Charlton Heston has earned himself a special place in science fiction cinema. Not only for the outstanding performance in the equally outstanding original Planet Of The Apes but also for his early 1970s action heroics in Soylent Green and The Omega Man.
The Omega Man is a deliciously entertaining cult B movie and Heston plays Robert Neville, a scientist who has survived germ warfare and lives a lonely but violent life in what remains of Los Angeles. He manages to develop a vaccine to the plague but not before a gang of vampire-like mutants set out to destroy all that remains of the modern technological society. There's a semi-religious analogy going on in the film and for the time it was pretty right on with its inter-racial relationship between Neville and a black woman, fellow survivor Lisa, played by Rosalind Cash.
Perhaps it now has a camp appeal but there are some rather good action sequences and the scenes of a deserted Los Angeles are exceptional. Anthony Zerbe also provides Heston with a wonderfully satanic foil as the leader of the albino mutants, Matthias. It also not too subtly echoes the hippy concerns of the late 1960s and the worries over how technology would bring down society and enforce a return to communal living. You could even extend the themes of the film now to encompass the AIDS crisis and the fundamentalist fervour that it too has generated. It is both a film about a bygone era and one perversely echoing the oncoming crises of the future.
One of the outstanding elements of the film is the original music composed by Ron Grainer. Grainer is, of course, familiar to us all as the composer of the themes for Steptoe And Son, Doctor Who, Tales Of The Unexpected and The Prisoner. Bear in mind his work on McGoohan's wonderful 1960s allegory when approaching the music for The Omega Man. The flaring brass sections and the memorable melody line from that theme are all echoed in his work for the 1971 film.
What you get is a gorgeously eclectic cocktail of symphonic rock, folk, rhumba, lounge music and some great aural, often atonal experiments with electronics, waterchimes, congas and brass that flirt with the melodic intensity and urgency of The Prisoner theme and a weird, achingly sad riff on Greensleeves. There are a number of themes and motifs that are spread throughout the tracks and that turn up in various guises - rhumba versions on 'Surprise Party' that have a lovely organ bit that's just like something Air would do - big bold brass versions on 'Needling Neville', for example. Then we have light, frothy cocktail jazz with 'Swinging At Neville's' and by contrast the electronic experimentalism of 'The Spirits Still Linger' and 'Where Did Lisa Go'. And it's all beautifully arranged and highly memorable.
The centre piece of the soundtrack is probably the six minute plus 'On The Tumbril' which seems to encapsulate all the motifs at once in a really dizzying piece of bravura composition. It is at once big action movie sound and discordant electronics in one neat package. The charging brass and strange electronic palettes are quite lovely and his superb scoring for strings and woodwind, in 'Richie On The Roof' for instance make this one of Grainer's major triumphs in composition and use of sound. Yes, it has its moments of cheese with the rather treacly music for the film's bittersweet conclusion but you have to admire the breadth of Grainer's ideas here. Yet it is largely forgotten despite it providing huge value through repeat listening.
It's a truly magnificent score and it's melancholic aura is further enhanced by the inclusion of Grainer's version of Max Steiner's In A Lonely Place which plays over the opening pre- titles sequence and versions of Round Midnight and All Through The Night nicely augmenting the themes of loneliness and loss in the film and Grainer's original compositions.
Cathode Ray Tube The Omega Man Ron Grainer
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
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- Thierry Attard's Double Feature
- from the north...
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