For the coin counterfeiter, see The Omega Man (counterfeiter). For the manga and anime character, see Omegaman.
The Omega Man is a 1971 American science fiction film directed by Boris Sagal and starring Charlton Heston. It was written by John William Corrington and Joyce Corrington, based on the 1954 novel I Am Legend by the American writer Richard Matheson. The film's producer was Walter Seltzer, who went on to work with Heston again in the dystopian science fiction film Soylent Green in 1973.
The Omega Man is the second adaptation of Matheson's novel, the first being The Last Man on Earth (1964) which starred Vincent Price. A third adaptation, I Am Legend starring Will Smith, was released in 2007.
The film differs from the novel (and the previous film) in several ways. In the novel the cause of the demise of humanity is a plague spread by bacteria, turning the population into vampire-like creatures, whereas in this film version biological warfare is the cause of the plague which kills most of the population and turns most of the rest into nocturnal albino-mutants. Screenwriter Joyce Corrington holds a doctorate in chemistry and felt that this was more suitable for an adaptation.
In 1975, biological warfare kills most of the world's population due to a Sino-Soviet war. U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville, M.D. is a scientist based in Los Angeles. As he begins to succumb to the plague himself, he injects himself with an experimental vaccine, rendering himself immune.
By 1977, Neville is apparently the only healthy man left on Earth. Struggling to maintain his sanity, he spends his days patrolling the deserted city of Los Angeles, hunting and killing members of "The Family", a cult of crazed nocturnal albino mutants caused by the plague. The Family seeks to destroy all technology due to science causing humanity's downfall, as well as anyone who utilizes technology, which the term "The Wheel". At night, living atop a fortified apartment building equipped with an arsenal of weaponry, Neville defends himself from Family attempts to extract him from his home. Neville has decorated his residence and lives much like the antebellum era, but he is a prisoner in his own home and without a woman.
One day, as Neville is in a department store helping himself to new clothing, he spots a woman who quickly runs away. He pursues her outside but chalks it up to another one of his hallucinations.
On another day, while exploring the wine cellar of a fine restaurant, Neville finally gets caught by the family. After a summary trial he is found guilty of heresy by Jonathan Matthias, a former news anchorman who is now leader of the Family. Neville is sentenced to death and nearly burned at the stake in Dodger Stadium. He is rescued by Lisa, the woman he had earlier dismissed as a hallucination, and Dutch, a former medical student. Lisa and Dutch are part of a group of survivors, most of whom are children. Although their youth has given them some resistance to the disease, they are still vulnerable to it and will eventually succumb to mutation. Neville realizes that even if it is possible to duplicate the original vaccine, it would take years to salvage humanity. However, he believes it may be possible to extend his immunity to others by creating a serum from his own body. With the immunized survivors, eventually civilization could rise again.
Neville, Lisa, and Lisa's teenage brother Richie return to Neville's apartment where they begin treating Richie who is succumbing to the disease. Neville and Lisa are about to have a romantic evening together just as the generator runs out of fuel and the lights go off. The Family then attacks, sending Brother Zachary to climb up the outside of Neville's building to the open balcony of his apartment. Neville leaves Lisa upstairs as he goes to the basement garage to restart the generator. Neville returns to the apartment to find Zachary right behind an unsuspecting Lisa. Neville shoots him and he falls off the balcony to his death, dropping his spear on the balcony as he goes.
If the serum works, Neville and Lisa plan to leave the ravaged city with the rest of the survivors and start a new life in the wilderness, and the Family will be soon be doomed to extinction. Neville is successful in creating the serum and administers it to Richie. Once cured, Richie reveals the location of The Family's headquarters to Neville, but insists that the Family are also human and that Neville's cure should be administered to them as well. Neville disagrees with him, so Richie goes to the Family by himself to try to convince them to take the serum. Matthias refuses to believe that Neville would try to help them, accuses Richie of being sent to spy on them and has him executed. Neville discovers Richie's body and, enraged, he goes on a rampage against the Family.
Meanwhile, Lisa quickly and unexpectedly succumbs to the disease and becomes an albino. Returning home, Neville tells Lisa about Richie's death, but she already knows and has betrayed Neville by giving Matthias and his followers access to Neville's home. Matthias, who finally has the upper hand, forces Neville to watch as the Family sets his home and equipment on fire. Neville breaks free and, once outside with Lisa, he turns and raises his gun to shoot Matthias, who is looking down from the balcony. The gun jams, giving Matthias enough time to hurl Zachary's spear at Neville, mortally wounding him. The next morning, Dutch and the survivors discover Neville dying in a fountain. He hands Dutch a flask of the blood serum, and then dies. Dutch takes Lisa and the survivors away as they leave the city for good.
Charlton Heston - Neville,
Anthony Zerbe - Matthias,
Paul Koslo - Dutch,
Rosalind Cash - Lisa,
Eric Laneuville - Richie,
Whoopi Goldberg has remarked that the kiss between the characters played by Charlton Heston and Rosalind Cash was one of the first interracial kisses to appear in a movie. Subsequently in 1992 when Goldberg had her own network interview talk show, she invited Charlton Heston to be a guest and asked him about the kiss in The Omega Man. Heston stated that he received a lot of hassle for it at the time because it was considered controversial. When Goldberg asked him what it was like to kiss Rosalind Cash, Heston leaned forward and demonstrated on the unsuspecting Goldberg. The unscripted moment took everyone off guard, particularly Goldberg, who reverted to as if she were a "16 year old" since she had grown up watching Heston and viewed him as a screen legend. (Heston's roles included playing Moses in 1956's The Ten Commandments and as the lead in 1959's Ben-Hur, among other prominent roles before entering into science fiction with 1968's Planet of the Apes).
Screenwriter Joyce H. Corrington stated that in developing the script for The Omega Man, the character of Lisa, played by Rosalind Cash, was created due to the rise of the Black Power movement, which was prominent in American culture by the time the film was made. She goes on to remark that this created an effective and interesting dynamic between the characters of Lisa and Neville.
Heston wrote in his autobiography, In the Arena, that The Omega Man was the first leading role in a film for actress Rosalind Cash, and that she was understandably "a little edgy" about doing a love scene with Heston. Heston explained, "It was in the seventies that I realized a generation of actors had grown up who saw me in terms of the iconic roles they remembered from their childhoods. 'It's a spooky feeling,' she told me, 'to screw Moses.'"
The film review website Rotten Tomatoes lists The Omega Man as having mixed reviews, with a score of 59%. For example, Howard Thompson gave a mostly negative review in The New York Times, saying "the climax is as florid and phony as it can be," while the staff of Variety (magazine) described the film as "an extremely literate science fiction drama."
Director Tim Burton said in an interview for his 2009 MoMA exhibit that "If I was alone on a desert island I'd probably pick something that I could relate to - probably The Omega Man with Charlton Heston. I don't know why that is one of my favorite movies, but it is." In another interview, with ACMI, Burton remarked that no matter how many times he has seen it, if it is on television he will stop to watch it. He said that when he originally saw The Omega Man, it was the first instance that he recalls seeing the use of certain types of "cheesy one-liners" in film. The film is full of irony-tinged one-liners that are spoken in a manner to elicit a comic response. Burton compares these to the famous one-liners in Arnold Schwarzenegger's film career, such as "I'll be back." An example of this is a scene in which Neville visits a car dealership in order to get a car to replace the one that he had just wrecked. While speaking to the long-dead salesman sitting at his desk, Neville replies, "Uh-huh, alright, how much will you give me in trade for my Ford? Oh really? Thanks a lot, you cheating bastard!" At that point, Neville peels out, driving through what remains of the dealership front entrance.
The script for The Omega Man contains a scene where Lisa goes to visit her parents' grave. Unknown to Neville, Lisa is pregnant, and she goes to seek comfort from her deceased parents before they leave the city forever. While Lisa is talking to her parents' grave, she hears a sound and investigates a crypt. In it, she spots a female Family member depositing a dead newborn mutant. Lisa can see the mother's grief and empathizes with the woman's loss despite them being on different sides. Lisa believes that all children, including her unborn baby, will suffer the same fate. Later, Lisa returns to Neville and tells him of the woman in the crypt. Neville asks Lisa if she "took care" of things and Lisa responds that since she may be a grieving parent in a few months, she will not kill a grief-stricken mother. Neville is shocked at first but then embraces Lisa.
While the scene was cut from the final film, the screen credit for "Woman in Cemetery Crypt" remains.
Emptying out Los Angeles:
The movie takes place in Los Angeles and as part of the plot the city is supposed to be void of human activity except for Neville. A number of tricks were used to make the city appear deserted. This objective was accomplished in part by simply filming on a Sunday morning in the center of L.A.'s business district, when pedestrian movement is limited. Despite careful planning by the film crew, there are instances in which bystanders were captured on film in the distance and appear briefly in scenes. There are also brief shots of working traffic lights as the main character drives around Los Angeles, which would not be the case as the collapse of civilization would mean no electricity.