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03 August, 2011

Omigod Man

Aside from the online POTA (Planet of the Apes) crowd, almost nobody looks to me for film criticism. Maybe because I know so little, and don't know any of the names to drop or references to make.  Also, I like to review movies way after they come out; I'm averaging nearly 4 decades after release, for I am The Procrastacritic.

In 1970 (+/-3), Heston embarked on a trio (plus the POTA sequel, if you wanna count that, which I don't) of sci-fi flicks, each set in an earthly future rendered dark and dystopian by human folly: the Hestopian Trilogy. Planet of the Apes kicked it off, and Soylent Green finished it. In my usual shiftless way I arrive last at the middle: Omega Man, a post-apocalyptic costume drama. Like the others in this triptych of hubristic humanity gone awry, OM returns to certain aspects of the species Homo hestonii: his journey from adventurous gay man to abusive heterosexual, pathological criminalism, and race relations.

We begin with the decked out in sweaty suave, epaulettes rippling in the breeze as he speeds though an abandoned city in a big red caddy (Hunter Thompson appropriated the caddy and sense of doom for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). The stylish safari look was judged just right for the character, Robert Neville, indulging in his twin passions of looting and shooting, and was so popular with audiences that studio execs green-lighted the epaulettes' re-appearance in Soylent Green.

He is alone, Colonel Neville, the reward and curse for having saved himself from a man-made plague while all around him perished (not having had the Hestonian wisdom to be germ warfare scientists themselves). Now, he must spend days hunting down and killing zombies. At night, he plays chess with a bust of Julius Caesar, and furthers the costume aspect of the movie by saying "I dress for dinner on Sundays," sporting a green velour jacket and ruffled blouses.

But let us not dwell on sartoriality, let us get to the point of the movie, which is…I'm not sure. So why not just make fun of the oddities? Three years after everyone died and presumably failed to produce more food, and Neville's got a fresh fruit platter and a string of bratwurst; there's always ice in the silver bucket. Car and flashlight batteries remain fresh forever in this miraculous world, different than the 1978 I lived through, where we had crappy batteries that lasted six months. Finally, in a world full of stores, Heston's natural looting mania seems to be focused mainly on clothes, expressing his every mood (to whom?) with a new outfit for every occasion.

Then there's The Family, a multiracial zombie-ish coven (disaster strikes a few years after the big race riots, so of course the first thing the survivors to is get together in harmony, right?). Well, almost harmony, because the black guy in The Family is dishonest and violent. So much for progess: the innovation of the movie is to have black people in white-face make-up. The strangest thing is that after three years of intensive searching, Neville has not found them, even though the first kid he meets knows exactly where they are.

He(ston) wants to root out their nest, kill them all before they kill him. Were they really trying to kill him before he took to shooting them on sight? I'm not so sure, but  as usual when encountering the Other in Hestopia, the only solution is to shoot, for god's sake, SHOOT! Oh, and drive like a fucking maniac (because when you are the last man on earth, every car is a rental). Costume-wise: he usually chooses something militaryey looking for ops like this, like when time was of the essence and he managed to slip into a form-fitting blue rayon flight suit.

Eventually, Neville trips across a group of survivor children (awww), protected by an aspiring germ warfare doctor (no, no stretching the limits of plausibility there), who he should have taught how to make the anti-zombification serum. But instead, he goes to the only other healthy adult, so that he can have The Kiss That Changed The World (sorta,...OK, not really).

For she is African American. Yeah. And Chuck Heston is as white a Moses as you'll ever see. Of course, this shocking romance occurred years after Poitier and Hepburn had made the move on the big screen; even Shatner and Uhuru had blazed the trail on TV while Heston was avoiding women altogether on POTA. So Omega Man kisses a black woman, subject to certain rules: there must be a false start, the kiss itself must not be lit well enough to see, and she must die before there is an issue with, uh, shall we say, issue. The costume for this scene is an pirate shirt with understated puffy sleeves.

If I don't understand what this movie is about, it's not for lack of trying by the authors and director, who beat me about the head and neck with symbolism. They foreshadow and then at the end indulge in crucifixion, savior Neville arms asplay, passing a vial of his own blood to the future that they might be saved zombification by the Pharisees or Pagans, or whoever those anti germ warfare freaks are.

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