Edith's Review of The Omega Man
The Omega Man(1971)
Well, He [i]Does[/i] Come Across As Crazy . . . .
I guess one of the ways Will Smith had it easier in [i]I Am Legend[/i] is that it came out after the days where you could watch movies in the comfort of your own home. He had thousands of movies to choose from if he felt like watching a movie. However, in the 1970s, you had the choice of whatever was playing at your local theatre. Of course, they didn't keep the prints after they were done screening them; they went back to the studio. On the other hand, this particular version of the story is set in Los Angeles. One of the things I missed, when I moved away, was no longer being able to watch any movie I wanted to that was in theatres at the time. Somehow, Our Theoretical Hero in this film has ended up watching [i]Woodstock[/i] so often he has it memorized, even though it doesn't seem to be the sort of thing he'd want to watch once. Couldn't he have found a different theatre?
Our Theoretical Hero is Robert Neville (Charlton Heston), who believes himself to be the Last Man on Earth. Hence "omega." All the other people, so far as he knows, are either dead or converted into light-fearing monsters by biological warfare after a border war between the USSR and China. The ghouls, as Roger calls them, have formed what they call the Family, led by a former newscaster calling himself Matthias (Anthony Zerbe). They shun all technology, and they are engaged in some sort of ongoing war with Neville. I kind of missed how it started, but of course, I also didn't care. Anyway, Neville also discovers that there are other humans left alive--people below a certain age can get infected but not turn into ghouls, at least for a while. One of them, Lisa (Rosalind Cash), finds him and takes him to the place outside the city where she and the others are avoiding the ghouls. Her brother, Richie (Eric Laneuville), is turning, but Neville thinks he can make a serum to cure him.
Really, I ought to get around to reading the book. This, I know. I have now seen all three feature-length versions, and all three are substantially different from one another. I know that this version of the story is so far off that Roger, in his review, wasn't entirely sure that the book being adapted was [i]I Am Legend[/i]. (While author Richard Matheson is credited, no specific book is mentioned.) Which was a shame, he believed, because he'd quite liked the book. I do know that no variation thus far has really explored Matheson's original concept, which was the idea that a man who may believe he is a hero is in fact the villain of someone else's story. It isn't even just that it's too much subtlety to expect from a Charlton Heston movie. It is also that Charlton Heston [i]never[/i] played the villain. This is technically untrue, even leaving aside that he played Andrew Jackson twice, but it was the aura he managed to project. Tried very hard to project, based on my reading of things.
I will say that Heston's lunacy at the beginning of the movie is not merely amusing but understandable as well. He is said to have spent several years at this, and he has not had a real conversation with anyone in that whole time. That can drive anyone to the brink of madness, and I'm not sure how stable Neville was before the war began. There is something seriously disconcerting to walking empty streets even when you know it's just because nothing is happening in that part of town at that time. (The city bits were filmed on certain Los Angeles city streets on Sunday, because the streets there were always empty then.) To have been walking empty streets for years, only to return to an empty apartment every night--and to be in an unending war with terrifying undead creatures who also want to kill you? Yeah, that would drive anyone 'round the bend, and why not act like a total loon if there's no one to bother with your behaviour anyway?
Probably this film was set in Los Angeles for ease of filming, but there is one serious problem with it that never gets addressed. We see Neville and Richie filling a cistern, but with what? Honestly, Los Angeles is one of the worst possible places to spend the years after an apocalypse kills everyone else--worse even than Manhattan, which also has its problems. At least it [i]rains[/i] in Manhattan. Neville is living on canned goods, which is fine until they run out. Or all rust or go bad in their cans--though that latter is more rare now than it has been in the past. Logically, Neville is having to go farther and farther afield for his supplies, and there is no way to procure more. He says no one will drive him out of his apartment, but he's still being stupid. No lone person can live a life of true comfort in his situation; too much relies on sharing work with others. But by staying in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, he's really only making matters harder for himself. And what does the Family eat?