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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Science Fiction > Literature > Action > Politics > The Omega Man (HD-DVD/Warner) + The Last Man On Earth (MGM DVD) [I Am Legend films]

The Omega Man (HD-DVD/Warner) + The Last Man On Earth (MGM DVD)


Picture: B+/C+     Sound: C+/C     Extras: C/C-     Films: B/B-



On the 50th Anniversary of Richard Matheson’s classic book, one that inspired Steven King to be a writer and possibly the most important Science Fiction/Horror book since Mary Shelley’s original Frankenstein, I Am Legend has been endlessly imitated and three official feature film adaptations have been made.  While the new Will Smith version shocks the industry with its opening numbers, the previous versions have been reissued for all to see.


More than the Matheson book, the Smith version is really a remake of Boris Sagal’s The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston as the scientist who is the only survivor of a plague that has annihilated mankind.  This second version, penned by John William and Joyce H. Corrington, leans more towards Science Fiction and offers Heston at a new star peak in the genre after his two Planet Of The Apes films and just before Soylent Green.


My favorite of the three adaptations, I give Heston credit for playing the lead hero a bit off-kilter, whose loneliness is getting to him.  He has no animals around to keep him company, hunts the night killers by day and tries to hold them off in his brightly lit home by night.  Taking place in Los Angeles, where the empty city sequences were shot first thing, Sunday A.M., the film holds up very well and is one of Heston’s most underrated works.  It was also a major influence on James Cameron’s original Terminator.


Amusingly, my alternate title for the film is The Last Republican!  That is because everything that has gone wrong in the society is blamed on the far Left.  For instance, it is a mega-war between China and The Soviet Union (the two big communist superpowers) that killed just about everyone.  They used chemical and biological weapons, which backfired.  Today, the Soviet Empire is gone and not long after this film, President Nixon made his historic trip to China that ended this very real scenario for good.


As well, the film Heston’s Robert Neville keeps watching and seems most unhappy with over and over again is none other than Woodstock!  He now knows every word of it and seems compelled by dread to see it.  Finally, the vampires of the original novel and first film version have been replaced by hippie/zombie/cult types called The Family who hate science, machines, progress, wealth and in true Stalinist form burn books and art.  Political Correctness would never allow this version to be made today, but it is smarter than it might first seem.


Anthony Zerbe runs the ghoul squad that were all once human and the film also stars Rosalind Cash and yes, that is a young Brian Tochi (Space Academy) in the later scenes.  The action, humor, editing, pacing and fell work well for the film, while when it does not work, it has its share of unintended howlers that make you love it all the more.


When the book was not as respected as such fiction once was not, American International Pictures made the first version back in 1964 with Vincent Price as Neville and The Last Man On Earth tends to be the closest to the book of the three by default.  Too short, it has some great flashbacks to how life was before the plague hit and Price’s narration and performance are easy to underrate and under-appreciate.  Co-produced in Italy, it looks like a black and white Horror film from the time and fans of the genre will immediately see its influence on George Romero’s original Night Of The Living Dead made four years later.


However, the film has plenty of merits of its own and one only wishes it would go on a little longer.  However, it can go a few rounds with the other versions.  Only some of the make-up and budget limits on sets date it.


While this DVD repeats the same transfer as MGM’s double feature DVD with Panic In Year Zero, it was also made available in a surprisingly good, cheap DVD transfer from VCI/Acme as a double feature with the original House On Haunted Hill that you can read more about at:





We wondered if it was possibly a clean 16mm anamorphic print or 35mm, but fans will want to grab a copy of that one as a collectible.  The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image here looks pretty good and was shot in CinemaScope as the format suddenly became cheaper as better, more efficient Panavision (using one lens, not two for the wide image) made the format obsolete.  The result is more distortion and that can effect clarity.  The copy here used is good, but only makes me want to see MGM put out a Blu-ray version as I believe this could be even more impressive there.


Omega Man has been issued in both HD formats, including the surprisingly impressive HD-DVD we received.  The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image here was not only shot in real Panavision, it was lensed by no less than the great Russell Metty, A.S.C., whose classics include Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil (1958) and at the time of its original release, the prints were made in three-strip, dye transfer Technicolor.


Though this transfer does not always show that, the color is still so rich, consistent and excellent that this is one of the best back catalog HD releases of any kind we have seen to date.  The first time this was available widescreen was on the old 12” LaserDisc format version, then it was reissued on standard DVD.  The Laser looked great for that format, while the DVD was a visually plugged-up mess that looked like a very bad recycle of the Laser.


In the case of our HD-DVD, it looks like the same great vault print was used to make this new transfer as was used for the Laser, but now, color is rich, wide-ranging and consistent.  There are also some impressive depth shots that will shock even the biggest film and HD fans, while the print rarely has any flaws and has only minor softness in its detail here and there.  This is now one of my few back catalog titles I can claim as demo material.


As for sound, both films are monophonic, though there was the hope that Omega would get a stereo upgrade of some kind because the score by Ron Grainer was such a hit when Film Score Monthly issued it on CD a few years ago, that it became the first of many limited editions to sell out from their catalog.  Unfortunately, we get Dolby Digital Plus 1.0 Mono, but it is pretty decent for its age and far better than the very compressed and distorted standard Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono on the awful DVD.  It is more along the lines of the PCM 2.0 16/44.1 Mono on the old LaserDisc.  Last Man has standard Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono that is not as good as the HD’s sound, but better than the Omega DVD.  It could use some work.


Extras are few on each release, with Last Man offering an on camera piece called Richard Matheson Storyteller where he talks about the film and his book.  Too bad they did not do an audio commentary with him.  Omega Man carries over the original theatrical trailer and vintage The Last Man Alive – The Omega Man featurette made at the time to promote the film at the time from the LaserDisc and DVD, but adds a new introduction by screenplay co-author Corrington, actors Eric Laneuville and Paul Koslo from a second DVD issue of this film.  It too could have used an audio commentary, but to have such great playback of a film from the time is amazing and both films are must-see pictures.


Especially in the case of Omega Man, you just cannot go wrong.


Since this review, the Will Smith I Am Legend arrived on Blu-ray, HD-DVD and DVD-Video.  You can read our Blu-ray coverage at this link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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