I Am Legend The Motion Picture: A Happy “What-If” Ending
Francis Lawrence directs this third adaptation of the 1954 classic written by Richard Matheson. The first attempt was “The Last Man on Earth” (1964), starring Vincent Price, and the second was “The Omega Man” (1971), which saw Charlton Heston as the lone survivor. I have never seen those two films, but I can certainly say this latest rendition is worth watching.
Will Smith stars as Robert Neville, a military scientist who urgently attempts to find a cure for a virus that has rapidly overtaken the citizens of New York, as well as those outside her borders. The virus, which was initially created to cure cancer, spread far too quickly for conventional quarantine methods to be of any use, thus resulting in decimation of humanity. Robert Neville’s curious immunity led him to be the last man standing in a world no longer human.
Three years later, he still broadcasts an SOS in a vain search for survivors and maintains a vigorous routine. During the day, he hunts and scavenges for food and supplies with Sam, his dog and only companion. At night, Neville hides in the safety of his fortified home while the infected claim the streets in search of fresh meat. Neville’s only aim in this post-apocalyptic “ground zero” is to find a cure along with any survivors before the infected eventually find his sanctuary.
The mutated humans are not exactly a laughing matter, but they aren’t terribly original or frightening. They look like well-defined cancer patients and possess incredible speed, agility, and inhuman strength. While they are not identical to the infected in “28 Days Later”, they aren’t terribly different. More frightening than the mutated residents was the massive transformation of Manhattan; what we know as a vivacious Mecca of diversity becomes an eerily abandoned and forsaken wasteland, littered with empty cars and overrun with weeds and wildlife that remained uninfected by the man-made virus.
The movie’s strongest selling point is the inherent loneliness of being the only survivor and the strength of the relationship between man and dog. Robert Neville has no one in the world except for Sam. The two of them hunt together, play together, and have only each other to rely on. Neville and Sam share a love that is both tender, yet intensely sad under the circumstances. In most movies, the monsters are the predominant element of fear; in I Am Legend, the idea that there really is no one left is more terrifying than any infected freak.
If I have to compare it to the book, I’ll be honest in saying that I feel the book is ultimately better, although it is far more depressing in comparison, with the element of solitude and insanity feeling more desperate and hopeless, whereas in the film, there is still a shred of hope and Robert isn’t completely crazed. There are also specific events in the book that are far more disturbing, but had been clearly left out of the film to allow it a PG-13 rating. The main advantage the novella holds is that it contains one of the best and most unexpected surprise twists I have ever had the pleasure of reading. However, to be fair, a book can provide someone with details that are virtually impossible in a film.There is no narrator in the film telling you the inner thoughts of the character; you have to read the body language and immerse yourself in the situation.
Where the movie distinguishes itself is in the credibility of how the disaster occurs. Admittedly, some of the occurrences in the book are a little too unrealistic and cheesy, even when suspending disbelief. The movie presents everything with startling realism, and while it doesn’t have the great conclusion that the book provides, it’s still a satisfying end that serves as a great “what if” to contrast the book.
As a stand-alone product, I feel that I Am Legend is an excellent flick to catch on the weekend. The movie takes some of the best elements of the novella, retains the essence of what makes this story great, and provides you with a brilliantly executed hour and forty-one minutes of entertainment. Check the movie out, read the book, or do both. You’ll enjoy the story either way.
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