MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Action/ Stars: Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash, Paul Koslo, Eric Laneuville, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Brian Tochi/ Runtime: 98 minutes
Ah it’s good to come back to that long gone yet quite timeless decade for cinema known as the 70s. Indeed the decade that the vast majority who lived through it would rather not discuss and those who know about it would rather forget a lot of it ever happened is now coming back to the forefront thanks in large part to the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 1971’s The Omega Man. An adaptation of an apocalyptic novel entitled I Am Legend by the same guy who gave us Duel, this slice of cinematic pie stars Hollywood icon Charlton Heston and is the second slice of cinematic pie in a trinity of such films that are adaptations of this highly regarded story following the iconic Vincent Price film from 1964 known as The Last Man on Earth and preceding the fairly riveting 2007 Will Smith movie I Am Legend. Yet out of all of these, I think it is safe to say that The Omega Man is the “worst” movie out of the trinity as not only is void the genuine suspense that was present in Price’s take, but it also does not have the fancy visual effects work and the riveting and quite suspenseful at points narrative that Smith’s take on the story had. If anything, I think it can be said that The Omega Man is a slice of cinematic pie that can best be summed up as one that is quite “goofy” in many respects. Indeed not only is it a tad bit antiquated and unintentionally hilarious during a large chunk of the film’s 1 hr, and 38 minute runtime, but even dependably good work from Heston, especially in regards to the movie’s first half, is not able to rescue this movie from support work that deals with characters who are one note at best and a collection of antagonists whose make-up jobs are downright terrifying whilst also wearing black robes and sunglasses that make them look more like an undead Johnny Cash or Michael Jackson than anything else. Indeed never really feeling all that frightening and quickly folding in like a shaky house of cards in the 2nd act of the movie, The Omega Man is one slice of cinematic pie that doesn’t really give you a whole lot save for a nostalgic vibe, a wonderful lead performance, and a first half that is at least somewhat more interesting than everything that came before it.
The plot is as follows: The Omega Man introduces us to a man by the name of Robert Neville who, as our story opens, seems to be the last man on the entire planet due to a virulent agent of unknown origin….or at least the last man who could still be called human at any rate. This is because during the day, our intrepid hero is able to live a life that is both riveting and yet slightly terrifying as he is able to do what he wants, go where he would like to go, and have whatever his heart desires because there is no one there to stop him. Yet it is at night where things get scarier since that is the time when “they” arise from their slumber. Incidentally the “they” that I speak of are a group of very white-skinned entities known only as “The Family” who, despite their various differences, all manage to have in common the fact that they are terrified of the light. As a result, we see that when night falls our intrepid hero sets himself up in an apartment that is more like a military base more than anything right down to a layout covered in floodlights, a top flight surveillance system, and a fairly good selection of weapons if needed. Things soon change for our hero though when, whilst out looking for this group’s place they nest during the day as well as their ruthless leader Matthias, he finds himself crossing paths with a still human female by the name of Lisa who leads him to a small group of people who’re still human yet dealing with the same odd illness that also ails his prey. Thus we see that as our hero devotes himself to trying to find a cure for this mystery illness, he must also contend with both an unexpected romance despite all the anarchy currently on-going and a final all-out assault that might just come from where he is expecting it the least…..
Now from the moment this slice of cinematic pie begins, I think it is safe to say that the similarities that this movie has with the 2007 take on the story will be quite obvious should you have seen that one first. Indeed much in the same vein as I Am Legend, this slice of cinematic pie starts as we see a guy driving along deserted streets in a red car. In addition, we also watch as later on in both slices of cinematic pie as our hero engages in dialogue with individuals who aren’t there be they mannequins in a video store or, in this movie, a deceased car dealer. Yet even though I Am Legend is most assuredly better this slice of cinematic pie in many respects, I also feel that there is a distinct charm and liveliness in Heston’s performance that is never quite exceeded by Will Smith even though his take is the better version overall. Suffice it to say then that Heston’s typical collected manner and overwhelming confidence are out in force in this movie as we see his character without a care in the world going about his day to day even when up against horror especially in a scene where we see a Molotov cocktail of sorts come crashing in and Heston just calmly put out the fire and then fire a round from his gun into the crown just below him. Indeed the macho attitude that is partnered up with a sensible and relatable manner that is the same as the one he presented us with in the original Planet of the Apes from 1968 is one that fits his character in this like a glove thus making him a wonderful choice for a part that seemed custom built to his talents as a thespian.
Unfortunately, like a great many slices of cinematic pie that deal with the idea of a solitary person coming to grips with, accepting, and dealing with the distinct possibility that they are very likely the last person on the planet, The Omega Man manages to trip over its own two feet quite significantly in the second half of the movie. Indeed even a lot of the better slices of cinematic pie that have worked with this particular narrative hook including even Will Smith’s 2007 take on this story seem to be voided the franticness, the agonizing despair, and maybe even fear of their distinct dilemma following their discovery that they might not be as alone as they previously thought they were. Yet those slices of cinematic pies were able to still keep a firm grip on their levels of pathos and riveting engagement even after new characters were brought into the fray. This slice of cinematic pie on the other hand is one that, following that distinct revelation, tragically loses a lot in regards to those areas and in response operates more like an exercise in watch checking instead of maintaining the riveting, engaging, and almost alien vibe the first half of the movie had provided audiences with. Indeed gone is the potential for such moments as our hero watching a movie by himself, “purchasing” a new vehicle, and utilizing a gun however he would like. I mean it is moments like those, to say nothing of the whole “last person on the planet” narrative hook which make for some intriguing work in the visuals department to say nothing of downright engaging character analysis. Yet as with the vast majority of slices of cinematic pie that deal with the same thing that this one does, The Omega Man is unfortunately not able to withstand the desire to bring more humans into the narrative and a result the idea’s impact is severely watered down and the film overall just becomes way too predictable than it should be in any sense of the word.
All in all I think it is easy to say beyond any and all doubt in my mind that The Omega Man really truly is one slice of cinematic pie that is clearly meant to showcase the time in which it was constructed. As a result this is a movie that offers a dose of nostalgia to audiences courtesy of the style, soundtrack, and overall helming of this slice of cinematic pie that are all distinctly 1970s. Indeed while the movie, when taken as an entire product, is an undeniably engaging stroll through a truly horrific situation, the first half of the movie is leaps and bounds better than the 2nd so much that each half feels almost like its own thing that, despite being combined to form 100% of a narrative, at the same time couldn’t be more unalike in regards to content, distinctness, and just how entertaining they manage to be period. It also doesn’t help this film in any way that we see that, other than our main hero, this is one group of characters that are fairly yawn-worthy with even the pack of villains at the heart of things coming across more as people who are furious they didn’t win that year’s Halloween costume contest more than antagonists that are legitimate things to be feared. Be that as it may be, and at the end of the day, this is still one slice of cinematic pie that does possess the distinction of being seen by members of the film going community as a “cult classic” of sorts and is one that at the very least you should see once….if not for the movie then at least for the nap. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Omega Man “71” a solid 3 out of 5.