Written by: Wayne C. Rogers
The movie, I Am Legend starring Will Smith, is based somewhat loosely on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel of the same name. Now, most people don’t know who Richard Matheson is, but this is the writer who influenced both Stephen King and Dean Koontz when they were teenagers, not to mention thousands of other kids. This was the man who wrote some of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes of the sixties, especially Nightmare at Thirty Thousand Feet. This is the author of the famous horror novel, Hell House, which was turned into a film.
Flipping the coin over, Matheson is also the author of the famous romance novel, Bid Time Return. This book was turned into the film, Somewhere in Time, and Mr. Matheson had a cameo appearance in it with the late Christopher Reeve. There was also the novel and movie, What Dreams May Come. Richard Matheson is therefore one of the greatest writers of the last half of the Twentieth Century. Without him, we might not have had Stephen King and Dean Koontz writing such brilliant books.
The Will Smith version of I Am Legend is the third film adaptation of Matheson’s novel, and Mr. Smith does an excellent job of portraying the lead character Robert Neville, capturing his aloneness and near insanity at being quite possibly the only human being alive.
Neville was once a military doctor experimenting with new drugs and viruses in the hope of finding a cure for cancer. What was discovered, however, wiped out most of the human population, while causing many others to change into flesh-eating zombies that can move at tremendous speeds and seemed to be filled with an incurable amount of rage and violence.
Because the creatures can’t survive in the sunlight, Neville has control of the day when he and his dog go out hunting for food and raiding the nearby DVD store. Neville is also still searching for a vaccine that will cure the symptoms of the virus. He uses zombies he’s captured, and the testing usually results in their deaths. The night, however, is totally ruled by the hungry creatures, and Neville must always be home by dark in order to barricade himself inside his Washington Square apartment with its reinforced doors and window shutters. A confrontation is inevitable between Neville and the creatures, and this in-turn eventually escalates into a full-blown battle. Who will survive is anybody’s guess, especially since the DVD has an alternate ending on it.
I had mixed feeling about the movie when I first saw it at the theater. When the Two-Disc Special Edition came out, I found myself enjoying the longer alternate version with a different ending. I think the director, Francis Lawrence, and the Special Effects people did a fabulous job of creating New York City a few years down the road after the plague has done its nasty work, showing the desolate streets with non-moving cars and trash lining the curbs and weeds growing out of the pavement.
Will Smith certainly plays to this setting, creating a character that is near the end of his rope and talks to mannequins in the DVD store as a way of keeping himself from going crazy, then goes totally berserk when one of the mannequins shows up in a different location. Unlike a lot of viewers, I loved the creatures. The scene where Smith has to go into the basement of a bank to find his dog and runs into a group of them huddled together in a self-help group had me spilling my popcorn all over the theater floor. I felt myself in the darkness with him as well as the strong fear he was emanating. This is definitely one of the best horror scenes done in the last few years.
I believe the Two-Disc Special Edition with a longer version of the film and an alternate ending is the way to go. I do have to say that other than a different version of the movie, there isn’t much else offered that I cared about. The makers of the DVD set could’ve done a feature on the long history of I Am Legend with an in-depth interview from Richard Matheson and a more detailed look at the making of the film. That will probably come in a later edition somewhere down the road. Anyway, this is a good, fun movie with some superb acting by Will Smith. It’s definitely worth a watch.