Man in its original theatrical ratio, 2.4:1 high definition, encoded VC-1. I was impressed with how good this 36 year old movie looked. There are plenty of fine details visible and the print shows no damage. There are some scenes that appear peppered with a heavy dose of dust, but interior (studio) shots look very clean. The colors in the palette say 70’s all the way and the transfer captures them well, with a few colors really popping out.
Warner Bros. delivers this cult classic with a Dolby Digital Plus 1.0. Front focused, the audio is a little hollow sounding at times, more so than I would have expected. The dialogue is reasonably crisp throughout and the sprightly machine gun fire heard so frequently in films from the 70’s and before, come through well adding excitement to those scenes.
Introduction by Screenwriter Joyce Corrington and co-stars Eric Laneuville and Paul Koslo - (4:02) – Screenwriter, Joyce Corrington and Eric Laneuville and Paul Koslo discuss the film affectionately as they reflect back. It is, however, far too brief. This could have been expanded from an introduction to a full blown special feature, discussing making the film, how it was received then and now.
The Last Man Alive – The Omega Man - (9:47) – Vintage look at the making of the film (filmed in LA on Sundays and holidays to capture the abandoned feel). In the piece, there is footage of Charlton Heston discussing the solitary condition of his character with a visiting British anthropologist who proves both interesting and amusing.
Theatrical Trailer - (3:00)
The big budget production of I Am Legend starring Will Smith will likely make the discovery of this 1971 adaptation of Richard Matheson’s story a harder pill to swallow. Not only do the effects create a truer desolate future, but Will Smith is a far better actor, creating a far more interesting Robert Neville and the majority of the updated version sticks closer to Matheson’s vision, at least in tone.
The Omega Man on HD-DVD, looking and sounding better, I am sure, than ever before at home, will most certainly please those who are familiar with Charlton Heston running around with his shirt off and talking to himself. For those curious about the version, renting is safer.