November 4th, 2007
Copy the line below to link to this article from your blog or forum:
Spoiler warning! As with all reviews at theWAREHOUSE, this article tells more or less the entire plot of the movie along with my editorial thoughts. So consider yourself wizzarned. That's either like a hip-hop warning or a wizard's warning, depending on your current flavor of pop culture.
Charlton Heston, heavily loaded with a few pistols and a submachine gun, drives through the abandoned city. His abandoned city. Soft jazz rolls through an 8-track player in the car. Occasionally he takes pot shots at shadowy figures in windows, but other than that he's totally alone. He is the Omega Man - the last survivor.
The Omega Man is getting a lot of backtrack buzz lately because of Will Smith's movie I Am Legend. See, the Fresh Prince's movie is an adaptation of an old book. Heston's 1971 classic SF-survival thriller is the earlier (and likely better) adaptation of this same 1954 novel. There's been another movie also, making the Smith's movie the third adaptation. But I don't want to talk about Will Smith or his upcoming sure-to-be blockbuster.
Charlton Heston constantly talks to himself, eventually soothing his melencholy and joke-filled afternoon by watching a documentary about Woodstock via a gas-powered movie projector in an abandoned theater. He mouths the words to the entire movie - he's seen it so many times. As he realizes the sun's going down, he shows a rare moment of panic. He begins to show signs of his madness - imagining phones ringing (desperate for human contact) - and withdraws back to his stronghold on squealing tires. "They'll be waking up soon!"
Upon reaching his hideout, however, he's ambushed surprisingly ineptly by a group of mutants dressed in dark robes. A few manage to get into his compound by running through the door while his car gets through. They're quickly and almost casually dispatched.
Kill Count: 3
Heston has grown quite proficient in his existence. He inhabits a large mansion, surrounded with razor wire, filled with technological wonders and survival gear. The archaic cult members outside burn books and paintings while their leader Matthias waxes poetic about how to kill him.
Despite his predicament, Heston wanders around talking to himself and a bust of Caesar and drinking hard liquor. Not a bad existence. Allow me to quote from Easy Rider: "You do your own thing in your own time, man."
Upon realizing that the statue of Caesar hasn't taken his turn in their perpetual chess game, Heston remarks "Balls. You know, you used to be a nice guy once."
Flashbacks tell the story of how the world became the way it is, but it doesn't much matter. Suffice to say that Mutually Assured Destruction happened by way of biological warfare - the current disease around which the plot is centered. Heston is alive because he tried his own experimental serum on himself - he was a military scientist and is now a mercenary. He had been in a helicopter flying the only test batch of cure to the spreading disease out on an important mission when both he and the pilot began to succumb to the disease. Surviving the crash, Heston injects himself and becomes permanently immune but destroys the serum. Apparently while he was healing the world population died? Wikipedia says the world population in the late 70s when the movie takes place was a bit over the 4 billion mark.
Normally I wouldn't do something like include the deaths of people that happened outside of the timeline of the movie, but I think it'll help underscore the postapocalyptic feel. Yeah, that's it. I just like seeing a big kill count.
A few sentences ago I said he was a mercenary. He is, but his employer is himself. See, he vacillates rapidly between a driven professionalism and a 70s playboy swagger. He has no particular goal other than his own survival, but diligently maps out the mutants' activities, trying to pinpoint their stronghold to try and wipe them out...likely to simply make his own existence easier.
He's been doing regular sweeps over new parts of the city, searching for supplies and for the main "nest" or "hive" of the diseased. He's trying to both survive and wipe out his attackers (who can't function in daylight).
The colors of the settings and the framing of the cinematography are a visual delight. The 70s charm and fashion fill the screen from side to side and even the postapocalyptic landscape of a dead city can't escape the occasional brightly paisleyed bikini or ultra yellow-and-pink pantsuit.
Since the movie is mostly one man with barely a mission, the first half is wonderfully cynical and self-centered. Just watching Heston wander around, master of his own domain despite the fact that he's the only man left in a dead world, should rank high on your True Example of Manliness list. His slow descent into madness is marked by the polarization of joking laziness and militaristic discipline - or is that precisely how he maintains his sanity?
He sees a human woman in a roomful of mannequins and chases her, but she flees and manages to elude him. He wonders if he really saw her at all.
Eventually the mutants manage to subdue him by way of a simple trap in a store basement. Matthias has Heston beaten (off camera - the entire film lacks much violence at all and garnered a PG rating) and pontificates eloquently to him about how wrong and evil Heston's old-society ways are.
The mutants are stubbornly proud of their shameful marks of sickness and disease. They are ashamed of them, yet turn them into justifications for their society and their actions to "bury what was dead, to burn what was evil, to destroy what was dangerous."
After being run through a mock trial, Heston is paraded out in a dunce cap, mocked...and tied to a huge pyre in the middle of a dark sports stadium. Is this the end for the Omega Man? Of course he won't be killed because the movie's only half over!
Suddenly the lights in the stadium they're in turn on, scattering the mutants. A man comes out to rescue Heston - they flee and he finds himself in the company of the Foxy Brown he found earlier and a wacky dude named Dutch. The woman's name is Lisa, but that's so boring that I will continue to refer to her as Foxy. Dutch, however, is an excellent name. Unfortunately he doesn't do much.
Various explosives are used, and the mutants seem to burst into flames pretty well. Maybe heavy robes, medieval weaponry and being sickly and weak weren't the best characteristics for Matthias to latch on to when setting up his army. Let's call it a dozen deaths? Deaths: 4,000,000,015
They manage to make their daring escape from the stadium and a seemingly endless supply of mutants...generally by just driving past most of them.
Foxy Brown takes Heston to the group's hideout, far from the city. It's mainly filled with children - a dozen of children, not infected by the plague - yet! Remember, he hasn't seen another human for two or three years. "I didn't know there were any left."
They want Heston, and know a lot about him because they want him to help with investigating and curing the disease. Specifically there's a kid who's "on the verge of turning" which motivates Heston to help them. OH NOES it just got sentimental.
In my opinion, this all is where the film takes an unfortunate turn. The whole thing gets a little too sentimental and touchy feely. I have to say that I love Heston being a self-centered self-supported survivor. I love the fashion of the movie. I think Heston's ludicrous methods and lifestyle and madness-sanity are a delight. Apparently I love the 70s. And then it gets all sappy. Where are the Ewoks?
Right now they're back in Heston's place. Matthias is outside taunting them while they drink brandy. Here's a thought. Heston has a ridiculously high powered sniper rifle with night vision. BAM...movie over? But noooo.
While macking it with Foxy Brown he neglects the gas in the generator, allowing the house to fall into darkness. Good job. You've been a master of your own domain for years, but as soon as you meet any humans, you totally screw up keeping up your defenses. Great.
While Heston fills up the generator, Foxy waits. While Foxy waits, one of the mutants sneaks inside.
Heston ends up coming back just in time to blow him away.
They resume their courtship and do it under the watchful gaze of Caesar. Bow-chikka bow wow
Then they start raiding general stores, hospitals and medical houses for the supplies to extract some 100% pure Hestonjuice.
Anyway, they go about collecting Heston's blood (which is infused with the cure) in an attempt to breed a generic source of cure. Surprisingly the cure works on the kid who was mostly "turned" and everybody's wicked happy. There's hope! And hope floats. Or does it?
"Either kill 'em or cure 'em dammit!" poses the cured child once he realizes that Heston has completely written off the mutants as being past trying to save. Now that a "cure" exists, the child wonders if it might cure those as far developed as Matthias and "The Family" - whereas Charlton Heston simply wants to leave and give the serum to the as-of-yet unturned kids.
The kid, in the meantime, ditches Heston and goes to meet the mutants to see if they would accept his offering of his own blood as a cure. D'oh. So of course they have to go to save him. Damn kids ruin everything in these movies! Stoic loners just can't stay stoic loners! It happened to Mad Max...it happened to this guy! (Robert Neville is his name by the way - Charleton Heston's character)
The Family marches on Heston's mansion, enraged by the blood-bomb child. Meanwhile Foxy Brown has turned into one of them pretty darn quickly. Apparently this is all just supposed to set up Heston for his big "oh crap do I kill them all and run away" moment, which he probably should've done.
While they are let into his penthouse by Foxy Brown, Heston sneaks into the mutant compound. The old switcheroo! He sees that they've already killed the kid, but it was off camera and nothing particularly spectacular.
On his way back to the compound he uses a satchel charge to blow up a car behind which are hiding a few of the Family.
Fortunately for Heston, they're all really really scared of the loud noise of his gun, so any time he fires it they all cower. And they're all anti-technology so they all only attack him with weak arrows, or by throwing rocks. Heston, however, has explosives and sniper rifles.
He finally returns home to see Foxy turned, and Matthias in his house with a ton of mutants. He's captured again. D'oh.
He has to watch them smash his entire apartment, which is awful because damn that was a swanky pad! Seriously!
They try to move him - always having to make an example of him, Matthias never just orders him killed - but he escapes and grabs a gun, fleeing with the mostly-turned Foxy Brown and a bottle of the cure.
"Escapes" being the operative word. Or...non-operative word. At ground level, Foxy turns around and starts to return to Matthias, responding to his summons. Heston stops to call her back, and Matthias hurls a spear.
D'oh. That can't be good.
As Robert-Heston's lifeblood ebbs out into the fountain and the sun rises, the scene growns darker and darker, his body fatally pierced.
The children find him in the morning, barely alive. He hands them the serum and makes sure that the nearly dead and nearly turned Foxy Brown is taken care of. Dutch understands that he's now the leader of the whole operation. "Well let's move kids; we've got a long way to go."
The van with the children, full of hope and promise, rolls off into the horizon as Charlton Heston dies in the fountain.
The Omega Man perishes. He was the last man...but the first step towards a new society. The obvious Christ figure cast by the Neville character resonates not in the hokey death of the spear that punctured his side or that he died with his arms spread out, but that his shed blood provided for the redemption of the human race.
Deaths: 4,000,000,021...ish. Probably several more bit it during the battles but they were pretty ham-handedly thrown together in the wonderful 70s mindset of setting off a colorful explosive charge in the middle of the framed shot and having five guys leap out of the way. Some may have been right next to it, some may have been ten feet away.
I feel that Omega Man was pretty darn fantastic, with the qualifier that I mean that the Omega Man himself was fantastic. I was so very ready to accept that Charlton Heston's character was cynical beyond redemption, a self-centered survivalist beyond compassion, that it was a downright shock when the second act came along and he started babysitting the brood. I very nearly came to expect them to sit in a circle singing Kumbaya. Not that I was hoping this would turn into some silly Deathwish style movie with nothing going on but Heston killing the Family; I'm just saying that the involvement of the children and the woman was pretty sappy. Heston played Neville's cocksure swagger with such apropos 70s flair that I will definitely be rewatching the first half of this movie again.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see if I can get a bust of Caesar on ebay. And perhaps a paisley jumpsuit.
A note for next Halloween, having one person dress up as Neville and one person dress up as a member of the Family would be a pretty great pairs costume.