Thursday, December 20, 2007

I saw 'I am Legend'


So I finally saw it. I remember when first heard that they were making "I am Legend" with Will Smith, my first reaction was, "Oh, hell no." And each time it'd be brought up, my reaction be, "No, I refuse to even acknowledge its existence or watch this." Then I caught sight of the trailer and gradually I got curious enough that when the "coming out in a week" mark hit I knew I was going to be going to the theater to see it.

My initial beef with it was the fact that , first of all, didn't we ALREADY do "I am Legend"? Like several times before? I mean Vincent Price did it. We had Omega Man. Seriously, did we need one more? It's like Richard Matheson and Jack Finney had a bet to see who could get their novel made into a movie the most times or something. And you damn well know I avoided that new one with Nicole Kidman in it like the plague.

Second, and this is a bit more complicated and involves my own feelings intertwined into the book itself. I need to provide background here. IaL is one of my favorite books. Simply based on the fact that it was one of the first books I read when I was younger to just blow my mind. I read it and when I got to the end of it, all I could say was, "...that shit is DEEP." It was a beautiful feeling. I felt so damn smart. I felt like I'd stumbled across some profound literary trope. I mean, nowadays when I think about it, it almost sounds like a stoner moment. I've reread the book a couple of times -- and it remains as one of the most reread books in my "library." It's lost its "whoa" factor, but I reread it nonetheless to at least remember that profound moment in my book reading history so many years ago.

I was a kid into vampires, the macabre, Victorian occult, gothic stories, adored Poe*, and watched random horror odds and ends throughout my childhood. I first learned of IaL in a book I borrowed from a friend that was sort of like a pre-teen version of a mashup of an almanac and the Guinness Book of World Records, except it was all about horror. It was mostly superlative categories, lists and fun facts type of book. I forget exactly how IaL was listed, but I remember after reading the one sentence plot summary my eyes widened slightly and I knew this was something I had to read. I had long forgotten the title and almost forgot about the book's existence when I stumbled across it in a bookstore a couple of years later. It seemed vaguely familiar, and I read the back of it and it all came flooding back. I snatched it up and ran home giddy with anticipation.

While it was the premise of the book that first grabbed my attention, the interaction between the books title and the end of the book is what grabbed me. It was like the first time you watched "Planet of the Apes" and saw see the statue of Liberty and he realizes he was on earth all along? It was like that. Or like that episode of The Twilight Zone? The guy who finally had all the time in the world to read books, but then his glasses break? It was that sort of "gotcha!" type of thing. Wait, scratch that. "Gotcha" isn't exactly it. I mean it's not the type of twist ending you see so much nowadays, but it definitely has that feeling of a bit of surprise. A bit more of a literary surprise if you will.

Anyhow, my point is when I first picked up IaL, I saw the title and thought to myself, "Hmm, I guess he's going to defeat all the vampires and save the world or something. It's triumphant and boastful. A fucking set up is what it is. When I got to the end and and that subtle twist? That he becomes a legend because he's become the monster of the vampire society? I had to actually put the book down and step away from it for a bit. The synapses in my brain fired and I was making all the connections and implications of it all. "Oh shit, yea, so he was a monster to them. Oh shit, what does that suggest then? Oh shit, legends of monsters in society can stem from the one misfit of society? The outsider, the public enemy? Oh shit, it's like when I used to read about werewolves and werewolf folktale origin and they'd talk about how it could've been early cases of clinical lycanthropy or hypertrichosis? Or feral children?" I loved it, because it made me think. I felt like a professor. A mental giant among my peers!

They were willing to relocate the film from a suburb in Southern California to New York City, and they were probably going to make Robert Neville into Will Smith's character from "Independence Day" who punches out one of the infected and says, "Welcome to earth." This awesome counterpoint that Matheson delivered in the original work will get thoroughly ignored. That's why the reaction against the movie was so visceral. Nothing logical whatsoever. They were raping one of my favorite memories!

Anyway, the movie kind of didn't suck. They still gave it that Hollywood feel-good ending, but managed to keep it bittersweet. It wasn't a heroic, guy gets girl and they wander off into the sunset type of ending. It at least managed to try and keep with the spirit of why the whole work should be named "I am Legend" to begin with, but it definitely followed more to the letter of what my initial idea of the book was when I had just read the title and was wondering what kind of story should deserve that sort of name way back when. Neville finds the cure for the disease and he becomes a legend by becoming a hero, not because he becomes a monster.

I remember when I first heard about the movie my gripe was, "I would not be as pissed if they at least just slapped a different title on it; they're going to destroy its implications!" I mean at least "Omega Man" and "The Last Man on Earth" changed their titles. After having actually seen it, it works still and I'm not supremely as supremely annoyed as I had been initially. I didn't hate it, but I'm wary about saying I liked it simply because they kept the original title and to me that's kind of sacred. I'm going to be an irrational snob like that.

Let me just get it out of the way, I had no problem with Will Smith playing the lead role. People freaking the fuck out about it were tripping and had obviously never watched his acting in "Six Degrees of Separation." Besides, he'd sort of cut out a niche for himself as the decent guy who overcomes obstacles.

I personally liked his portrayal of Neville in this incarnation. I thought his nervous breakdown in the video store after the death of Sam was a pretty intense moment that he did very well. And when he talks about the bacon he was meaning to save after his freakout when he's saved and brough back home? Like I said, he did the decent guy making good of a situation thing very well. You kind of believe if anyone could survive being "the last man on earth" it'd have to be someone like Smith who has this sense of humor that kind of shields him in a way from what's going on.

Anyway, one thing I found interesting about the movie that echoed some things in Matheson's IaL: some of the "vampires" had basically created their own society. They now had their way of life. The infected living in hives in the movie sort of showed that. It showed that they had reverted to an animal state, but it showed some semblances of a society. Sort of like in "Last Man on Earth" (note: I own this movie and will probably rewatch it. Hm, I probably should've done that before writing this. It would've made this way more interesting and in-depth. Ah, well. Fuck it.) as well? But I thought it was interesting how they sort of nodded to that "alternative society" a bit when they showed the big, goony infected actually being annoyed that Neville had captured one of their own, as well as how it recreated a trap in the same way Neville did, and even learned to keep dogs. I thought that was an interesting consideration for this particular version of the tale. It was disappointing a bit the movie went in the direction that it did because the first half of it seemed to show that yes, the world indeed was thriving in its own way without humans. Just like the animals roaming New York, without their humanity the infected humans were beginning to create their own way of living. Neville is clearly depicted as the lone outsider in all this. Zooming down the deserted streets in his fancy cars. The fact that he couldn't hunt a single deer with his army training and his gun and lioness snatches one with great ease right in front of him. He's the one who can't seem to adapt.

Speaking of abandoned New York, every review seems to mention this, but the depiction of a New York going back to a wild state was pretty damn good. Also I thought the first half showing life as the only man live was damn good as well. Some people say the latter half was rushed, but really the whole point of IaL was the build up to the end and showing how life might be if there were to be one lonely human trying to survive in a hostile environment. Even in the book I enjoyed the beginning just reading the tedium of Neville's day-to-day life. His barricaded house and his supplies.

You know, I've thought about it before, but maybe it's gotta be a tie to my zombie obsession. The whole survival part of it. It wasn't just a vampire story, and honestly, they were more vampire-like and it was sort of slightly science fiction in a sense. It' was like what "28 Days Later" was to the zombie movie genre. More medical explanation, zombie-like monsters rather than actually zombies (not of the "brraaaiins" flesh-eater variety, fast-moving, not reanimated, etc.).

I need to reread that book. The sad thing is I don't have it on me. I think it's with my parents with 90% of my books. Man. I knew that should've been one of the ones I brought with me.


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