Robert Neville, a doctor, seems to be the last man on Earth. Due to an experimental vaccine, he’s the only survivor of an apocalyptic war waged with biological weapons. The plague caused by the war has killed everyone else except for a group of deformed, nocturnal people calling themselves “The Family”, who are sensitive to light and are out to destroy Neville because he represents the technological world which caused the war. Neville is waging a one-man war against them, but they are closing in, then he sees a girl……………………
Richard Matheson’s brilliant novel I am Legend has had three adaptations, and none have really done it justice, though if filmed faithfully it would result in a superb film. The best is The Last Man On Earth from 1964 with Vincent Price, an extremely cheap production that nonetheless had a real raw edge to it, the worse is easily the more recent Will Smith starrer I Am Legend, which was actually rather good for it’s first half then rapidly went downhill and ended up as something of a travesty. Somewhere in between is The Omega Man, which is probably the furthest from the book but does make changes which are interesting and work in their own way, most notably the creatures. In the original book and first film they are vampires, here they are albino psychopaths who have created something of a religious order. Although perhaps they are shown too early, they are an effective and at times slightly sympathetic menace who certainly work far better than the crappy CG things in the recent film.
The Omega Man literally breathes 70s, from Charlton Heston’s safari jacket and skin tight tracksuit, to the constant dolly zooms and camera pans where the cameraman seems to be looking for what he’s supposed to be photographing, to Ron Grainer’s often cheerfully inappropriate easy listening score. It’s nonetheless quite fast paced and exciting, with bursts of action which are short but pretty constant, and one fun motorcycle flight. The script is full of juicy irony-I especially loved the sight of right-wing idealist Chuck watching the only film left, which happens to be Woodstock, with it’s naked hippies and peace and love. There are thought provoking elements, some of which are not in the book, such as religious fanaticism and plenty of racial subtexts, from the “kill whitey” attitude of Brother Zachary to the sizzling interracial affair where the white Neville seems to have to take charge of the heroine’s family. The novel’s main idea, that if humankind is almost destroyed the survivors will be different and will need to irradicate any leftovers from the previous civilisation, is present and correct and still chilling [and believable?].
Director Boris Sagal paces his movie well, and occasionally shows an eye for odd and interesting staging, such as a bit in a clothes shop full of dummies where Neville is pursuing the girl, while some of the scenes of Neville prowling round the deserted streets are as evocative as those in 28 Days Later. There’s also a bit of nudity and quite a lot of blood, especially for a ‘PG’ rated film, especially in the final scene, where I really surprised how gory it was. There’s not much suspense though, there should be a sense of encroaching terror and it’s not really there. Although there are exciting moments, the tone is perhaps just a little too light, though I wonder if a lot of that is to do with the afore-mentioned music, a perfect example of how important the right score is to a film.
Heston, carrying baggage from his many portrayals of historical heroes as well as Planet Of The Apes, delivers one of his finest performances here, displaying a surprising but but very effective cynicism and even self loathing, while being a convincingly tough [and ruthless] action hero. Some of his best bits are when he’s just talking to himself, statues or corpses, with an overpowering bitterness, and cleverly keeping sentimentality at bay. The Omega Man is very dated, and it does make me dream for the time when a perfect adaptation of the book will be made [I actually got all worked up about the Smith version and then, oh dear!!]. It is though, an intruiging and entertaining sci-fi thriller in it’s own right, and though nowhere near being a classic I always enjoy watching it.
[pt-filmtitle]The Omega Man[/pt-filmtitle]