Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Read the Book and See the Movie(s): I Am Legend

If you're looking for a literary work that has spawned many cinematic interpretations, look no futher than the sci-fi classic I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Robert Neville has survived the plague that has claimed everyone else, but he is not alone. After sundown they arrive, some barely living, the others living dead. The book provides a fascinating and scientific look at vampires, how they might actually exist, and why the usual superstitions: garlic, stakes, sunlight, prove to be effective deterrents. It is also a deeply moving character study as Robert tries to suppress the memory of his wife and daughter and his yearnings for human companionship.

The first movie to adapt the book was an Italian production starring Vincent Price entitled The Last Man on Earth. This film hews very closely to the plot of the book itself, with slight differences at the end. Anything Price does is gold, quite frankly, so this is a worthy title to check out. A double bonus is the extra on the DVD at the Burbank Library, which includes an unaired pilot episode of a television show that was sadly never produced. It starred Vincent Price and Peter Lorre as art dealers.

Charlton Heston was the next to star in an adaptation with the 70s film The Omega Man. The film gives more of a voice to the others than either the book or previous movie do, and they appear more like a cult than a group of vampires. Heston's portrayal of Robert seems to ring true, however. You can sense the anger, bitterness, and occasional wry humor that was so prevalent in the novel. It certainly has the look and feel of the decade it was made, which is funny on a completely different level.

More recently, Will Smith took on the role of Robert Neville in I Am Legend. This film shares the title but deviates often from the plot of the book, which is fine because it is good on its own merits. It is far more emotional than the other films, in my opinion, and Smith does an amazing job at depicting the agony and fear of his lonely, nightmarish life. The design of the vampires are disturbing but a little silly. The second DVD comes with an alternate ending, which is far more hopeful but definitely unlike the novel. In the end I believe that they made the right choice.




1 comment:

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