I Am Legend (or more aptly named “I Am Salk”)

(Spoilers Ahead)

I didn’t go into the theater expecting to see a version of I Am Legend that was 100% faithful to the novel. But when you name the movie the same title as the book, which not only is the title but is the entire underlying theme of the story…. I’m getting too far ahead. Let’s start with the good.

I’m not a Will Smith fan. He annoys me for some reason that I can’t really put my finger on so I was a bit apprehensive when I found out he was starring in the latest adaptation of Legend. My fears turned out to be unfounded and Smith does a fine job for the most part in selling which I believe to be the scariest part of the story, being completely alone fighting for your sanity while trying to survive cohabiting with vampires.

I’ll forgive the writers for giving Smith a dog since it’s an effective device in movies to have the protagonist speak his thoughts to someone or something (In Castaway they gave Tom Hanks a volleyball) rather than doing a voice over. Abandoned NYC was very well done visually with nature starting to reclaim the streets of Manhattan and was one part the CG guys got right.

Unfortunately, they spent more time on constructing a deserted NYC and less time on the CG vampires that looked like, well, CG vampires. I can just picture the producers seeing the finished vampires and saying “That’ll do” as they check their calendars to see if they’ll still be able to release the movie in time for the holiday rush. And not only do the vampires look bad (think of a poorly photoshopped batboy from the Weekly World News) but they seem to move in a world where Newton’s laws are more like a loose guideline. They try to make up for this lack of realism by just having ear piercing shrieking noises emanate from the speakers every time the vampires appear.

But these are technical issues. Let’s talk plot and how this one unravels.

After the dog dies, Neville goes on either a killing spree or a weird attempt at suicide (I couldn’t decide) and at the last second (of course) is saved by a Brazilian survivor. How she saves him I’m not really sure. Then again, since Manhattan was quarantined, we’re not even sure how she managed to get on the island (took the ferry?) But let’s suspend some disbelief. She wants to take Neville to a survivor’s colony in Vermont that she knows about because…. wait for it… God tells her it exists. DEUS EX MACHINA ALERT!

Argh, one of the greatest parts about Matheson’s “I Am Legend” is that Neville goes out of his way to find a logical and rational explanation about vampires which, in every other novel, are a supernatural entity. In the book, Neville finds that crucifixes do indeed keep vampires at bay, but only those who were Christian before they were infected. The reasoning is that it is a psychological effect. A star of David would be needed to keep a Jewish vampire at bay and nothing, indeed nothing, would stop a zombified Richard Dawkins vampire.

The movie ends with the Fresh Prince finding a cure to the vampire virus at the same time that the vampires figure out where they are hiding. After blowing through iron works like they were paper mache, the vampires are stymied by a thin layer of plexiglass which allows Neville to give the godsend girl a vial containing the cure and then stuffs her in either an escape hatch or a bomb shelter before sacrificing himself by blowing up everyone with a grenade. The last scene is the girl (and the boy. Don’t worry if I didn’t mention him. The movie doesn’t really either) finding her way to the survivor’s colony and handing over the cure. Neville is legend because he found the cure.

NO NO NO! When I first found out that they were doing a hollywood style version I knew they would fuck up the ending. In the novel, the girl that Neville finds is indeed infected with the virus which has mutated in some people who although display many of the same symptoms don’t end up becoming zombie vampires. Neville doesn’t know this and has been systematically killing all of the vampires during the day regardless as to if they had the mutated virus or not. He has killed so many that the “survivors” have become fearful of him. He has become a monster and a legend to them like Dracula has become a legend for us. Why even name the movie I Am Legend if you’re going to make this your ending. Call it “I Am Salk.”

What did you guys think?