on I am Legend

Originally posted on May 19, 2009 at 1:41 AM

I had the lovely new task today of going to the Denton CAD to contest my property tax increase. They’d raised the appraisal value of our house at above what we paid for it–obviously not market value. So, I called ahead, and they told me that there was about a 2 hour wait, put my name on the list, and to come in after that. I did, and still had to wait 2 more hours. It sucked; I finished my book.

It was I am Legend by Richard Matheson. I was genuinely surprised by how much better it was than the movie. I mean, I didn’t love or hate the movie, so I wasn’t too invested in how the book would turn out. But it actually made me dislike the movie–pushed me right over that edge of indifference.

It’s just that some directors and/or screenwriters don’t seem to get what should be changed and what shouldn’t. I’m going to go ahead and say now that I’m going to give away a lot about the book. Read: SPOILER ALERT. Just stop reading this blog if you plan on ever reading the book.

Okay, really, stop now… If you’re still reading you don’t care and you can’t blame me!

So about what to change and what not to change in a movie. Acceptable: from white, unattractive man to Will Smith. More captivating for audience, for the sake of acting. Unacceptable: from desperate survivor who resorts to studying science texts from the library to the scientist who CAUSED it all. Why change it? Just for the hell of it?

Acceptable: from LA in the 70s to NYC in present-day. More impactful for viewer–doesn’t lose important focus of story. Unacceptable: from heart-wrenching scene where Robert Neville tries to befriend a surviving stray dog to loyal companion had all along. I know the movie would be boring with no interaction at all, but the dog takes up a big portion of the book while still giving a totally different message. The key subject of the book isn’t vampires, disease, or humanity… it’s loneliness. The move loses that with the awesome dog that’s nice all along.

Acceptable: making the ugly old 70s station wagon into a red Ford Shelby Mustang GT500. Hey, some things are just fun. Unacceptable: making the vampires almost mindless animals with no thought-process (minus some basic trickery). The vamps in the book can talk, know his name, walk around outside his fortressed house at night calling to him. Much scarier. Very important detail. You don’t mess with an author’s version of vamps. Trust me.

Acceptable: spiffin’ up the house-setting. More fun to watch. Unacceptable: having Neville’s wife and kid die in an airplane crash rather than from the spread of vampirism. Why do it?

Acceptable: CGI of NYC as emptied and overgrown. Unacceptable: that BS animation of the lions. What the heck? Okay, I know that one didn’t involve the book, but still. The lions in The Lion King looked more realistic than that crap.

Acceptable: making the female pretty and sexually desirable. Unacceptable: CHANGING THE ENTIRE FREAKING ENDING OF THE BOOK! Geeze! What a joke. Not only was the ending different: it was almost the complete opposite! At the end of the movie Robert Neville says “I am legend” because he just saved the remainder of the human race from the vampire virus (which should be a bacteria, btw). At the end of the book, he’s executed by the new civilization of “living vampires” as a terror upon their kind. Not knowing that living vamps and dead vamps were different, he killed all of each kind that he could find during the days. He became like their boogie-man–a slasher that butchered them senselessly in their sleep. Finally, the living vamps develop a pill to take that feeds the bacteria while containing it within the body, effectively neutralizing their vampire qualities. They then execute dead vamps, and finally, the only known human being left: Robert Neville. When he dies, he says, “I am legend,” because he has essentially become to the living vamps what vampires used to be to human kind: mythology, folklore, legend. It is a much, much better ending than the movie.

That all being said, I’m not an extremist in regards to this book or movie. The book has distinct flaws, for me. Too detailed to explain after such a long blog, but they’re there. It’s not a perfect book in my humble opinion. And there are still scenes from the movie that strike a deep chord within me, like the one where they steal that mannequin and place it somewhere else to lure and trap Neville. And the dog relationship was very touching, just completely different than that of the book. I mean, come on people! Just change the characters’ names, give the author “inspired by” credit, and rename the movie! Why lead us on if you’re going to change everything? I feel like all movie-viewers that didn’t read the book have been gypped.

Well, that’s enough of that. As you can see, I feel very passionate about vampire literature. And movies, for that matter. And don’t even try to argue with me that the movie was about zombies. I think most people get that vague impression from the changes in the zombie genre after Matheson’s work. He popularized the concept of apocalypse by disease (a subject very near and dear to my heart), which inspired Romero, who took it and ran with it in Night of the Living Dead. But it’s still vamps. Really. You don’t want to get into that with me.

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