(This piece contains minor spoilers)
I want to start this piece by stating that I unconditionally love Will Smith and consider him to be one of the most underrated dramatic actors working on Hollywood’s A-list. Mr Smith, I have had unwavering respect for you from back in the day when you were ‘The Fresh Prince’ and this multiplied ten fold through your charismatic turn in the OTT blockbuster ‘Independence Day’, your absolute transformation into a modern icon in ‘Ali’ and you even made me tolerate being forced to sit through a romantic comedy in ‘Hitch’. (Ok, the ‘Hitch’ thing wasn’t quite true, I had the ulterior motive of being asked to watch it by a fine lady)
The disclaimer above hopefully illustrates that this piece is coming from the heart in conjunction with my love of quality source material and my hatred of the Hollywood studio system that turns anything remotely edgy or challenging into generic weasel shit rather than from any dislike of Big Willy himself. You did ‘Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It’, how can I hate you?
Will Smith is fantastic in ‘I Am Legend’. Even more so considering how woeful I find the film to be. For those who don’t know the film is based on a 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, a writer who Steven King has referred to as his greatest influence and Anne Rice credits with sparking her interest in vampirism. My Anne Rice name-drop is not to illustrate to you that I occasionally read a book or two, but to illustrate another point that people who have watched the 2008 adaptation of ‘I Am Legend’ without reading the book may be unaware of.
‘I Am Legend’ may just be the finest vampire novel of all time – yes, a VAMPIRE novel. While the film served up lukewarm CGI zombies that looked like former Manchester United footballer Luke Chadwick during a particularly tough midfield battle, the novel presented us with incredibly creepy, threatening and markedly intelligent vampires rather than Usain Bolt speed zombies that everyone since Danny Boyle’s phenomenal ’28 Days Later’ has copied ad-infinatum. Unoriginal fucktards. You’ll be serving us sparkling vegetarian vampires next.
The vampires in the novel communicate, they are Robert’s former friends and neighbours. They torment him on a nightly basis, simply daring him to leave his house and be torn to shreds because there’s the possibility he may finally crack with utter despair and loneliness caused by his desolate situation of being the last man on earth. Witness Will Smith talking to a mannequin in the movie, breaking down due to the trauma of living in his own head so long, that scene permeates through every considered page of the fantastic novel. What I hate about the movie can be summed up by how little was taken from such a seminal and important book.
The only two scenes that emotionally involved me in the movie were the mannequin scene and Robert’s dependency on his dog. While both aspects in the book hit home much harder (many paragraphs are spent on Robert’s daily attempts to gain the trust of the nervy and abused canine and his desire for companionship) they succeed in the film due to Smith’s fine performance and the fact that everyone is a sucker for a dying pet. You only have to see how many times television shows ‘Marley and Me’ each week to know that’s the truth. Here, how cute is this little fucker?
In between those two scenes, the movie offers nothing but a pile of borrowed scenarios, recycled from better and more daring movies and washed at a temperature so PG-13 that they have been released onto the celluloid as a bleached and frail tapestry of what they could have been before. If the movie was released without being based on such revolutionary and brilliant source material I could give it a pass, but what really occurred was that Hollywood was handed a bag of absolute gold and a sprinkling of precious gems but instead of being daring enough to craft something truly great they decided to stick a Zirconia in a Haribo ring and hope the masses didn’t notice. It’s easily digestible until you have to swallow the fakeness.
‘I Am Legend’ is a horror novel through and through with borrowed elements of psychological thriller, study of the human condition and scientific/sociological theory and comment. The 2008 adaptation is a movie star trying to save two great scenes like plucking multiple egg shells out of an omelette because financially led studio execs were too damn scared to follow the ballsy and adventurous recipe. Once you have been gripped by the novel, you can’t see the film for anything more than the diluted barrel of monkey spunk it is.
The biggest cop out of all is the ending. I will not reveal it here but I will tell you that it’s massively different from the book. The first time I read the book I remember a primal reaction within myself, my heart raced and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as I read the final three words, summarising and cohesively tying up every genius page that had come before it. I watched the film expecting it to redeem itself and got nothing but a safe ending. What pains me the most is ‘I Am Legend’ could have been made for 10% of the budget and then would be free to be a faithful adaptation without the risk of frightening the general public or God forbid, making them actually think.
It shocks me that this film is held in such high regard by so many people, it almost makes me want to campaign for licensed breeding but as ever I’m interested to hear anyone’s opinion. Is there anyone out there who has read the book and actually loved the movie? Feel free to comment below.
I’m off to smash a few copies of ‘I Am Legend’ on DVD then watch ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ re-runs and have a cry over ‘Seven Pounds’ as penance.
Thanks for listening. Please go read this: