"One creature, caught. Caught in a place he cannot stir from, in the dark...alone, outnumbered hundreds to one, nothing to live for but his memories, nothing to live with but his gadgets, his cars, his guns, gimmicks..."
The end-of-the-world thriller is a common one in science fiction, and it's proven a popular one in film. The current obsession with zombies is just the latest phase of this fascination with this “what if” scenario. The post-apocalyptic genre offers immediate dramatic impact; the viewer can't help but get caught up in the game of “what would I do in such a drastic situation?”
As early as 1959's The World, the Flesh and the Devil and 1962's Panic in Year Zero, filmmakers have been inspired by the dramatic and visual possibilities inherent in the genre. We humans seem endlessly intrigued by the idea of the eventual decline of civilization and the decimation and eradication of our species from an indifferent planet.
There have been all manner of post-apocalyptic movies, some straight-up adventures (The Road Warrior), some philosophical character studies (The Quiet Earth), bleak horror (Dawn / Day of the Dead), poignant ruminations on the end of all things (The Road) or man's descent into animalistic savagery (No Blade of Grass). I like nearly all of these films, and love many. I'm guess I'm just predisposed to enjoy a good end-of-the-world yarn. The Omega Man may not be the best example of its genre, but it's certainly one of the most entertaining.
Charlton Heston stars as Robert Neville, military scientist and, seemingly, the last man on Earth. As a virulent plague begins wiping out humanity, Neville engineers a possible vaccine. Surviving a helicopter crash, but beginning to feel the effects of the plague, he injects himself with the last intact vial of serum. As a result, he becomes immune to the disease. As civilization crumbles around him, he holes up in his penthouse apartment and barricades himself in with the paintings, books, and other last remnants of a dying culture.
Two genres flourished in the 1970s: the disaster epic and the realistic crime film. Two-Minute Warning is a curious but entertaining hybrid of the two. Its main star, Charlton Heston, was himself something of a specialist in the disaster genre, having made Skyjacked, Airport 1975 and Earthquake before this film. Two-Minute Warning, about a psychotic sniper loose in a packed football stadium during the Superbowl, proves the most interesting of these, though much less so for its disaster movie elements than its far more gripping police procedural ones.
The film’s first hour is a slow burn as all the disparate characters make their way to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the big game (never called the Superbowl, for obvious reasons, but clearly intended as such). In similar fashion to Dirty Harry, the film opens from the sniper’s point-of-view, as he takes out a random cyclist as a sort of dry run. Unlike the Eastwood film, we never get a good look at the sniper until the very end. Instead, we get a lot more POV shots of him checking out of his hotel, driving his car to the stadium, and sneaking his way up into a vantage point above the scoreboard.
Big Chuck Heston on the case.
We also get introduced to the typical disaster movie cast of name actors, all en route to the game. We have contentious lovers David Janssen and Gena Rowlands; gambler Jack Klugman, in deep to the Mob and his life riding on the bet he placed on the final score; Walter Pidgeon as an elderly pickpocket; and Beau Bridges and Pamela Bellwood as a young couple on a fun day out with their two young sons. We also get brief scenes establishing LAPD Captain Peter Holly (Heston), SWAT team leader Sgt. Button (John Cassavetes), stadium manager Sam McKeever (Martin Balsam) and head maintenance man Paul (Brock Peters).
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