Bad Robot Gone Good: Albert Pyun’s Omega Doom (1996)

Matty dissects the most underappreciated picture in Albert Pyun’s arsenal, and explores its tethering to the film that preceded it. 

OMEGA DOOM was the second film in Albert Pyun and Filmwerks’ two picture deal with Largo Entertainment following Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996) — though prior to calling ‘action!’, the helmer did find time to quickly cobble together Nemesis 4: Cry of Angels (1996).

Incensed at having to reshoot and re-edit Adrenalin to fit the demands of distributor Dimension (well, specifically, Dimension big-wig Bob Weinstein), Nemesis 4 was a semi-improvisational production launched as a quiet ‘fuck you’ to Miramax’s genre subsidiary. Shot in Bratislava over five days on Dimension’s dime after the studio mandated Adrenalin reshoots with Adrenalin’s equipment and crew, Pyun and Filmwerks bankrolled the film themselves for around $80,000 having already pre-sold it to the Nemesis saga’s producers, Imperial, in a negative pick-up deal that generated a tidy $220,000 profit for Pyun and co. Further vindication came once the sequel hit tape, with Nemesis 4 amassing an impressive $2million in domestic and international video sales. 

But what does this extended preamble have to do with Omega Doom? After all, other than them lensing in Bratislava and continuing Pyun’s fixation with cyborgs (an unwitting fixation, admittedly), neither Nemesis 4 nor Omega Doom have much to do with each other. In fact, with its tattered production design and ambling pace, Omega Doom is closer to the ‘wandering samurai’ vein of sci-schlock Pyun mined in Cyborg (1989) and Knights (1993) than the overt William Gibson homagery of the original Nemesis (1992) or frantic muscle n’ tech festishism of Nemesis2, 3 and 4 — a style accentuated by Omega Doom being another re-working of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961).

And yet, there’s an unshakeable aesthetic and tonal overlap between Nemesis 4 and Omega Doom that warrants discussion. Several characters in both films wear sunglasses or have their eyes hidden or masked — not just because it looks cool, but because it hides the cold, mechanical mass that rests behind their gaze. And just as Pyun utilised the ruinous Bratislavan locations of Adrenalin to amplify the sense of hopelessness and despair that grounded his tale of charnel house horror, in Nemesis 4 and Omega Doom, the city’s dilapidated architecture is used to represent the lack of humanity in their psychopathic and predominantly robotic characters. By and large, they’re grand cybernetic shells bereft of a soul — except, of course, Sue Price’s amoral human, Alex, who gains at least a semblance of right and wrong by Nemesis 4’s close, and Rutger Hauer’s eponymous tin-man, Omega Doom, whose accidental reprogramming has rendered him a surprising vessel of empathy in a post apocalyptic world that sorely lacks it.

Often cited as the first pictures Pyun was able to exert a great deal of editorial control over, Nemesis 4 and Omega Doom’s mellow artiness and philosophical flourishes also hint at the more personal and introverted films the director would shepherd from Postmortem (1998) onwards. While Nemesis 4 remains my preference when stacked side by side due its icky body horror lilt, Omega Doom is a nonetheless extremely enjoyable watch. Mature and considered, it benefits tremendously from Pyun’s authoritative grip on the material, which only flounders in a couple of overly convoluted passages where his dialogue-heavy script becomes too tangled and hard to keep up with. Conceived by Pyun and punched-up four weeks before shooting by former Fangoria editor turned sci-fi scribe and screenwriter Ed Naha (who’s probably most famous for writing Troll (1985) and Dolls (1986) — a pair of vintage Empire flicks — and Disney fav Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)), Omega Doom is set in the middle of a nuclear winter and sees Hauer arriving in a ravaged ghost town populated by two gangs of warring cyborgs. The remnants of a robot uprising that’s wiped out all but a tiny pocket of mankind, on one side are the slick and nasty Roms (led by Pyun starlet Tina Cote), and on the other the brutal and slightly less sophisticated Droids (led by erotic thriller queen Shannon Whirry and typified by Jahi Zuri’s psychotic Marko). Per Yojimbo and its other associated spin-offs A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Last Man Standing (1995), and Desert Heat (1999) (as well as Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel Red Harvest, to which Yojimbo et al owe a debt), Hauer’s titular ex-terminator begins thinning each gang’s numbers, pursuing a different, noble agenda of his own…

Anchoring the film around Hauer’s soulful performance (which bears fewer parallels to Roy Batty than a lot of reviews suggest), Pyun sidelines out-and-out brawling until Omega Doom’s final third, but keeps boredom at bay with stylistic swagger and visual wizardry. Gorgeous to behold and delicately lit and composed, there’s always something to look at, with Pyun and go-to DP George Mooradian filling every inch of the frame with light and shadows. It’s an elegant and painterly commitment to craft that really satisfies in the widescreen versions of Omega Doom now available on disc, but one that maddeningly reduced the film to a murky, clunky hash in the pan n’ scan realm of tape — likely a reason why Omega Doom is still tragically dismissed, even by hardened Pyunistas. Simply, Omega Doom needs to be seen in its OAR, particularly as Pyun’s blocking is so integral to understanding the mischievous yet meditative nature of Omega Doom himself. He’s a robot with an ever-refining moral compass, and the film’s fluid camerawork, Pyun’s measured presentation, and the metallic, futuristic tints to Tony Riparetti’s ace western score mirror his voyage of discovery and redemption.

USA ● 1996 ● Sci-Fi, Drama ● 84mins

Rutger Hauer, Shannon Whirry, Tina Cote, and Norbert Weisser as ‘The Head’ Dir. Albert Pyun Wri. Albert Pyun and Ed Naha, story by Albert Pyun

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