The Omega Man

The Omega Man (1971)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash
Extras: Introduction, Featurette, Theatrical Trailer

In 1954, Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend" was released upon a paranoid world and its depiction of the end of the world has now been filmed three different times. The first, released in 1964, was the brilliant adaptation known as "The Last Man On Earth" starring Vincent Price. The second, "The Omega Man" came along in 1971, and the most recent is the hugely successful Will Smith version called (appropriately enough) "I Am Legend" that is still in theaters by the time of this writing.

"The Omega Man" was directed by Boris Sagal, who is known mostly for his work in television. In this seventies version, Charlton Heston plays Robert Neville as the sole survivor of a germ warfare incident between Russia and China that has left him the last seemingly normal man on the planet. And he's armed to the teeth. He is also the developer of the dangerous serum that wiped out or mutated the entire population.

He drives through the empty and barren streets of post-apocalyptic L.A. in a convertible, shooting at everything that moves, and the scenes of the empty and familiar landscape are quite effective. Danny Boyle used many of the same tricks to film the scenes in "Twenty Eight Days Later" and the effect was equally jarring.

These mutated zombie-like freaks of nature (aka 'The Family') that were produced from political turmoil are extremely sensitive to light, and thus wear big seventies style shades to protect them from the ultra violet rays. Except for scurrying around like rats in empty office buildings to be picked off and used as target practice by the gun-loving Neville, they pretty much only come out at night. One of the key problems with this still entertaining film is the fact that these ghouls are so laughably not frightening and uncoordinated, not to mention ridiculous looking all dressed up like monks on heroin and all bruised up and what not. Certainly not very frightening and about as bright as a bunch of damn dirty apes, yet a little slower.

Either way, Neville is quite frightened by them and so spends a lot of time in an L.A. penthouse where he drinks a lot of Scotch and plays chess with himself, literally. And the only film in all of L.A. that seems to have been showing when the end came is "Woodstock", and certainly this is a torture for the ultra conservative Heston character. Still he must have a soft spot for young people, because he eventually stumbles upon a group that have somehow survived the plague and decides to help them and their leader, the sexy Lisa (Rosalind Cash). She also tries to help him escape the wrath of Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), former television newscaster turned cult leader, who is out to destroy him after finding out he is responsible for the decay of civilization. Several action sequences ensue, including a well done motorcycle chase, and all in all this film is quite enjoyable if you can get over some of the more dated elements.

Warner has really gone all out with the transfer of this release and fans of classic sci-fi are in for a real treat because it has never looked better. Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.4:1, this Blu-ray really shines. While it certainly has its share of dirt specks and some film grain naturally, this film simply looks great. Very film-like also and not overly digital. This transfer boasts some very vibrant color reproduction and certainly shows very few signs of compression artifacting. Edge enhancement is also kept to a bare minimum, and it is really a kick to see such an old late night cable thrill fest get the grand treatment video-wise, the level of detail is actually quite impressive and the black levels and shadows all come across very well.

On the audio side we simply have the original mono track, and it sounds just fine, although it is painfully obvious that it hasn't been given near as much attention as the excellent video, still all of the dialogue comes across clean and it is an effective, if not very basic, track all in all. I didn't notice any real hiss or distortion or any popping sounds, so it has been cleaned up quite a bit.

The special features are minimal but they are actually quite enjoyable, although they are simply in standard definition.

First up we have a 4 minute introduction by co-stars Eric Laneuville and Paul Koslo and Screenwriter Joyce H. Corrington, it feels kind of unnecessary, though and pointless considering they simply speak over film clips of what we are about to see.

The vintage featurette 'The Last Man Alive-The Omega Man' is actually very enjoyable and narrated by Heston himself. It lasts about ten minutes and we get to see how the filmmakers created the excellent and haunting segments of downtown Los Angeles as a freak infested wasteland without any people walking the streets. They filmed mostly on Sundays and holidays and this simple tactic is very effective. We also get to visit many of the sets and watch some action scenes being filmed. All in all very well done, if not perhaps a bit on the short side.

The only thing else as far as added value content is the theatrical trailer.

While not brimming over with special features, the video presentation alone is worth picking up this science fiction film if you are a fan. It's a real kick seeing it look this good on Blu-ray, even if I did find myself laughing unintentionally a few times.