I finally joined the 21st century, and bought a Blu-Ray player this past weekend, so over the last few days I’ve been on the lookout for worthwhile post-apocalyptic movies in that format. So far I’ve picked up 12 Monkeys, The Road Warrior, Wall-E, and The Omega Man, and tonight, I decided to give the Charlton Heston version of the last man on Earth story a try.

I had seen Omega Man before, but it’s been years, and I didn’t remember much about it other than the fact that it was the second movie version of Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend. The first interpretation on film was The Last Man On Earth starring Vincent Price (which has fallen out of copyright and into the public domain). That version was fairly faithful to the book in terms of the dynamic between the main character, Robert Neville, and the group that was out to kill him, the cause of the world-wide plague that wiped out civilization, and the fact that the “survivors” were actual vampires.

The Charlton Heston version tweaks the story just a tad to make the plague the result of biological weapons used in a war between China and Russia, and other than an aversion to light, the surviving victims of the plague aren’t vampiritic, just very pale and very crazy. Believing himself to be the last unaffected human on Earth, our hero drives around Los Angeles by day, hunting for the hidden “nest” of the Family, a cult-like group who dresses in robes and shuns modern technology for causing the downfall of Man. But when the sun goes down, the Family is free to roam the city, harassing Neville in his fortified apartment.

There are lots of cool scenes of Neville cruising around a deserted LA; grabbing new clothes as he needs them, swapping out his car when he gets a flat tire, and even firing up a generator to watch a movie in an otherwise empty theater. Those aspects mostly made up for the rest of the plot, which was a little thin. They never explained how the plague, or the madness it seemed to invoke, worked, and why it affected people differently, killing some outright, turning others into members of the Family, and leaving others apparently unscathed.

But if you can overlook a few vagaries, then the rest of the movie is good old-fashioned 1970s post-apocalyptic fun, and luckily it’s available for free via Netflix streaming, so it won’t even cost you anything to watch it (if you’ve got an account, of course).

The Omega Man is one of what’s considered to be a trilogy of sorts of post-apocalyptic’ish films starring Heston, the other two being Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green, both of which I’m now in the mood to watch. There’s a Planet of the Apes 40th Anniversary Collection box set with my name on it, waiting for an extra $100 to spare, but Soylent Green isn’t on Blu-Ray yet, so I’m going to watch that one the old-fashioned way, via torrent download.