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I Am Legend

CritiqueText • At the movies

1964, 1971, 2007, 2007

I Am Legend first editionFirst hardcover edition
By Richard Matheson
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication

Literature form

Science fiction, horror

Writing language

Author's country
United States

Approx. 25,000 words

I Am Legend scene 1971
Charlton Heston is in action hero mode holding off religious-cult zombies in The Omega Man.

Guns and the last man

The Omega Man (1971): Director Boris Sagal; writers John William Corrington, Joyce H. Corrington; featuring Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash

The Omega Man was the middle of Charlton Heston's three films—along with Planet of the Apes (1968) and Soylent Green (1973)—that made him a science fiction star in the hearts of younger fans after years of heading up historical and Biblical epics.

And the fact that this is the most interesting thing to say about the movie says loads about how good an adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend it is.

Except for a few shared premises—a man at first seems to be the last human being left in a big city, strange creatures besiege him by night, and he hunts them by daylight, while carrying out experiments looking for a cure—it is nothing like the original novella. Nor even much like the previous adaptation, The Last Man on Earth. The plot goes far afield, more like an action movie, and never gets close to Matheson's philosophical or psychological conclusions.

Of course, Matheson is not a writer on Heston's film. And the writers present the Hollywood star's character far differently. Ironically, his name in the book, which was changed in Last Man, is returned to him. But rather than the lonely character grieving over his loss and slowly going mad, this Robert Neville come across as a gun-toting playboy, living it up in a penthouse apartment full of luxuries, playing chess with an imaginary foe.

Every now and then the creatures down below make a breakthrough into his abode and he mows them down with automatic weapons and bombs.

Official trailer for The Omega Man, 1971's very loose movie adaptation of I Am Legend.

And about those creatures.... They're neither zombies nor vampires as we've come to know them. These plague victims are a religious cult of half-blind albinos. They—and Neville—are what's left after biological warfare has killed off most of the planet.

That is, until another group of survivors turns up. And we're off and running and car chasing and motorbiking—in full action mode, as any semblance of a sensible plot crashes and burns.

But although admirers of Matheson's thoughtful story or fans of the nascent modern zombie flick may have been aghast, the movie clicked with a lot of viewers. It's become a bit of a classic in some quarters.

And, surprisingly, some its elements are picked up by the biggest, most elaborate adaptation.

— Eric


CritiqueText • At the movies

1964, 1971, 2007, 2007

See also:

Robinson Crusoe

I, Robot


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I Am Legend

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