The Omega Man (1971)   3/53/53/53/53/5


Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man

I Am Heston

It's worth knowing that "The Omega Man" was not the first movie adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel, in 1964 it had been made into a movie called "The Last Man on Earth", but alongside "I am Legend" it is the better known version. Now there is some debate as to which is the better version as whilst both share the same story of Robert Neville trying to survive in a city which is inhabited by a population that thanks to a virus only come out at night they are vastly different movies. And depending on what you want from a movie will influence which you like as "I am Legend" is all about the action where as "The Omega Man" is more about Neville finding other humans and trying to find a cure. Personally I prefer "I am Legend" but that doesn't stop me from enjoying "The Omega Man" and the different angle it delivers.

Following a war fought with biological weapons, Dr. Robert Neville (Charlton Heston - The Greatest Show on Earth) believes he is the only survivor thanks to an experimental vaccine he took. Left to try and survive in a city, scavenging for food, he also has to protect himself from the infected survivors who call themselves "The Family" and come out when it gets darks. They believe that the downfall of the human race was due to science and technology and see Neville as the last symbol which needs to be terminated. But Neville must do what he can to survive and at the same time discover a cure.

Anthony Zerbe as Jonathan Matthias in The Omega Man

It has to be said that for a movie made at the start of the 70s the opening to "The Omega Man" is impressive as we watch Neville drive around a desolate city. It may not be the ruins which we saw in "I am Legend" but the sheer number of abandoned roads and properties which we witness as he drives around is simply impressive. And what is also impressive is that we discover what has happened slowly, with tit bits of information revealing themselves deep into the movie. But to simplify things biological warfare has caused mass deaths with those who haven't died ending up becoming creatures of the night who hate those who caused the destruction. And that means they hate Neville who having taken an experimental vaccine is immune to the virus.

Now like with "I am Legend" we do get the psychological aspect of Neville believing that he is the only uninfected human left and so we watch him talking to dummies, holding conversations with himself and in a revealing scenes eyeing up a mannequin dressed in a bikini. This side works remarkably well as we get sly tit bits of information as when he goes to watch "Woodstock" at the cinema and he knows the words off by heart leading us to realise that the is watched the same movie countless times.

But the thing about "The Omega Man" is that it's not just about Neville battling the night population in various action scenes but him finding other survivors and desperately trying to find a cure. At the same time you have the night people and rather than being some sort of zombie population are in fact more human, with a leader called Matthias who controls them in their destruction of anything which they see as part of the downfall of the human race. This makes "The Omega Man" very different to "I am Legend" and with more depth as we understand why these night people who call themselves "The Family" are so intent on destroying Neville.

Now one thing which will cause you to either like or hate "The Omega Man" is the casting of Charlton Heston as Robert Neville as it's all most a cliche performance. It's the sort of handsome hero which Heston played in other movies during the 70s and at times feels rather cheesy, especially when he discovers Lisa another survivor and as a man starved of sex for a couple of years has one thing on his mind. Heston does deliver that sense of loneliness quite well but watching "The Omega Man" now it all feels very old fashioned even older than a 70s movie. Thankfully there are others involved and whilst Rosalind Cash ends up a bit of a cliche as Lisa, Anthony Zerbe does a decent job of making Matthias both evil and creepy. It is again a little cheesy in places as the rest of "The Family" follow him in an almost hypnotic stated but at least it stops "The Omega Man" just being all about Heston.

What this all boils down to is that "The Omega Man" is a good movie but one which to be honest is now dated and at times cheesy because of it. It does deliver more depth than "I am Legend" and takes the story off on a different tangent with less action, but what action there is, is pretty good especially the simple opening with the deserted city streets which even now is still stunning. To put it simply if you want action then watch "I am Legend" but if you want an adaptation which looks more at the reasoning and consequences of the disaster then watch "The Omega Man".


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