The Omega Man

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I Am Legend suffered because the vampires from the novel were turned into badly rendered CGI zombie-type things. The Omega Man, on the other hand, suffers because the vampires are turned into albino Luddites. Yeah, that’s right. Albino Luddites.

Maybe the image of white-faced, sunglass wearing monks sounds scary on paper, but on film it’s somewhat humorous. Oh no, please spare me from the pasty-faced hoodies. Oh how they terrify me. But it also doesn’t help that these so-called psychopaths (Heston’s words) act like the Keystone Cops.

The Family, as they’re called, first appear after Robert Neville (Heston) struggles to get home before nightfall. There he is parking his car when a hooded individual throws a lighted torch at him and drops down into his car. But no sooner do these clowns manage to mount a dirty sneak attack than they’re being riddled with machine gun fire. They’re incompetent.

The best example of The Family’s incompetence is during the sequence when they try to burn Neville at Dodger Stadium. Somehow he gets free and escapes via motorbike. Cue The Family trying to stop him and then being blinded by flares and smoke bombs. It burns! It burns!

But the scene where Heston is going to be burnt at the stake is a good example of the heavy-handed Christian imagery that permeates the film. You see, germ warfare wipes out mankind during a conflict between China and Russia. All that’s left are Heston (the last man on Earth), the albino Luddites who are infected and dying, and infected humans who appear normal but will eventually become albino Luddites. So therefore The Family takes it upon itself to burn Neville for mankind’s sins. He’ll sacrifice himself for a purer world, one free of the evils of technology. But would you believe it, even though he’s tied to a cross like Jesus, he gets free.

Then there’s the film’s final image. At the end, the head of The Family spears Neville and he slowly dies in a fountain, soaking in his own blood. And he dies while in the crucifixion pose. Neville is the world’s saviour. With the vaccination he makes, he promises to resurrect mankind, thus making him a divine figure.

In one scene an infected but still normally functioning girl even asks Neville whether he’s god. He laughs it off. But to all intents and purposes, he is. He’s the one who has the power over life and death. He chooses who lives and who doesn’t. He’s both saviour and destroyer, much like the Christian god of the Old Testament.

But although it’s nice that all of this stuff is included in the film, it doesn’t rescue it from mediocrity. Sure it has some good ideas, but a lot of the film is uninspired or just poorly made.

The opening sequence, for instance, which sees Neville driving around a deserted city is rendered laughable by the ridiculously cheery music. Here we have the end of the world and it’s...jazzy. There’s no threat. There’s no feeling of despair or doom. It just indicates that this is going to be a jaunty, run of the mill 70s B-movie adventure. The score dates the film horribly.

I also find it weird that Chuck Heston would choose to watch Woodstock over and over again – to keep himself entertained, Neville goes to a cinema and watches the same movie repeatedly. I thought Heston would want to shoot all those hippie fucks.

And then in the opening there’s a moment when Neville gets himself a new car. He goes into a dealership, and after removing the calendar that taunts him with the promise of female flesh, we see the rotting skeleton of someone who worked in this place. It should be a jarring moment. It should be scary. But the film merrily goes on about its way, reassuring us that this is just going to be a bit of fluff – there’s nothing to worry about.

The only real moment of terror in the film is the existential terror Neville feels when he suddenly hears every payphone ringing as he wanders the lonely streets. This is the sort of thing I wish the film would focus on – Neville is losing his mind and he’s hearing things that aren’t there. But although there are a few nice little details in the film, like Neville having conversations with inanimate objects, the feeling of desperation and isolation is immediately lost when The Family turn up so quickly. Plus they’re far too human. Yeah they’re a bit mad, talking like religious zealots, but you see worse on the Tube. You feel that if only you could stop them from burning you, and if only you could steer the discussion away from theology and morality, you could have a decent little chat.

Also detracting from the feeling of dread are the infected people who haven’t gone mad yet. They pretty quickly relieve Neville of his loneliness. And the scene where Neville first encounters another normal person is unintentionally amusing. Neville walks around a clothes shop full of mannequins and then begins to hear something. When he turns around a new mannequin has arrived – there’s a black girl with a large afro pretending to be still. I guess if it were done right it could be quite creepy, but instead with the girl not being very good at keeping still it looks like the end of every Police Squad episode.

Another disappointing element is Neville’s relationship with The Family. When he kills three of them he talks of an ‘end game’ and of them losing three pawns. Therefore you get the feeling that the whole thing is a game to Neville – The Family might be trying to kill him, but he needs them in order to remain functional; even though they attack his house every night and even though he has a huge machine gun on the roof, to kill the whole Family would finally render his life pointless and aimless. But although all of this is there, it soon gives way to goofy action scenes and a tedious love story – no sooner have Chuck and the black girl escaped a deadly Luddite attack than they’re rolling on the floor with Heston joking that he might have forgotten how to make love. Interesting plot elements continually and repeatedly make way for the familiar action/adventure beats.

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