I finally saw this over the holiday break.
Dr. Robert Neville (played by Charlton Heston) is the last man on Earth.
He served in the Army as a doctor when a biological weapon got loose and brought a plague upon the world. While most everyone else died, Neville survived by the self-injection of an experimental vaccine. Others who survived became deformed mutants, unable to stand sunlight and possessed of an insatiable need to kill. A few of these mutants have banded together, calling themselves "The Family." They believe that science and technology are what brought humanity to its ruin and the last vestiges of it must be rooted out. Neville, surviving in his fortified New York townhouse that runs on its own electric generators, has become symbolic of all The Family hates and they vow to destroy him.
This is one of three films based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. The book sets vampires up as the antagonists and they remain so in the Vincent Price adaptation, Last Man on Earth. For the Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend, it was zombies, natch, because they're all the rage and Hollywood is never slow to cash in on a trend for sake of flackery. For Omega Man, it was all very different.
And that's something that I liked about this film. It had an original interpretation of the source text. That's refreshing when an adaptation has already been done. I also really dug director Boris Sagal's take on the "end of the world as we know it" aesthetic. In this doomsday, New York City is not destroyed. It is simply...empty. Sure, things are weather-beaten or in disarray in a few places, but it's mostly as if everybody got up and left. Everybody except Chuck Heston, that is.
In a certain sense though, Heston might have been the weak spot of the film. He's a great actor, true, regardless of whatever I might think of his politics. My problem is that his character tackles everything with manly man machismo. Obviously you're not going to get anything less from Chuck and it is indeed fun to see him machine gun and hand grenade the mutants. The problem for me is that we don't get to see him as someone examining the true loneliness, the alienation, and the inevitable despair that being "the omega man" should inevitably bring. That aside, it's funny to see him in the empty movie theater and watching the film Woodstock without sneering or openly deriding the hippies as they cavort on screen. He doesn't have to.
Lastly, another strength of this film is that it shuns any kind of optimistic ending. Genre films were more likely to take a chance on such "ring of truth" endings during the 1970s. Just look at Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, and Silent Running. I miss that.
Overall, a great look at the end of the world...and no dogs get harmed.
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