Sunday, October 5, 2008


Husband and wife scenarists John and Joyce Carrington of "Boxcar Bertha" fame alter Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend" in "Mosquito Squadron" director Boris Sagal's violent remake as "The Omega Man" (**1/2 out of ****)with Charlton Heston taking over the character that Vincent Price created in the 1964 original film "The Last Man on Earth." Germ warfare has devastated the earth, and scientist John Neville is the only man alive who has acquired immunity from the plague that gradually turns humans into mutants. Unlike the brooding Italian-produced original, where the plague turned everybody into zombie-like vampires, "The Omega Man" turns everybody into a mob of pale-faced maniacs that can only come out after dark to do their dirty deeds. These fiends wear hooded robes and resemble albinos. They are a murderous bunch led by a former TV news announcer named Mathias (Anthony Zerbe of "License to Kill") and they refer to themselves as 'the Family.' This is one of the better aspect of this hit and miss melodrama. Mathias is Neville's sworn enemy, and Mathias' mutant mob never stop trying to kill our hero. When Mathias and company are not roaming the streets in search of Neville, they hole up in the courthouse and await the sun to go down. (This is another clever touch in a film that needs a lot of clever touches. Sunlight damages their eyes and weakens them. During the day, Neville scours Los Angeles for signs of intelligent life. The mutant capture him early on, and Mathias is about to have him killed when Dutch (Paul Koslo of "Joe Kidd") and Lisa (Rosalind Cash of "Klute") rescue him. They surprise the mutants by turning on the stadium lights so Neville can overpower his captors and flee. Briefly, Neville and his newly discovered friends join forces. Neville distills a serum from his own blood and saves Lisa's little brother Ritchie (Eric Laneuville of "Death Wish") but Lisa turns and allows Mathias and his vermin ambush Neville.

Warner Brothers lensed the second version of "I Am Legend" entirely in Los Angeles on Sundays and holidays when the streets were empty and the filmmakers could simulate a city abandoned. Boris Sagal and his scribes change up the hero so that he is more military minded in his destruction of his enemies. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) was merely a scientist, whereas Heston arms himself with an array of ultra-cool, exotic weaponry to battle the villains. Unlike Vincent Price and Will Smith's heroes, Heston doesn't have a dog. Heston's Neville resides in a fortified town-house and parks his car in an underground garage, a far cry from Price's modest digs. The other major change is that the villains are no longer vampires. They behave like a mob. They don't shamble like zombies; instead, they can run, jump, and throw spears. Despite their greater numbers, they prove easy prey when our hero packs a grease gun and can mow them down. Unquestionably, Sagal and company have opened up the Matheson novel and given it greater scope—aside from its widescreen Cinemascope—with an ending that bodes well for humanity. Basically, "The Omega Man" serves as a metaphor of the theme of the erosion of white male authority figures during the 1970s when fringe groups managed to acquire greater influence over society. Otherwise, most of what happens alternates between Neville shooting his way out of scrapes and pretentious dialogue about his messiah status. An inter-racial romance between Heston and Cash isn't allowed to go very far, even though they spend an on-screen night in the sack and we see Cash nude from the side the next morning as she opens the curtains to let the sun into the room. Charlton Heston spends at least half of the film running around bare-chested displaying his athletic prowess. Composer Ron Grainer of "Dr. Who" and "The Prisoner" contributes a lackluster score, especially during the opening credits.

Undoubtedly, "The Omega Man" sits better for a mainstream audience but it lacks the atmosphere of the Price original.

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