Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

THE OMEGA MAN


THE OMEGA MAN (1971). Director: Boris Sagal.

This is the second of three films to be based on Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend [following The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price]. However The Omega Man doesn't have much to do with Matheson's novel, in which a plague kills off most of the world's population and brings them back as vampires. In this version people who survive [aside from those with immunity, such as the protagonist] germ warfare turn into pasty-faced, white-eyed ghouls who want to tear down all remainders of human society, which is represented by Robert Neville (Charlton Heston, pictured), but they don't drink blood. Instead of vampires we're given a kind of cult of deranged people who call themselves the Family and are led by a former newscaster named Matthias (Anthony Zerbe). As in The Last Man on Earth Neville is again turned into a scientist, although he now lives in an elaborate townhouse with all of the modern conveniences and then some [being a scientist must pay pretty well!] Rosalind Cash, who appeared in a number of "blaxploitation" pictures during this period, is cast as Heston's love interest, and the two aren't quite as unlikely a couple as you might imagine. Heston swaggers his way through the film with his customary charisma [although a friend of mine who saw the film and hated it said all he got out of it was that it was "a big ego trip for Heston"] but the attempts to make him a kind of Christ-figure are ludicrous. Eric Laneuville is memorable as young Richie, who is undone by his own misplaced compassion. The film boasts the excellent cinematography of Russell Metty and an attractive score by Ron Grainer [whose music is often in counterpoint to the action] that is on occasion rather inappropriate, however. [In general it underlines the fact that The Omega Man is more of an action-drama than a horror film.] After awhile, The Omega Man -- despite good moments and acting -- sinks under the weight of its own ambitions and pretensions.

Verdict: Taken on its own terms, it has some value, but I am Legend it is not. **1/2.

2 comments:

Matthew Bradley said...

You weren't the only one bemused by the obvious Christian symbolism of Neville's "crucifixion" and saving humanity with his blood, not to mention the little girl who asks him, "Are you God?" Joyce H. Corrington, who wrote the screenplay with her late husband John, said in an interview once, "Heston died and died and died." But, as you say, it remains a fun film (and a nostalgic pleasure for those of us of a certain age) when taken on its own terms, rather than as an adaptation of I AM LEGEND.

William said...

It's funny the different reactions people have to the same film. I found Omega Man reasonably entertaining but I watched it with a friend -- a non-horror fan unaware of I Am Legend -- who hated every minute of it. You never know ...