The Omega Man 2.0—Unlimited
The following “sidebar” is new to the 2008 release of The Omega Man 2.0.
One of the most thrilling aspects of working for Lukas Kendall and Film Score Monthly has been the chance to be involved in putting out some of my “dream soundtracks,” favorite scores that I fell in love with as a teenager. I would watch movies like Fantastic Voyage, Logan’s Run, The Satan Bug, The Illustrated Man and The Omega Man every time they ran on television and I was enough of a nutcase (in a time of prehistoric technology) that I would sit with a cassette recorder and microphone and tape the sound coming out of one tinny, four-inch speaker on the front of my family’s living room TV set so I could go back and listen to the scores (and dialogue). Because, of course, there were no LPs, cassettes, CDs or any other release of most of these scores at the time.
I don’t want to rank those scores, but there was always something special about The Omega Man for me. I found it a thrilling little midnight movie as a 13- or 14-year-old, and despite what some would say is the bastardization of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend novel, I still find this by far the most involving treatment of the story. Somehow Anthony Zerbe leading a bunch of white-faced zombies in what Charlton Heston’s Robert Neville dismissively describes as “Halloween costumes” is far scarier than what today’s Hollywood delivered with a budget two hundred times what was available in 1971—I always believed Heston’s Neville, despite the actor’s superhuman presence, was in danger, and when Rosalind Cash unravels her tie-died ’70s shawl to reveal that she has become a zombie too, the knowledge of her upcoming betrayal put my heart squarely in my throat.
Ron Grainer’s score is gorgeously melodic, thrilling—and the pop elements, something my easily embarrassed teenage ears would have normally rejected, this time only added to the excitement. When I began collecting scores the inaccessibility of The Omega Man became particularly poignant because I began to recognize that while there was an obvious market for Jerry Goldsmith scores—meaning that more and more of them would likely be released—it became obvious that The Omega Man was too obscure and maybe just too outside of what “soundtrack collectors” seemed to want released.
As we began doing Film Score Monthly CD releases in earnest with Twentieth Century-Fox and the possibilities of getting into other studios began to become real, we talked about the scores we wanted to do and The Omega Man came up, especially when Lukas found a contact at Warner Bros. I remember being on the Warners lot at the dedication of the Clint Eastwood scoring stage, with Clint standing just a few feet away from us while Lukas and I broached the idea of doing The Omega Man to the studio’s longtime music executive Danny Gould, a guy who seemed genuinely excited about this kind of music preservation—enough that he told us about jumping into a dumpster at Warner Bros. after he’d seen a pile of music manuscripts and records trashed during some office clean-outs.
I remember my growing excitement as the deal moved forward, still wondering if the music even existed in listenable form at Warners—and I remember the unbelievable day the newly transferred DA-88s were delivered to the office, and the incredibly frustrating wait to hear them. (Damn it, why didn’t we just have a DA-88 player in the office?) Best of all was the day we actually heard the music and found out that not only was it all there and listenable, but thanks to recording engineer Dan Wallin it actually sounded great.
Now there was just one final element to which I could actually contribute something useful: liner notes. We had a contact for producer Walter Seltzer, who proved very helpful with his recollections, and he recommended we contact Charlton Heston’s office, particularly since in those days we had to get photo approvals from some of the actors who appeared in the films whose scores we released.
I phoned Heston’s secretary, expecting someone autocratic and aloof, but she proved to be easygoing and helpful as we sorted through the issues of photo approval and such. By this time I had mostly finished my liner notes with never a thought about including any comments from the star of The Omega Man. But since I had his secretary on the phone, I nervously asked if it might be possible to get Heston to agree to a short interview about his experience on the film. “Well, let me ask him,” she said, putting me on hold.
About 30 seconds later the familiar voice of Moses said, “Hello?” WHAT?!? This had to be some mistake—it couldn’t be this easy! Plus I hadn’t actually prepared to do an interview but Heston was agreeable, gracious and helpful, and when I wrapped things up by asking if it bothered him that people talked about his politics a lot, he said not at all and gave me a great quote that tied his Robert Neville character into his conservative philosophy.
At that point I was just thrilled to have talked to Charlton Heston on the phone. When I got his secretary back on the line, however, there was a problem: the photos I’d faxed her for approval weren’t readable. “You can either mail them to us or drop them by the house, I suppose,” she suggested.
Somehow I managed to make it sound like I wouldn’t really mind dropping by Charlton Heston’s house all that much despite the enormous inconvenience it would cause me. I got the directions, grabbed the photos and leaped into my beat-up Toyota, the CD master of The Omega Man blasting on my car stereo, and headed up Coldwater Canyon.
I eyed the houses as I ascended the hills above Beverly Hills (maybe they actually were the Beverly Hills). They looked impressive, no doubt—because you know that any house in this area with more than one floor has to cost several million dollars. But as I neared the top, it seemed like the homes weren’t all that glorious—not what I expected Moses, Andrew Jackson and Leonardo da Vinci, let alone Robert Neville, to reside in. And I kept missing his street address—where the hell was this place? Finally I noted a side drive off the driveway to one decent-sized mansion and saw the correct address there. I took the driveway down a few yards around a corner and suddenly encountered this enormous edifice. It was a gate that looked capable of holding off the Mongol hordes, or keeping the chosen ones inside Egypt’s walls where they belonged. I was buzzed in and the enormous gate drew aside I took the road, which now curved along a massive cliff face with a view of the hills below lit by late afternoon sun.
Finally I was face to face with Heston’s Xanadu (I think he always just referred to it as “Coldwater” in his memoirs)—an elegantly impressive compound with half a dozen cars and a horse head statue from Ben-Hur in the courtyard.
Heston’s secretary met me at the door and pointed to her right, where the man’s office lay. Yes, my heart was in my throat but this was just another human being after all—he couldn’t possibly measure up to all this build-up in person.
The secretary opened the actor’s office door and Heston sat before me at his desk. Behind him the wall was one huge picture window and the afternoon sun, gleaming off the mountains below, bathed his still impressive shoulders and that unmistakable, granite-hewn face in a golden, heavenly light, nearly blinding me in the process. Heston was as genial in person as he was over the phone, flashing that Jaws-like smile (he’s always sported the most impressive set of teeth in Hollywood) and crunching my weak hand in his mighty paw. He seemed very much as he always had—the only thing missing was that lanky, angular Heston stride, now reduced to a gentle old man’s hobble. But I’m convinced that he found the location for his house, and had the resulting mansion constructed around it precisely so he could provide that Zeus-like first impression to anyone walking up to the door to his office. Heston was nothing if not a showman. —