for Depiction of Isolation, and One Awesome Dog
For the short version of this review, let me just say that if you are a superfan of Richard Matheson’s book of the same name, and you’ve been itching to see it faithfully recreated on the screen… keep waiting. This movie is not the book. In some ways I was disappointed at that, but overall it didn’t matter. I absolutely loved this movie. The only reason I can’t in good conscience give it a 13 out of 13 is that I think they went a tad overboard with the monsters in this one, they are just on the bad side of unrealistic when it comes to CGI. When the monsters are on the screen, my brain screams “CGI!”. They just don’t blend in. Outside of that though, its a great film. Go see it.
More (and spoilers) after the break.
One thing to keep in mind when translating a book to film is to consider the time the book was written and the time the film is being made and set. I Am Legend was written in 1954 and was set in the far flung future of 1976 through 1979. Setting the movie in the late seventies would have been a little silly, so it had to be updated. Also, with a movie you’ve only got two hours to set up the story, draw in the audience, wow them, and then spit them out the other side. A book has much more room to work with if needed.
In Matheson’s original, Robert Neville is just the random survivor of an epidemic. He spends his days finding and growing food, cleaning up the dead, killing vampires and preparing for the next night’s assault on his home. Boredom leads him to trying to discover why garlic repells the vampires and wanting to understand why he alone seems to be immune to the bacteria causing all this. To quicken the trip to science, the movie makes Neville a military scientist, and rather than a mysterious unknown bacteria we are given a manipulated form of the measles designed to cure cancer that has gone horribly awry. Neville is already working toward a cure when the virus jumps from contact to airborne, necessitating the quarantine of New York.
The book uses a near traditional model of vampires: avoid sunlight, garlic, stake through the heart. The movie moves more toward a “messing with genetics” style mutant: they thirst for blood, but they have a real inhuman quality. To this end, the movie drops the elements of the vampires trying to taunt Neville out of his home. Since daylight and bullets are all that work on the monsters, Neville relies instead on them not knowing where he lives, getting home before dark and pooring a never identified liquid on his jacket and doorway, which we can only guess keeps him from being tracked by scent.
Another difference is the use of the dog. In the book, the dog presents a weird moment of hope. Neville feeds this stray wounded dog that hides under the porch of another house. He worries about the dog and begins to dream of a world where if a dog could survive this long, then humans could too. Eventually though, the dog becomes sick and dies. In the movie, the dog is his daughter’s pet, and his constant companion in this deserted world. They hunt together, eat together, exercise together. He talks to the dog because there is no one else to talk to. The dog is his family. When the dog dies here, there isn’t a dry eye in the theater. The whole event is probably one of the more heart wrenching scenes I’ve seen in a movie in a long time.
Despite all the differences between the book and movie, right here is the point where the two really diverge. The book’s whole approach to the end is that Robert Neville is a legend because he is the last human, the living vampires are killing off the dead vampires and creating a new society, and since Robert is a vampire killer, they must destroy him to solidify the living vampires under one rule. He is legend because he is the beginning of a new world, the last vestige of an old dead society. The movie goes another route, making Robert a legend because he gives his life willingly to help save the remainder of humanity, not the monsters, but the one percent of one percent that were immune and to protect the cure he finally found.
Overall, I loved the book, but they already made a movie of that book called The Last Man on Earth. This movie, I Am Legend, is different, but no less good. I loved it. The two really complement each other well showing two divergent views of a plague stricken world. I recommend both, but I highly recommend catching I Am Legend in the theater.