18 December 2007

Never mind. The Last Man on Earth really is the best

Now that I've had time to let my opinions settle, I am rescinding my previous statement that I Am Legend 2007 is the best adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel. Given some thinking about the new movie and a few discussions with others, I have gotten more disenchanted with the Will Smith vehicle. (The general U.S. population apparently diagrees with me, since they propelled the movie to a $75 million opening weekend. But as Alvin and the Chipmunks managed to make $45 million, I think economics cannot be held as a ringing endorsement.) I still admire the film for taking a less agressive action-oriented stance and for its excellent effects work, and Smith does give a fine performance, but the movie makes more poor choices than good ones:
  • Where did the snare trap come from that catches Robert Neville? This is never adequately explained.
  • The manner in which Neville's wife and daughter die robs the movie of a dynamite and horrific conflict from the book.
  • The "vampires" (the movie never calls them that) are ultimately much less interesting than Matheson's sinister, howling creatures. (Where is the chilling cry of "Come out, Neville, come out!"?)
  • The vampires don't besiege Neville's home nightly. Apparently they just don't know where he lives. Another chance for suspense—gone.
  • Neville fills up his day with meaningless tasks and bland research in his basement; he doesn't go out and try to systematically slay the sleeping vampires. Why on earth would you cut this?
  • The ending. Come on, you've got one of the most awesome horror movie conclusions handed to you on a silver platter... but no, you've got to swipe the finale from a Chuck Heston movie.
  • The Bob Marley speech. What is that about?

This upshot of all this? I never thought I would say it, but The Last Man on Earth, for all its clumsy budgetary limitations and "Italy pretending to be Los Angeles" weirdness, is still the best adaptation of I Am Legend. Chances of filmmakers getting a fourth shot at the book are pretty slim, unfortunately.