3/29/08- I finally watched the Will Smith version of I Am Legend on DVD after avoiding it in theatres. It’s based on the classic book by Richard Matheson, and this is actually the third time this story has been told on film. It was first done as The Last Man on Earth in 1964 with Vincent Price and as The Omega Man in 1971 with Charlton Heston. Lovers of the book wonder why they had to make this movie a third time. Lovers of the book should not worry. This movie resembles the book as much as Courtney Love resembles Faith Hill.
(I’ll leave out most of the story points, but there will be minor spoilers ahead.)
Lovers of the book, don’t watch this movie expecting to see that story. It ain’t pretty. It’s Courtney, not Faith. Everything you love about the book is missing; the nemesis Ben Cortman, the sexual frustration of the lonely main character and most of all the VAMPIRES. One of the greatest vampire stories ever written is now a feature film that is not about vampires. To Will Smith’s credit, he does a fine job in the Robert Neville role. He is a charismatic stage presence who pulls off both the heartfelt plight of a solitary man and the action sequences without a hitch. (Hitch… get it?)
The most important thing to keep in mind is that this movie was not made for the lovers of the book. This is another case of a Hollywood treatment of a story in order to deliver an accessible blockbuster movie. I can answer the question of why they remade this movie a third time. The time seemed right. Special effects have evolved to the point where you can finally make decent version of some of the more fantastic stories from years ago. I thought The Amityville Horror was a good movie to remake in theory, since the original has not aged well. They screwed that one up even more than this.
Another good reason for the remake is that there are a lot of people who don’t love the book. They don’t love it because they have never read it, or even heard of it. Most of the people I tell about the book or previous films have no idea they exist. I can thank my love of horror movies/stories and the old 4:30 Movie for my familiarity with the material. Ask a 20 year old what the 4:30 Movie is, or who Vincent Price is. You’ll be lucky if they know he does the voiceover in the Thriller video. I Am Legend is not a well known entity to the mainstream.If you accept the changes from the book, the first two thirds of the movie are fine. Will Smith living a lonely and sad existence in a deserted Manhattan is pretty good. As usual, it’s the last act that kills it. The meaning of the title is completely different from the book to the film, and that is the stake in the heart of this vampire-less fiasco. (Read the book if you want to know the meaning of the title.)
The departures from the book might have been more acceptable if the creatures looked better. Instead of vampires, the infected humans are now rabid CG cartoons that look like the love-child of Gollum and Mr. Clean. They don’t speak, they roar. They also jump around and climb like Spiderman on speed. Had they used real actors, they probably could have salvaged this movie and added some real tension. Unfortunately, Roger Rabbit had a more convincing mix of real actors and animation.
If you are not familiar with the source material, you’ll watch this movie and then pretty much shrug and forget about it in a week. It’s just another movie with a lousy ending. If you enjoyed the book, you will be upset that they blew the opportunity to bring the story you love to life. Then again, if you read the book you have probably either seen this already or have boycotted it altogether. You don’t need me telling you how much you’ll hate it.
What’s the bottom line? There is nothing legendary about the film I Am Legend. Now go read the book.