I’ll admit the 2007 release of I Am Legend prompted me to see the other two movies based on Richard Matheson’s classic sci-fi novel, and the more recent the movie, the more removed from Matheson’s central thesis it was.
As such, this Charlton Heston vehicle was in between. Very well designed and dressed, it shows what would in the 1970s have been chilling and brilliant shots of an empty city – certainly no less scary and well-done as those of a deserted, overgrowing New York that were so good in I Am Legend.
Seeing the older movies also brings into relief I Am Legend’s seemingly ill-advised ending and makes you realise they would had to have rewritten the entire resolution to avoid such a cheesy redemptive device.
Heston is Robert Neville, a scientist surviving in a deserted American city a few years after a modern day plague has killed off much of the human population. Neville is immune but he’s not the only survivor. The remnants of humanity have been rendered ultra-sensitive to sunlight and also apparently been driven insane by the effects of the disease, believing themselves the beneficiaries of a cult-inspired new world under the thrall of a charismatic leader.
Where I Am Legend traded on the zombie craze by making the ‘vampire’ race inarticulate, athletic CGI monsters, Omega Man makes them something more like a cross between druids and Motown singers, obviously with a huge nod to the Afro American-inspired, disco scene of the day.
Neville is holed up in an apartment safe from the daylight-averse hordes, listening from his luxurious prison as they taunt him and try to drive him crazier than the loneliness and isolation already is. By day, he systematically searches for supplies and hunts them down, becoming the legend of Matheson’s story, a solitary monster in a new world for the new humans to fear in the day, which has replaced the night for the time when things go bump.
Neville finds another survivor, a young woman, who propels the plot forward by introducing a remote society of survivors who are slowly succumbing to the virus but dying nevertheless. As he works toward transfusing blood to isolate a cure and the pair become lovers, his task escalates into a full scale war with the night creatures.
Heston’s on top Planet of the Apes form, and for an effort that’s still not perfect but more in line with the original idea, this is the best blend of spectacle and message of the three attempts Hollywood’s had at Matheson’s work.
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