Omega Doom

The Post-Apocalyptic Yojimbo

Omega DoomOne 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.

Analysis

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

Conclusion

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!

–Frank Moraes (9 April 2017)

2 thoughts on “Omega Doom

  1. Have you seen The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984)? Directed by John C. Broderick and starring David Carradine, María Socas and Luke Askew, written by Broderick (story and screenplay) and William Stout (story).

    From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Warrior_and_the_Sorceress):

    The Warrior and the Sorceress is a version of the classic Kurosawa film Yojimbo. The film is noted chiefly for containing extensive nudity and violence, being one of the more extreme examples of the sword-and-sorcery genre. It is also considered by some to be a cult classic….

    Similarities with Yojimbo
    According to David Carradine’s book Spirit of Shaolin, it was clear before production started that the film was going to be a version of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 Samurai film Yojimbo, and Carradine talked about it with executive producer Roger Corman:
    “It (The Warrior and the Sorceress) was essentially a remake of Yojimbo, the samurai movie by the great Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. I called up Roger and told him I loved the script; but what about the Yojimbo factor. Roger said, “Yes, it is rather like Yojimbo.”
    I said, “It’s not like Yojimbo. It is Yojimbo.” Roger said, “Let me tell you a story. When Fistful of Dollars opened in Tokyo, Kurosawa’s friends called him up and said ‘You must see this picture.’ Kurosawa said, ‘Yes, I understand it is rather like Yojimbo.’
    -‘No, it’s not like Yojimbo; it is Yojimbo. You have to sue these people.’
    -‘I can’t sue them’, he responded.
    -‘Why not?’
    -‘Because’ -Kurosawa confessed-, ‘Yojimbo is Dashiel Hammet’s Red Harvest.'” I went for it.”
    The story however appears to be apocryphal, as Kurosawa and Toho Studios did in fact successfully sue Sergio Leone.

    • I have heard of The Warrior and the Sorceress, but I haven’t seen it. Now I guess I will have to.

      Yes, the Kurosawa quote is apocryphal for a number of other reasons too. One is that neither Kurosawa nor Kikushima were aware of Red Harvest — the book is now better known because people associate it with Yojimbo than anything else. Also, the film really isn’t that similar to the book. The only thing that is similar is that the good guy sets two rival gangs against each other. Hardly a new or copyrightable idea. Omega Doom isn’t nearly as close to Yojimbo as Dollars is. For example, in main characters in those films are mostly interested in making money and only eventually become interested in the good of the people. (Note that in Red Harvest, as I recall, the main character is called into town by a friend who lives there — I had thought about saying that Omega Doom was more Red Harvest than Yojimbo.) Also, there is no torture scene where the good guy is found out. So I think it would be harder to make the case that Omega Doom is a pure rip-off in the way that Dollars is. There’s also the whole subplot of the guy who loses his wife because he was cheated in gambling. And in both cases, there is a child. I’ll have to watch The Warrior and the Sorceress. I think you can make the argument that Omega Doom is more homage than plagiarism. But the more the word about Yojimbo gets out, the better. Because it’s not just a fun, dark comedy; it’s also a great film with something important to say about the nature of capitalism.

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