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Movie Review: The Omega Man

The Omega Man (Warner Bros., 1971)
Directed by Boris Sagal
Written by John William Corrington and Joyce H. Corrington from the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I’m sure all of you out there are aware of this, but there is a huge difference between a true actor and a movie star. On occasion these two merge into the same being (Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, etc.), but then you have your Arnold Schwarzeneggers, Shirley Temples, and my personal favorite example, Charlton Heston.

Watching The Omega Man, it’s easy to forget that Heston did films early in his career like Touch of Evil, El Cid, and Ben-Hur, because for most of the late sixties and seventies it was sci-fi (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green) or disaster/action films (Midway, Airport 75, and Skyjacked).

Even in the earlier, more prestigious cinema, I’m not sure Heston could act worth a lick, but who really cared? The man had a presence that just popped on the big screen, and this presence is still felt strongly today whenever he’s seen in a small role. As much as I hate Wayne’s World 2, if it’s ever on I still stick around to see the scene with Heston as the gas station attendant telling the story of how he met the love of his life.

I mention all of this because without Charlton Heston involved, I can’t imagine that this film would have ever been made. It’s tough to adapt any novel to the big screen, and the great stories are even tougher to crack; I can understand this. I also have no problem with straying a little bit from the source material to make it more visually appealing or a shorter length. However, there is a huge difference in cutting here and there or adding a few visual touches and a total bastardization of a great story. At least they didn’t call it I Am Legend; maybe some people that watch this won’t make the connection.

In this version, the virus has been caused by biological warfare waged on us by Russia and China. In The Last Man on Earth, they never really explain how the virus happens; in The Omega Man they use the virus as anti-war propaganda. Richard Matheson’s vampires have been turned into some sort of undead hippie nation, and his great antihero, Robert Neville, has been turned into a right-wing asshole killing machine.

If they had actually made the character some sort of “roid-raged” soldier then maybe this would have made a little more sense, but no, he’s still a doctor who quickly learned how to mow down hippies in the street with his arsenal of semi-automatics.

The plague victims wander around aimlessly calling each other brother, and refusing to use guns and ammo against Neville because that would just be like they were giving into the man. Because of this, Neville really has no issue in spraying them down since they basically refuse to defend themselves, which takes away a lot of the suspense. At least in Last Man on Earth, they tried to fight back. It’s all about peace, man; it’s all about peace.

Another problem is that once they learn Neville might have a cure for them (In Last Man they act a little too rashly before learning this useful nugget of information.) they finally decide to take serious action because they look at this as assimilation. I guess Neville is supposed to be the Borg in this analogy. Who knows?

Richard Matheson had some allusions in his novel to war and I can even see the Jesus Christ allegory a little bit. But I really don’t think when Matheson wrote this he imagined it as undead hippies battling for their rights to freedom. There’s even one scene where Neville goes to a theater and watches Woodstock for Christ’s sake. You really can’t lay it on any thicker than that, people.

Omega Man also changes the story up a bit when Neville runs into some more unaffected humans, and this could have actually given the movie a more interesting angle. However, it’s pretty pointless when all is said and done. Heston does get to bed the Foxy Brown wannabe; go get you some jungle love, Chuck!

This film has gained a bit of a cult status due to Heston’s overreaching performance, and I can kind of see why. Chuck, at times, at least saves the film from being a complete waste of time. Scenes of him trying to play chess with a statue of Caesar donning a naval hat are in the Doc’s mind, priceless.

Still, I can’t possibly recommend the film on this aspect alone. We, as reviewers, try to come up with fancier ways to describe a film whether we love it or hate it, but I can’t think of any better way to put it than to say this movie sucks. If you really need to see Heston kicking some ass in a sci-fi film then go check out Apes or Soylent Green. This isn’t worth anyone’s time.  


Sam Loomis


Comment from Doc
Time: December 12, 2007, 5:35 pm


Haven’t seen this, but apparently I’m not missing anything. Good review.

Comment from Sam Loomis
Time: December 12, 2007, 10:38 pm

I can say without an ounce of doubt in my heart, mind, and soul that you are not missing anything, Doc. I should also note that I do not particularly think “Soylent Green” is a very good film either, but it’s at least campy fun which “The Omega Man” only wishes it could be. However, “Apes” is still to this day one of the coolest sci-fi films out there, and I can’t reccomend it enough. Is there a better ending in a film?

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