Friday, January 04, 2008

Legend, I am Not

Sorry. Really, I am. I love a good Will Smith movie as much as, no, probably more than, the next guy. And I'll go so far as to say that he was the best thing in this movie. He was good. Fun to watch in that Will Smith wise-ass way of his, and also good in a not-being-a-wise-ass way.
But this is not about damning with faint praise.
This is about the book.
Yeah. You heard me. The BOOK.
Here's the thing - if they had made the movie and called it something else, I may have really enjoyed it. I don't know. As my mom says - woulda, coulda, shoulda. They didn't and so here we are.
To be honest - this is not really a review of the movie itself, so if you're hoping for that, check out the Rotten Tomatoes page on the movie. This is a review of how the movie was, or was not, an adaptation of the book.
They could not have more missed the point of the book if they had dropped it on the floor behind them and then run a marathon in the other direction.

"I Am Legend." Indeed. And in the mythology that informs our world, the vampire is legend. The vampire lexicon is legendary. The immortality and the oxymoronic vulnerability. The susceptibility to garlic (or related allium compounds), to silver, to the cross. The blood-thirst. The genesis. All this comprises the vampiric legend.
Richard Matheson, author, takes this legend and turns it on its head. In a grand twist on the "last man standing" idiom, he spins the tale of Robert Neville, the last human fighting to survive in a world now run, and run over, by vampires.

(was that enough warning to stop reading?)

And when, ultimately, Neville realizes that he will not survive, he understands that he has become legend. The very fact (or myth) of him, the human, is the legend that will, from his demise on, inform the vampire's world. With apologies, or thanks, to Blackglama, the novella asks What becomes a legend most? Matheson takes on this challenge, and subverts it. Robert Neville isn't a legend because he saves the human race - he is a legend because he was the human race.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the movie. It's just that it seems to me that if you're going to adapt a book to the screen, you have some responsibility to the source material. And trust me, it's not like Matheson hid the climax of this story. Could it get any clearer...

Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain.
A coughing chuckle filled his throat. He turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills. Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.
I am legend.

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