If you’re reading this post expect spoilers. I’m warning you right now, before I even talk about anything else that I’m going to be discussing the book I Am Legend in detail and if you haven’t read it I highly suggest you do so before reading this post as I would hate to deprive anyone of such a wonderful experience. Yes, I know I don’t normally give spoilers for anything here, but this particular issue has been playing on my mind, and there’s really no way to make this post without revealing too much, so off you go. Seriously, if you stay here I’ll ruin the book completely for you. Go away.
Still here? I’ll assume you’ve either read the book already, read it and returned or you’ve seen one of the films and think that’s enough. If it’s the latter then you’re a fool and it’s all the fault of the movie business. You see, I Am Legend is am amazing book. At it’s core it’s about the last human being left alive trying to survive against the hordes of vampires that the rest of humanity has become. It chronicles Robert Neville’s battle to keep his grip on his fragile sanity in an incredible situation, his attempts to learn what caused the world to fall into such chaos and to find a cure, his experiments on the vampires to find out what is myth and what is fact, and his final incredible realisation about himself. Unfortunately people that make movies tend to think “One man battling against the entire world when they become monsters? That’ll sell.” and the message of the book is watered down to become unrecognizable.
Back to the book, Robert discovers during his experiments that a bacteria has infected humanity and changed them. The recently dead rise from their graves and are controlled by the bacteria to seek blood, while the living become shadows of their former selves, driven by the need for blood to attack their friends and family and losing their sanity due to the activities they undertake thanks to the bacteria’s influence. Robert even starts to theorise that the living vampires avoid mirrors and religious symbols due to the psychological damage done to them in the process. The films tend to avoid this part of the proceedings, instead focusing on gathering weapons and fighting against the odds.
Towards the end of the book Robert is captured by a group of the living vampires who’ve evolved with the bacteria and started to rebuild civilisation. He finds that many of the vampires he’s killed during his experiments were relatives of the group and that they rightly fear him. It is he, who comes when they sleep and leaves their loved ones dead and drained of blood (for his experiments), that is seen as the monster. His final realisation as he dies is “I Am Legend” hence the title of the book. It’s a wonderfully written ending, that beautifully caps the tone of desperation that pervades the book and leaves you on a high that you initially don’t recognise. The feeling you’re left with finally dawns on you as you look out of the window at the world and realise it’s a feeling of hope.
Now we look at the ending to the films and it’s always a final battle that ends with Neville’s death. The feeling of hope is lost and replaced with a feeling of depression and hopelessness. By leaving out the “boring” bits of the novel, everyone who has attempted a film adaptation of I Am Legend has lost the magic of the book and the films have suffered for it.
The latest film adaptation of I Am Legend (and the first to hold the same title as the book) will be released on DVD in the UK and Europe on Monday, and I’m hoping that it doesn’t fall into the same trap as it’s predecessors. By the way, as always happens when a big name film comes out these days, those previous film adaptations have started showing up on budget DVD shelves all across the UK. Avoid them at all costs.