THE OMEGA MAN(1971)
With Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosiland Cash, Paul Koslo, Eric Laneuville, Lincoln Kilpatrick
Directed by Boris Sagal
Reviewed by JB
Poor Chuck Heston. It seems that just about every time he woke up in the late '60s and early '70s, he found himself in some horrible post-apocalyptic nightmare. If he wasn't on a planet inhabited by talking apes, he was on a planet filled with too many people and not enough food. From God's best friend to last man on earth in just one decade. Luckily, if you gave Heston some weaponry and strand him on a planet of hostiles, he could usually take care of himself, and find a groovy female companion to boot.
In THE OMEGA MAN, adapted from Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, Heston is the sole survivor (or so he thinks) of a biological holocaust that has either killed everybody else or else turned them into psychopathic quasi-religious zealots with really bad skin and an aversion to light. Heston rules the day, the psychopaths rule the night.
The film now has unintended camp value, not unlike another Heston apocalypse film BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. The albino makeup of the psychos was effective at the time but has dated over the years. So too the soundtrack, which sometimes sounds like it was taken straight from a blaxploitation film of the period. Adding to the blaxploitation feel is the character played by Rosiland Cash. The actress does a fine job as another human who has survived, but she's sometimes saddled with dialogue filled with "the Man", "cool it" and "I'll bust your ass", and her fashion sense and gigantic afro are also pure 1970s, a time when people of all colors, races, creeds and sexes clearly did not understand how ridiculous they looked.
However, films are of their time, and if you ignore some of the more distracting elements, THE OMEGA MAN is an effective sci-fi adventure with Heston, virtually reprising his George Taylor characterization from PLANET OF THE APES as the film's hero Colonel Neville. The film establishes Heston's sense of isolation extremely well in the opening sequences of the film, which begins in media res, with the world already gone to hell and Heston tooling around in his fancy car on the deserted streets of Los Angeles.* Heston himself revels in the role of Neville, a man who, unlike George Taylor, has been stuck in this upside-down world for two straight years, and is now on the verge of going a little nutty. Well, how you feel if all you wanted to do at night was play chess with your bust of Caesar, but you were constantly taunted with cries of "Neville!!! Neeeevvvillllle!!!!" from the street below? Anthony Zerbe is equally memorable as Matthias, a former television newscaster who has turned into the leader of the psychopaths, forever spouting ideological propaganda to the masses. (Think Keith Olbermann, but more likable.)
A film with nearly an equal amount of good points and bad, THE OMEGA MAN ultimately overcomes its own excesses and dated sensibilities and stands as a flawed science fiction classic of the decade. ½ - JB
* If you look hard enough, you will find other cars on the supposedly deserted streets and highways of Los Angeles. Today, those extraneous cars would be CGI-ed out, one of the things CGI is actually good for - see 28 DAYS LATER for some excellent examples.