The Post-Apocalyptic Yojimbo
One of my all time favorite films is Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai classic Yojimbo (1961). And given that the film is as good as anyone could want, I have to wonder why it is necessary to make again. Most people are much more familiar with the cowboy version, A Fistful of Dollar (1964). Not as well known is the gangster version, Last Man Standing (1996). But I just discovered a robot version of the film, Omega Doom. Made in 1996, the same year as Last Man Standing, it is a Rutger Hauer vehicle, where he plays the title character.
The story (in as much as it isn’t just a rip-off of Ryūzō Kikushima and Akira Kurosawa) was written by Albert Pyun. He also directed the film. He’s pretty well known for B-films like Alien from LA (1988) and Ticker (2001). Also brought in, I assume to finish it, was science fiction writer Ed Naha. It was produced by Gary Schmoeller and Tom Karnowski (although strangely: “A Kornowski/Schmoeller Production”), who I don’t know much about other than that they work quite a bit with Pyun.
Omega Doom Plot
Omega Doom takes place in a nuclear winter apocalypse. The robots had believed that they had killed all the humans, but they have recently discovered that some survived. And in one town, there is a standoff between the robots and the “Roms” (more or less super-robots). They are searching for a stockpile of guns and ammunition so that they can easily kill the humans when they come.
Stuck in the middle is a non-combat robot, Bartender (Anna Katarina), who serves water to the robots. Also in the middle is the comic-relief robot, Head (Norbert Weisser), so named because one of the robots, Marko (Jahi JJ Zuri), has cut his head off and uses it as soccer ball. These are the good robots, who Omega Doom was created (by the filmmakers) to save. When he comes into town, Head explains the situation to him, so he decides to stick around. At roughly the same time, Omega Doom meets and becomes attracted to Bartender.
Omega Doom: A Special Robot
Omega Doom was programmed to kill all humans, but while in battle, he was shot in the head, leading to him malfunctioning in the sense of no longer wanting to kill all humans, and apparently instead wanting to roam the Earth like Toshiro Mifune. By providing Head with a body, he pisses off Marko. This allows Omega Doom to establish his badass cred by destroying Marko. This causes the leader of the robots to want to recruit him, but the Roms are more skeptical.
Omega Doom eventually convinces both sides that he knows where the guns are, thus getting them to meet up and kill each other. He’s still left to kill the leaders of the Robots and the Roms. But this sequence is mercifully short. He leaves the one surviving “good” Rom in charge and then goes on his merry, as is required by the archetype.
There are many things to like about the film. One is that other than Omega Doom himself, all the strongest characters are women. In fact, the Roms seem to all be women. The only character who seems weak is Head, and as I said, he’s there mostly for the purpose of comedy — and to explain the plot, which is more interesting when delivered by a disembodied head.
The art direction (Nenad Pecur) is quite good in the film. I’m surprised at how hard getting a post-apocalyptic look appears to be. You would think that a bad urban area with extra trash and random dead bodies would be all that it would take. But apparently not. Omega Doom manages to look convincing at the same time there seems to be only one location. There’s just inside and outside. It’s like Clerks in that regard. So it’s impressive that the film looks so good with sets that probably cost very little money. It’s not surprising that Pecur went on to do the art direction on things like The Pianist.
Omega Doom lives and dies on Rutger Hauer’s performance. And he is an uneven performer. But this role works well for him. And he was 52 when he made the film — the perfect age for that strong-silent type role. Anna Katarina as Bartender was good in the film. She exudes the stength of a person forced to act meek in order to survive. Also good is Norbert Weisser as Head. He has the thankless job of providing most of the exposition. And he does it in a fun way. (Kudos also to the writers.)
Lots of Padding
The biggest problem with the film is that it’s padded. It’s 84 minutes long. But that’s including 5 minutes of ending credits. Plus just under 4 minutes of opening credits. Plus a foreword of 3 minutes that could have been taken care of with 30 seconds of narration. So at best that’s 73 minutes of actual film. And then, the dialog scenes — especially those between Omega Doom and Bartender — are paced ridiculously slowly. The film is supposed to be slow and deliberate, but clearly the filmmakers were stretching it so that it could be released as a feature
Overall, however, Omega Doom works. It’s fun to watch, even if it is a story we’ve seen far too many times. I can certainly imagine a better post-apocalyptic remake of Yojimbo. But I can imagine a whole lot more that are worse. The budget probably constrained the film in terms of cast, and that works pretty well. In Yojimbo, there are dozens in each gang. But they are hardly necessary. There’s something very appealing about just how crisp the the limited cast makes the film.
Of course, I like post-apocalyptic movies in general. Remember, I’m the guy who loved Turbo Kid. (See my review: Turbo Kid: Gory Post-Apocalyptic Nostalgia.) So keep that in mind. But if you like these kinds of films, this one is pretty fun. And despite all the decapitation and so on, it isn’t a gory film. How could it be? There are no humans in it!