May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Omega Man


Available exclusively from the magazine and website ( for $19.95 plus shipping.

Most people who know the name associate Ron Grainger with the theme tunes for Dr Who and Tales of the Unexpected rather than Charlton Heston science fiction movies. The Omega Man (1971) is the second adaptation of Richard (Duel, Somewhere in Time) Matheson's minor SF classic I Am Legend, the first being the Vincent Price star-vehicle, L' Ultimo uomo della Terra (The Last Man on Earth) (1964), and follows Heston's success with Planet of the Apes (1968) and Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) as a further venture into socially aware adventure SF, a part of his career Heston would conclude with Soylent Green (1973).

The music could not be more different from Jerry Goldsmith's landmark score for the first Apes film. Play the disc without looking at the track list or artwork and you might get the unwelcome feeling that the wrong CD has been put in the jewel-case: the album opens with the theme to a different film entirely! Max Steiner's A Summer Place (1959). The music is used as source cue, played on a 8-track cartridge machine in The Omega Man. Things end in an equally unusual way, with a bonus cut playing beyond the end of the final track, which I will leave for the curious to discover. Between is an hour of further music, including versions of the standards 'Round Midnight and All Through the Night the latter particularly early 70's kitsch cocktail jazz in style.

The title theme is a melancholy orchestral-pop-instrumental, very much of it's time, and setting the tone somewhere in time and style between Michael Legrand's The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and Bill Conti's Rocky (1975). There is the jazz-baroque of the former, the rock-inspired pomp bombast of the latter. The two elements come together in the upbeat driving theme with explodes into dynamic life in 'Surprise Party'. You may be reminded of The Avengers, The Champions, or other crime fighting fantasy stars of the 60's, before recalling that Grainger also penned the theme for The Prisoner. The music here will then come as no surprise, the lineage running back to the John Barry Seven and Barry's hip 60's scores mixing pop, jazz, folk, eclectic instrumentation - here the same waterchime which appeared in The Illustrated Man and Colossus: The Forbin Project - and MOR strings.

The notes by producer Lukas Kendall record that this is "one of those passionately desired but frustratingly unavailable soundtracks…" Well now, for the first time ever, it is available. If your taste is for rousing orchestral scores of the sort that were out of fashion when The Omega Man was released, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. It is certainly a score very much of it's time, often understated, inventive, accessible. The use of electric organ and waterchime, together with much skittish percussion and occasional electronic effects make this a quirky work, showing influences from both Bernard Herrmann (the odd instrumental combinations and minimalist suspense writing) and Jerry Goldsmith (the electronics and taut rhythms). Some parts work very well, the occasional moment sounds terrible, and other passages just don't hold much interest detached from the film.

Dated but distinctive, The Omega Man is a notable score, though unless you are already an aficionado of lightweight fantasy film and TV music from the period that symphonic scoring forgot, this may not be for you. On the other hand, if you are a fan of the film, and/or of Grainger's distinctive melodic style you may well find this a worthwhile purchase. The stereo sound is very good for a 1971 soundtrack, with just a little distortion on the organ and other effects on peak transients. As ever, this being a Soundtrack Monthly release, the booklet is immaculately produced, well written and illustrated in colour.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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