Given I'm a huge fan of Stephen King, I'm immensely surprised it took me this long to read some of Richard Matheson's work. King has referred to Matheson as the author who influenced him most as a writer, which makes complete sense after reading I Am Legend. This is great for me, because I think I found a new favorite author. The first few sentences of Matheson's novel easily hooked me:
"On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back."
Intriguing, I know. I Am Legend is the story of Robert Neville, the last man on earth, who walks the streets by day while vampires assail his house by night. If you are a fan of the recent movie adaptation (an adaptation I do enjoy, even with its alterations to the source material), you really should read this story. At only about 170 pages, it's close to novella length, and the writing has plenty of suspenseful moments and plot twists to keep the reader interested in what happens next -- Stephen King definitely appreciates this writing style, and you will too.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman, Richard Matheson (novel)
Release Date: December 14, 2007 (USA)
As someone who grew up watching Will Smith regularly on television, and was enthralled during his fight for humanity in Independence Day, I was extremely excited at the post-apocalyptic prospect of I Am Legend. Will Smith stars as Robert Neville, a scientist living in New York and the last survivor of the human race. Three years prior to Neville's seclusion, a supposed cure for cancer began turning the entire human civilization into sun fearing brutes with far more power and aggression than an unchanged human can ever possess. Neville spends his days hunting, searching for a cure to the virus, and attempting to keep himself sane in his state of isolation. He barricades himself in his home at dusk, for that is the time the creatures roam the streets unleashing inhuman grows throughout the city.
Perhaps the premise isn't completely original, but it is refreshing. Watching Neville in charge of an abandoned metropolis during the day, hunting dear and refueling (notice the sky high price of gas), creates a tension in anticipating the first glimpse of one of the night creatures. And that first glimpse is the most rewarding scene of the movie. My heart was in my throat and I was strapped to my seat as Neville found himself in the company of the bloodthirsty. This is the kind of feeling I don't get often enough while watching movies. It certainly doesn't come from watching any of the cliché gore-fest horror movies Hollywood has been churning out as of late.
The creatures are the biggest question mark going into the movie. There are revelations revealed to the audience, but certain questions remain, one of which is how Neville could, as a scientist, underestimate them so much. The believability of these creatures' actions is also somewhat weak. It's hard to believe a virus could give what is essentially a human body the ability to scale buildings like Spider-Man and tackle vehicles. Along those lines, it would have been beneficial to know more about the events leading up to Neville's current situation. We are shown glimpses of chaos and realize his later isolation, but knowing a bit more about what happened in between, if only through secondhand information, could have filled the story in.
From the time of the first trailer of this movie, there have been complaints about the choice to make the creatures, and some of the supporting animal cast, CGI rather than made up humans and real animals. I'm firmly in the camp of people who are against over computerizing roles in movies due to the less believable look of computer generated characters, especially when movies like those of the Lord of the Rings series prove just how relevant professional make up is to cinema today. With that being said, I can't say I'm as disappointed in the CGI use as other critics. Although I agree with those critics, and may be more bothered in subsequent viewings, it was mostly a non issue while enjoying the movie.
And that's what it really comes down to here. This is a good movie because of how fun it is to watch, especially the first time. The second half of the movie does take a dive south, but this does not ruin everything the first half built, especially considering the great interactions between Neville and his only companion, a German shepherd named Sam. It may be hard to believe on paper, or via a computer screen, but the two, man and animal, are fitting costars. Now, there are also the fans of Richard Matheson's 1954 sci-fi novel of the same name. For as long as I remember, I've loved reading, and I know the pain of one who finds their favorite novel done injustice on the big screen. I can sympathize. But in this case I have not in fact read the preceding book, so I'll consider ignorance bliss. As it remains, I Am Legend is destined to be one of my favorite movies of the year, and will be placed ceremoniously beside Independence Day in my DVD collection, a fitting pair in Smith's legacy.