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Warner Home Video presents
The Omega Man (1971)

"Hi, big brother. How's your ass?"
- Colonel Robert Neville (Charlton Heston)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: September 23, 2003

Stars: Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash, Paul Koslo, Eric Laneuville
Director: Boris Sagal

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: PG for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:37m:54s
Release Date: August 05, 2003
UPC: 085391121022
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Charlton Heston has played dozens of contemporary roles during his illustrious career, but he's forever ingrained in our memories either trudging across the desert in toga and sandals or battling mutant species in a futuristic setting. Biblical epics and sci-fi thrillers have been Heston's bread and butter over the years, and the actor's rugged toughness fits both genres like a glove—hardly surprising, considering films portraying man's beginning and the beginning of the end possess many striking similarities.

The Omega Man, a clever and affecting doomsday yarn, takes place in the near future of 1977, two years after a devastating biological attack decimates the human race. With equal parts despair and hope the film chronicles how a nucleus of survivors struggles to salvage mankind and forge a fresh civilization. Based on Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, The Omega Man reshapes the book's vampire angle, replacing bloodsuckers with a cult of pasty-faced, nocturnal plague victims led by the fanatical Matthias (Anthony Zerbe). These zombie-like scavengers wander the deserted streets of L.A. in hooded black robes, seeking to eliminate any remaining healthy humans who, they believe, embody the evil elements of technology and aggression that led to global war.

Their prime target is Colonel Robert Neville (Heston), a military scientist who injected himself with an experimental antidote just as he was succumbing to plague symptoms. Now immune to the ravaging pestilence, Neville believes himself to be Earth's last healthy man and struggles to maintain his sanity. During the eerily quiet day, he cruises garbage-strewn streets rummaging for food and supplies, devising imaginary conversations with others, and firing his trusty machine gun at anything that moves. At night, he plays endless chess games with a statue and steels himself against the constant barrage of taunts and attacks by Matthias and his "men."

By chance, however, Neville discovers another normal human, a black female named Lisa (Rosalind Cash), who leads him to a small, secluded colony where the last bastion of mankind (mostly orphaned kids) fights to stay alive. Neville realizes his immune blood holds the key to their survival—and that of modern humanity—and seeks to produce a serum that will save their lives before plague and Matthias' "family" overtake them.

While The Omega Man might have seemed dated back in the peaceful 1990s, the ever-looming prospect of bio-terrorism in the new millennium lends it an unsettling topicality. Threats of small pox and anthrax add a sobering realism to the film only tempered by Matthias and his outlandishly ghoulish gang. As a sci-fi thriller, The Omega Man strikes a good balance between serious issues and flat-out fun, with enough violent confrontations, flaming destruction, suspense, and foreboding to please even hardcore genre fans. The film's frank depiction of interracial love adds an innovative twist and must have raised a few eyebrows in post-1960s America, but Heston and Cash handle the scenes with a casual ease that belies the subject's volatility.

Neville's wry sense of humor over his dire predicament is well interpreted by Heston, who files one of his most natural and unaffected performances. The role also offers him ample opportunity to strut around bare-chested (a la Planet of the Apes), which the 47-year-old actor seems to relish. The supporting players are largely undistinguished, but Cash projects plenty of what screenwriter Joyce H. Corrington calls "black power panache" as the tough-and-tender ghetto sister who turns Neville's life around.

Director Boris Sagal paces the story well, stingily doling out details while maintaining tension and conflict. The film's one sour note is an abundance of religious imagery in the denouement, but you can't fault the creative team for slipping in a blatant biblical reference. It is a Charlton Heston film, after all.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in anamorphic widescreen with its original 2.35:1 ratio intact, The Omega Man transfer features above average clarity, true colors and excellent contrast. The source material possesses a few noticeable specks, but is clean overall, with vivid detail in both day and night scenes. Fleshtones suffer from a slight red push and the chalky make-up of Matthias and his crew comes across as theatrical rather than creepy, but such faults are minor and forgivable. For a thirty-plus-year-old film, The Omega Man looks surprisingly spry.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The workmanlike Dolby Digital mono track performs as expected, providing a pleasant but limited sound field. Aside from intermittent machine gun fire and a few explosions, sonic activity is fairly tame. Both dialogue and Ron Grainer's music score come through cleanly, and any age-related defects have been properly masked.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h:42m:42s

Extra Extras:
  1. Charlton Heston—Science-Fiction Legend essay
Extras Review: Warner continues its commitment to the classics by producing new supplements and rummaging through studio vaults for rare material. The extras for The Omega Man reflect this attitude and, though not extensive, nicely compliment the film. Aside from a cast and crew listing and original theatrical trailer, a new four-minute introduction to the film featuring screenwriter Joyce H. Corrington and actors Paul Koslo and Eric Laneuville provides some background on the roots of The Omega Man as well as a few nostalgic memories. Laneuville recalls the "overwhelming" experience of acting with Heston, who he remembers as "gracious and kind," while Corrington discusses the film's "racial pizzazz," and Koslo appreciates Heston's deadpan one-liners.

The Last Man Alive—The Omega Man is a 10-minute featurette filmed during production in which Heston discusses the film's plot and ideas with noted anthropologist Dr. Ashley Montague (who?) on the set. Some behind-the-scenes glimpses of set-ups and shots add interest to this otherwise bland promo piece.

Finally, the essay Charlton Heston—Science-Fiction Legend briefly examines the actor's contribution to the genre through such films as Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man and Soylent Green.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The Omega Man enjoys a strong cult following and admirers of the film will rejoice over its DVD presentation. In addition to a slick anamorphic transfer, Warner includes a decent set of extras to round out the package. Although more than three decades old, The Omega Man remains taut and relevant (despite its "living dead" villains), and while the story looks into the future, it's fun for the audience to take a gander at the past. Germ warfare may easily wipe out humanity, but it seems nothing can ever kill the style of the '70s.


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