As one of a trilogy of dystopian flicks from the ’60s and ’70s starring Charlton Heston, The Omega Man is notable for being a loose adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend” and, in its own very mild way, anticipating the zombie subgenre of horror movies that was yet to come. For film music enthusiasts, however, Omega Man is a rare treasure – it’s an entire score composed by Ron Grainer, the British composer whose opening title music for such TV shows as The Prisoner and Doctor Who instantly captured the heart of those shows. But could he do more than coin catchy opening title music? That’s what I hoped to find out by giving Omega Man a listen.
Oh, this score is a rare treasure for another reason – a 2000 Film Score Monthly CD release has been its only CD release to date, and all 3,000 copies sold out in what seemed like the blink of an eye. If one of those 3,000 CDs shows up on an online auction site for anything that doesn’t have at least two zeroes to the left of the decimal, that too is a rare thing.
If there’s a previous Grainer work that Omega Man calls instantly to mind, it’s definitely the theme from The Prisoner. Of course one can really only spot this with hindsight; Omega Man hit theaters in 1971, just four years after The Prisoner’s UK premiere, and not everyone had seen The Prisoner (especially outside the UK), and certainly not to a saturation point where casual action moviegoers would recognize the music. The Prisoner’s unmistakable horn figure is heard many times, bringing a brash bravado to many a scene.
I could just about forget trying to make comparisons to Grainer’s previous work after hearing the main theme from this movie. It’s an extremely long-lined melody that just oozes a wonderful sense of world-weariness and manages to sound great at the same time. There’s still a hint of The Prisoner about it, but there’s less swagger and less certainty to it. There’s a feeling of longing, which is completely appropriate for Heston’s character, who’s literally the last man on Earth. As the story wears on, the bravado begins to seep out of the music as the situation gets more desperate. Once we’re past the first two or three tracks, things don’t really kick in and get interesting again until close to the end.
The Omega Man‘s music isn’t timeless, by the way; there are numerous elements which nail it down to a late ’60s/early ’70s sound, with the electric organ (and the way it’s played) frequently being the most obvious of those elements. Some people may find that unpalatable, but I just file it under “endearingly cheesy at times” and keep listening. It was the style of its time, and there’s no mistaking the soundtrack as anything but a product of its time.
As with all of Film Score Monthly’s CDs, the packaging is as impressive as the sound quality of the CD itself, detailing both the music and the movie itself. (It’s worth noting that “I Am Legend” is finally going to hit theaters under its own name, in a new version starring Will Smith, though how faithful the Smith version is compared to The Omega Man is likely to keep movie fans, and fans of Matheson’s original story, debating for quite a long time.)
Great music, if you can overlook some of its dated elements. Did Ron Grainer have the chops to do more than just theme music? The Omega Man answers with a double-barreled “yes.”
- A Summer Place (1:38)
- The Omega Man (3:23)
- Surprise Party (1:41)
- Needling Neville (3:38)
- Swinging At Neville’s (1:07)
- The Spirit Still Lingers (4:30)
- Where Did Lisa Go? (3:41)
- ‘Round Midnight (2:22)
- Jumped By The Family (2:18)
- On The Tumbril (6:08)
- Bad Medicine For Richie (2:15)
- All Through The Night (3:53)
- Zachary Makes His Move (4:49)
- Hope Springs Eternal (4:05)
- Richie On The Roof (3:59)
- Neville Crashes Through (5:33)
- Matthias The Victor (5:13)
- Dutch Takes Over (5:20)
Released by: Film Score Monthly
Release date: 2000
Total running time: 65:33