Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Book & Movie Review: I Am Legend

I Am Legend
The Book and the Movie
By Richard Matheson
Published by Tor Publishing as a Tor Trade Paperback and Mass Market Movie Tie-In
Publication Date: October 30, 2007
Price: $14.95
ISBN-13: 9780765318749
Five Star Rating *****

I Am Legend (2007) (The Movie)
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers (WGA): Mark Protosevich (screenplay) and
Akiva Goldsman (screenplay)
Release Date: 14 December 2007 (USA) more view trailer
Genre: Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller more
Tagline: The last man on earth is not alone
Plot Outline: Years after a plague kills most of humanity and transforms the rest into monsters, the sole survivor in New York City struggles valiantly to find a cure.
Plot Keywords: Fried Bacon / Exploding Car / Siege / Dog / Based on Novella more
Awards: 9 nominations
Will Smith ... Robert Neville
Alice Braga ... Anna
Charlie Tahan ... Ethan
Salli Richardson ... Zoe Neville
Willow Smith ... Marley Neville
Darrell Foster ... Mike - Military Escort
April Grace ... TV Personality
Dash Mihok ... Alpha Male
Joanna Numata ... Alpha Female
Abby ... Sam (as Abbey)
Kona ... Sam
Samuel Glen ... Military Driver - Jay
James Michael McCauley ... Male Evacuee (as James McCauley)
Marin Ireland ... Woman Evacuee
Pedro Mojica ... Sergeant

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Parents Guide: View content advisory for parents
Runtime: 101 min
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color (Technicolor)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35: 1 more
Sound Mix: SDDS / DTS / Dolby Digital
Filming Locations: Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, New York, USA more
Company: Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in Association with Village Roadside Pictures, A Weed Road/Overbrook Entertainment Production
Opening: December 14, 2007

Four Star Rating ****





“Again he shook his head. The world’s gone mad, he thought. The dead walk about and I think nothing of it. The return of corpses has become trivial in import. How quickly one accepts the incredibility if only one sees it enough! Neville stood there sipping his whiskey and wondering who it was Ben reminded him of. He felt for some time that Cortman reminded him of somebody, but for the life of him he couldn’t think who.”

It is hard to believe that this science-thriller was written in 1954. This book has been made into a movie 3 times, I Am Legend (2007), following 1964's The Last Man on Earth and 1971's The Omega Man. The original book takes place in Los Angeles, California, somewhere between January 1976, and January 1979, where a virus has broken out and everyone on earth has died from it; that is everyone but the last man on earth, Robert Neville, and a strange group of blood sucking vampire-zombies. We are drawn into the book by the shocking monotony contrasted with the horror of Neville’s everyday life. He spends his days disposing of dead vampires and zombies who inhabit the planet at night, seeking blood, and screaming for him to come out of his house until the sun comes up. A typical Neville day consists of Neville repairing his house, boarding up windows, stringing and hanging garlic, disposing of vampires corpses on his lawn and going out to gather any additional supplies needed for hunting and killing more vampires. He has suffered the horror of burying his wife and daughter. The detail of the sense of loss, loneliness and horror in this book is still earth shaking as we read it today. Neville staring at his watch, knowing he must be home by 5 pm or nightfall, and the consequences of showing up late, or his watch stopping are things in the book that can only be described as emotionally jarring.

Much of the story is devoted to Neville's struggles to understand the plague that has divided those around him into the walking dead - vampires - and the still-living infected. The novel details his research into the nature of vampirism, as the symptoms explain their legendary aversion to garlic, sunlight. The book has such vivid descriptions and detail that you can almost hear the undead calling to him all night long.

One day a dog appears in the neighborhood. Neville spends weeks trying to win its trust and domesticate it. He eventually traps the terrified dog and wins it over, but it dies from the infection a week later.

Neville encounters an apparently uninfected woman named Ruth; startled, she runs away. Neville chases her and after a struggle drags her back to his house. Suspicious that she is infected, Neville questions her. He reveals that as well as vampires, he kills the infected, believing that sooner or later they will die and come after him. Despite their mistrust, Neville and Ruth fall for each other.

However, when Neville performs a blood test on her, her infection is revealed. Ruth knocks him out and escapes, but leaves a note, explaining that she was a spy from a primitive new society; her people are infected but have discovered a means to hold the disease at bay. She warns him to leave before they come to destroy him. Neville decides to stay.

Months later, hunters from the new society capture Neville, and take him for public execution. Before he can be executed, Ruth provides him with pills so that he can end his life on his own. Neville takes the pills; as he dies he reflects on how the new society regards him as a monster. Just as vampires were regarded as legendary monsters that preyed on the vulnerable humans in their beds, Neville has become a mythical figure that kills both vampires and the still-living while they are sleeping. In the end, realizing that he is the last human being alive, and the impact his presence will have on future history, he declares to himself, “I am legend.”

The book is a short, compact horror classic that has influenced horror writers of today like Stephen King and George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead). It presumes a post World War nuclear mutation. Matheson’s book is the first exploration of this genre. All of the modern zombies originate from this book.

The question is then, does the recent film starring Will Smith live up to the near perfect horror classic written by Richard Matheson over 50 years ago? There are some major differences. First, in the Will Smith version, the story takes place in New York City. One of the most expensive scenes in motion picture history takes place near the Brooklyn Bridge. Secondly the time frame is changed from 2009 to 2012. In the film, Smith is a virologist from the US Army. The movie theorizes through flashbacks that in an experiment gone wrong, scientists were trying to morph a measles vaccine into a cure for cancer, but a mutation of the this vaccine lead to this fatal virus. By the end of 2009, over 90% of the planet's human population died. Over 9% were infected, but did not die. These survivors degenerated into a primal state of aggression and began to react painfully to UV radiation, forcing them to hide in buildings and other dark places during the day. Less than 1% remained completely immune to the virus, but were hunted and killed by the infected or committed suicide due to their isolation until, three years after the outbreak; Robert Neville is left as what he believes to be the last healthy human in the world.

Neville's daily routine includes experimentation to find a cure for the virus and trips through a Manhattan devoid of humanity to hunt for food and supplies. He also waits each day for a response to his continuous recorded radio broadcasts, which instruct any uninfected survivors to meet him at midday at the South Street Seaport. Flashbacks reveal that his wife and daughter appear to have died in a helicopter accident during the chaotic evacuation of Manhattan, prior to the military-enforced quarantine of the island in 2009. Neville's isolation is broken only by the companionship of his dog Samantha ("Sam"), interaction with mannequins he has set up as patrons of a video store, and recordings of old news and entertainment broadcasts.

Neville seems to find a promising treatment derived from his own blood, so he sets a snare trap and captures an infected woman while an infected male watches from the shadows. Back in his laboratory, located in the basement of his heavily-fortified Washington Square Park home, Neville treats the infected woman without success. Shortly thereafter, he is ensnared in a trap similar to the one he used to capture the woman. By the time Neville escapes it is dark and he is attacked by infected dogs, one of which bites Sam (although dogs are unaffected by the airborne strain of the virus, they are still affected by the contact strain). Initially Neville brings Sam home and injects her with a strand of his serum, but when she shows signs of infection and tries to attack him Neville is forced to strangle her. The next night he goes out and recklessly attacks a group of infected. He is nearly killed, but is rescued by a pair of immune survivors, Anna (Alice Braga) and a young boy named Ethan (Charlie Tahan), who have traveled from Maryland after hearing one of his broadcasts. They take the injured Neville back to his home where Anna explains that they survived the outbreak aboard a Red Cross evacuation ship from São Paulo and are making their way to a putative survivors' camp in Bethel, Vermont.

Neville once again attempts to administer a potential cure to the infected woman in his laboratory, but the next night a group of infected, who had followed Anna and Neville back the night before, attack the house and overrun its defenses. Neville, Anna, and Ethan retreat into the basement laboratory, sealing themselves in with the woman Neville has been treating. Discovering that the last treatment has been successful, Neville draws a vial of the woman's blood and gives it to Anna. He pushes Anna and Ethan into an old coal chute, and then sacrifices himself to save their lives, using a hand grenade to kill himself and the attacking infected.

Anna and Ethan escape to Vermont, and locate the survivors' colony, where Anna hands over the cure. In the closing voice-over, she states that Neville's cure enabled humanity to survive and rebuild, establishing his legend. The movie ends with Anna quoting Bob Marley: "Light up the darkness".

There is a distinct plot change that is not consistent with the book. The villain/infected zombies in the movie are not as scary as those described in the book. The movie is made and carrier by the fine performance of Will Smith. Smith has a very definite understanding of what it would feel like to be alone, lost and isolated. The tension of his struggle to continue in stark contrast to the environment full of death and desolation keeps our interest. This could have been buttressed by zombies that were truly scary, but in the end Will succeeds to make us care for his character and the survival of the others. The change in locale works in the film, as the wider streets and taller building being empty create the right atmosphere of loss and horror. This makes possible the dark tone of the film and the examination of whether the Smith/Neville character has lost his mind in the desolate isolation. There was also an alternative ending shot where Neville life is spared in the lab scene. The alternative ending will be included in the DVD, which will be released on March 19th as a 2-disc set, special edition.

Smith character is compelling and plot changes are interesting, but the overall feeling of horror and desolation of the original book cannot be matched. See the movie, buy the DVD, but don’t miss out on the book. It is truly the real legend.

No comments: