But there is definitely more detail on offer here in 1080p. Presented in its original and gorgeous 2.35:1 aspect (although the box states 2.40:1) and encoded with VC-1, The Omega Man is immediately sharp, colourful and detailed. The flames on the Family's torches are sharper and more vivid. More can be made out of the Family members waving their arms about in the smoke and confusion of Dutch's flash-bangs. Detail on the wine bottles and the racks in the cellar when Neville is ambushed is more pronounced and there appears to be more information revealed in all the darker scenes across the board. The daylight exteriors of Neville tooling around the deserted LA are cleaner and produce a image that more vivid and crisp than before, allowing a greater sense of depth and far-off objects - doorways, buildings, litter, vehicles etc - appear keener and more polished. Close-up detail fares well, too. Faces - white, black, albino - have sharper definition, with more wrinkles on display and eyes that sparkle. Check out Heston's wispy eyebrows! Even the Family's scars are bolder and there is a more pronounced gleam and reflection in their sunglasses. I would suppose that it is possible to now see the camera and crew reflected in the lenses of some shots now - certainly I am convinced that I can see them in the glasses of one of the kids at the very end - but I don't recommend actually looking for such things unless you are being as pedantic as me. However, the increased sharpness also hampers something a little more serious - those once majestic long shots of the deserted LA roads are now revealed to be anything but. For example, just look into the left hand side of the screen after the long pull back from Neville as he yells out “Hey, Matthias!” and you will discover that there is quite clearly traffic moving about. It was always there, of course, but the higher resolution just makes it that bit more apparent. The afore-mentioned scene also reveals the crew reflected in the shiny black pillars to the side of Heston, as well. For a film that I have already stated has a recurring theme involving reflections, this is a bit of an unfortunate screw-up.
The robes that the Family wear are treated to more finite attention, too. Mathias, especially, has robes that yield more detail in the fabric. Primary colours are quite brilliant, blues and reds especially. There is some great seventies-style splashy blood on show and some of the crisp blue Californian skies look splendid. Neville's sweaty run through the park after Lisa is astoundingly clear and sharp, really exhibiting the foliage with smart delineation.
Some of the blacks are excellent, really stable and solid, but at other times they can appear a little fuzzy and exhibit some degree of noise and slow-processing. This is disappointing as the R2 SD manages to maintain a more consistent appearance overall. This said, some scenes have fine, deep shadows, such as Neville's wandering around the wine cellar when a mutant rises from the shadows behind him, the great moment when the lights go out and the scene when Lisa meets the Family coming around the corner. Grain is also a little more prevalent in this version, too, but this does not hamper detail or clarity in any way. The scene of the helicopter crashing early on is stricken with grain, though, but still clearly shows in close-up reflections on the windshield that it hasn't even left the ground!
Damage-wise, there is very little to comment on. The print has been kept in tip-top condition, remastered back in 2000 for its DVD debut, the transfer that existed on the previous VHS incarnation was equally excellent. There can be the odd tiny little pop or fleck seen, and contrast may slightly waver in a couple of shots, but the print is incredibly clean and stable for most of the running time. There is, however, a couple of little glitches that have existed in all the prints that I have seen - when the Family wreck Neville's home at the end, look for the frame-jump just as the flames begin to flare up and an earlier one when they interrogate him during his first capture - are still in evidence. Overall, though, speaking as possibly the film's most enthusiastic fan, this high definition transfer does most things right and is a definite step up from the previous incarnations, even if that step is not as great as you might expect. Both the BD and HD versions use the same encode and I found no differences between the two.
I've discussed Ron Grainer's phenomenal score for The Omega Man in depth already. It is indivisible from the film and is, in no small part, one of the reasons why it succeeds so well and remains so popular today. Thus, to hear it now in a revamped audio track that simply doesn't do it justice is severely undermining. Bass is poor and the volume is considerably lower than it ought to be. The intricacies of the instrumentation are completely obscured by a listless and dull presentation that lacks warmth, energy and clarity. Yes, I'm being picky, but this was a golden opportunity to clean up the audio and provide a little more depth. The mono track needn't have been remixed with addition of more channels to achieve this - Robinson Crusoe proved that. But the soundtrack is cushioned far too much. High ends barely register and the mid-range is stumbling. The glorious sound of the waterchime on the score is often terribly muted - particularly during the great escape from the Dodger Stadium.
On the plus side, the dialogue, looped as it is, comes over well enough to enable individual voices in the throng of the Family and during the action sequences to be clearly discerned. When Neville is being dragged on the cart to the stadium for his execution and the mob clutch and grasp at him along the way, little impacts as he kicks them aside, just out of shot, can still be heard. But the explosion of the car and the fizz-bang of Dutch's pyrotechnics sound underwhelming. Where something could have been achieved to nice effect with new surround mix, is when Neville thinks he can hear a telephone ringing all around him and the later moment when he calls out to Matthias after his sub-four-minute-mile run, when his echoing voice would have been cool emanating from around the speakers.
So, the transfer feels slightly let down in the audio stakes, though I suppose it would be someone such as myself - an ardent lover of the score - that will suffer this most.
What we do get is an Introduction to the film (4.02 mins). This recalls actors Eric Laneuville (Richie) and Paul Koslo (Dutch) and screenwriter Joyce H. Corrington who reminisce individually on the film, its themes and on working with Charlton Heston. At only four minutes, it seems ridiculous that anyone would have bothered to locate these people and draft them into a studio in the first place. I can only surmise that what we see here has been cut down from something much larger. As it stands the main issues are covered - the book, the alterations they made to it, the germ warfare angle and the race romance.
Then we get the vintage documentary The Last Man Alive - The Omega Man (9.47 mins), which was filmed on-set at the time of the film's production. Essentially this is Heston showboating his efforts to get beneath the skin of Robert Neville. Amusingly, he called in some renowned anthropologist who happened to be in LA at the time to help him find the essence of what it would be like to be the last man on Earth. The boffin seems bemused to be there and really only agrees with everything that Chuck says - which is hardly surprising as the star is hefting a rifle. What the piece does do well is show the filming of some of the action sequences, especially that terrific crash and shoot 'em up with Heston acting out the moves as the Family close in. So, there is definitely some value to this featurette.
Finally, we get the original three-minute theatrical trailer, which is actually great to see and very atmospheric. Sadly, this release came out a little too early to have had the trailer for the new version of I Am Legend bolted on, although one of those fantastic teasers from a couple of months ago would have gone down well. What the BD did have, however, was a discount coupon for the cinema ticket for Will Smith's version.
Well, despite my now highly publicised love of the movie, there's no way that I can realistically award it more than an 8 out of 10. The film does make some mistakes and the Family certainly aren't the threat that Boris Sagal and Charlton Heston would like to make out. But The Omega Man remains awesome entertainment, packed with great performances, from Zerbe and Cash especially, and barrels along at a terrific pace. The film made an indelible impression on me as a youngster watching it on late night TV, and over the years I've kept up a relationship with it that has only seen my fascination for the film and its story increase. Something deep inside this excitingly daft tale resonates so strongly that even re-reading Matheson's novel again cannot extinguish. The Vincent Price version was incredibly faithful to the book and is a great film in its own right. Francis Lawrence's big budget version has proved to be hugely entertaining as well - as of this writing I've seen his revamping three times and you can find a comprehensive review for it on this site. But The Omega Man, I feel, will always be the most distinctive and vibrant take on the popular concept. Ron Grainer's score, Neville in that blue flight-suit shooting the town up, Lisa's heart-stopping unmasking and that overwrought and strangely beautiful ending are tough acts to follow ... and, to my mind, will never be topped.
The BD presentation is, for the most part, excellent for a film from the early seventies. It looks glorious and wide and colourful and the detail is spot-on. The audio is a disappointment, though and it seems a shame that more couldn't have been done in the way of supplying extras. Considering it is getting the big remake treatment, I'm sure something new could have been dug up or a retrospective, at least.
But for now, this is the version that I will continually return to and, as such, I recommend it wholeheartedly to fans.
Long live The Omega Man.
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