Monday, January 19, 2009

B.W.'s Book Report: I Am Legend

Of course. There had to be a reason three sets of filmmakers and three prominent actors wanted to make a movie out of this book: I Am Legend is absolutely brilliant.

It's too bad its heartbreaking narrative is so poorly represented on the big screen — by Vincent Price in the low-budget but earnest The Last Man on Earth, Charlton Heston in the campy The Omega Man that said more about the late 1960s-early 1970s than anything else, and finally, Will Smith in the stupefyingly incoherent I Am Legend, which preserved the name and one or two elements of the original Richard Matheson book. I love all three actors, but these were not their finest hours.

I have commented before about the downright inexplicable ending of the 2007 Will Smith blockbuster, which betrays not only Matheson but its own set-up. Not until I finally read the short novel, however, did I fully understand how much that big moneymaker betrayed Matheson's story.

All three films don't have enough faith in the tale to follow through on what Matheson wrote, with its compelling and haunting finish, but none insults the author as thoroughly as the 2007 version. That thing turned a thoughtful journey through a post-apocalyptic world into a mindless special-effects action flick by ripping up the screenwriter's adaptation and replacing an insightful climax with an explosion.

Who am I to pass judgment on what, as of this writing, is the 43rd biggest moneymaker of all time among U.S. films, in excess of a quarter-billion dollars in revenues? I'm a guy who can't get back the two hours of my life it took to watch the gorram thing, that's who.

I was insulted by that film, and I had never read the book. Now, I can only imagine the outrage of anyone who knew and loved I Am Legend the book for five decades and sat down to discover that atrocity is all Hollywood could make of it.

Three films, three strikes, they're out. The 1964 Vincent Price effort was a good swing, maybe even a long foul ball to the bleachers, hampered by its budget. The 1971 Charlton Heston beast was a foul tip that didn't trust Matheson enough and tried too hard to be sixties-hip. But the Will Smith monstrosity was a barrel house swing at a pitch in the dirt, a complete and embarrassing miss.

Buy the book, buy the book, buy the book. If you want an OK film adaptation, check out Vincent Price. But the best film version of this story will be the one that plays in the back of your mind as you're reading the book. The book is the only version that I am 100% glad I experienced.

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Anonymous lewlew said...

You penned what Tee spoke to me after viewing Smith's I am Legend. The only good thing Smith's movie did, in my opinion, is nudge a boy toward a magnificent book, read in anticipation of a spectacular movie event that never sparked.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Wally Conger said...

I've read a LOT of Matheson's stuff but never -- inexplicably -- I AM LEGEND. Must do something about that!

11:14 AM  

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