(0031X) The Omega Man

The Omega ManAugust 8, 1971 | 3 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? A 1970s sci-fi flick with Charlton Heston and zombies.

What did I get? I’d seen The Omega Man several years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day with some friends; we watched this in lieu of The Quiet Man and then went out drinking. I’m not sure we watched the entire thing that day; we saw most of it. The Omega Man is one of those movies where I find it hard to separate pure enjoyment from ironic enjoyment, both for me and the general group of hipster smartypants who are most likely to reference it. To be frank, I didn’t expect to enjoy The Omega Man much. But I liked it quite a bit.

It will be evident from my previous reviews that I don’t naturally cotton to 1970s sci-fi. The cheesiness of such movies invariably casts a kind of pall for me. I don’t know if it’s the music or the overweening, dime-store self-importance, but there you have it. So it takes some concentration for me to focus in on what’s happening in a movie like The Omega Man. One tough element for me here is “the Family,” which is the group of mutants waging war against Lt.-Col. Robert Neville, M.D., played in a curiously sarcastic register by Heston. The Family are all done up in chalky makeup, have those weird pale zombie eyes, and are led by the inevitably grandiloquent “Matthias.” My lack of affinity for it aside, it later occurred to me that there wasn’t really anything to object to about the Family, from a directorial point of view. The makeup and contact lenses were certainly effective, and the group’s ponderousness was necessary to build up its malevolence. I’m still not a natural sci-fi fan, but I’m learning.

The first third of the movie, in which we mostly observe Neville as he resignedly goes about his daily routine as the ostensible Last Man on Earth in depopulated downtown Los Angeles, is my favorite. Sagal’s direction here is excellent, with terrific use of the city skyline. It’s a pretty WTF? situation he’s in, and Sagal does a very nice job of parceling out information. The rest of the movie resides in my mind as a significant fall-off from that high point, but it’s not really true: the rest of the movie is really solid. It’s not as much to my taste, but it’s executed very well.

The Omega Man, I think, is counted as a zombie movie, but one of the things I like about it is that the status of the Family is wonderfully sui generis. They’re technically classified as mutants, but they behave like zombies and their strong aversion to sunlight makes them noctunal, like vampires. I suppose it’s precursor to the recent spate of zombie narratives, without actually being one.

What here smacks of 1971? This genre of sci-fi was in its heyday at this time, so it very much feels like 1971. Some of the music sounds a bit like disco, so that smacks of 1978, if anything.

IMDB score: 6.6

My score: 7

Director: Boris Sagal

Writers: John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington

Starring: Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Paul Koslo, Rosalind Cash, Eric Laneuville, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Jill Giraldi

IMDB synopsis: Robert Neville, a doctor, due to an experimental vaccine, is the only survivor of an apocalyptic war waged with biological weapons. The plague caused by the war has killed everyone else except for a few hundred deformed, nocturnal people calling themselves “The Family”. The plague has caused them to become sensitive to light, as well as homicidally psychotic. They believe science and technology to be the cause of the war and their punishment, and Neville, as the last symbol of science, the old world, and a “user of the wheel”, must die. Neville, using electricity, machinery, and science attempts to hold them at bay.

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3 thoughts on “(0031X) The Omega Man

  1. Joe Y. says:

    I’m curious if you ever saw either of the other two movie versions of this novel, The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, or I am Legend with Will Smith, and how you think they compared. Last Man is probably Price’s most straight-faced performance and has some genuinely creepy moments. This is actually the only version of Richard Matheson’s novel I haven’t seen, but your review definitely makes me want to watch it.

  2. I’ve only seen the Will Smith version (#1: 12/16/07), and I was thinking while watching this movie that I rather liked it. Thing is, even at his best I find Heston a bit hard to take, and Will Smith, whatever else you want to say about him, keeps things accessible and watchable. Also I Am Legend is the kind of story where CGI tricks and more immersive storytelling can be very effective, esp. in the beginning. I’ll watch it again in a few years when I get to it, but right now my position is thumbs up.

  3. Kommissar says:

    I am Legend is wonderful because I’m an ardent Richard Matheson supporter. IaL is a great short story drawn-out into a short book.

    I haven’t see Omega Man because I dislike the departure from the book but I’ll give it a try next time I have the chance.

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