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I Am Legend first editionFirst hardcover edition

I Am Legend

Richard Matheson
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication
1954

Literature form
Novella

Genres
Science fiction, horror

Writing language
English

Author's country
United States

Length
Approx. 25,000 words

I Am Legend scene 2007
Robert Neville (Will Smith) and Sam fight "Darkseekers" in New York while seeking a cure in I Am Legend.

I Am Legend

THE NOVELLA | THE TEXT | THE MOVIES

1964, 1971, 2007, 2007

A last man and his dog

I Am Legend (2007): Director Francis Lawrence; writers Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman; featuring Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Dash Mihok, Emma Thompson

When it finally came out in late 2007, the big, Hollywood movie of I Am Legend was a huge hit, though it still disappointed fans of Richard Matheson's book. As the third or fourth adaptation (depending on whether you count the I Am Omega rip-off released a month earlier)—and as the first adaptation to adopt the same name as the novella—the Will Smith vehicle hews more or less to the original plot until near the end. But the change in ending wipes away what made Matheson's story a disturbingly thought-provoking read.

Too bad. It leaves the under-budgeted, Italian-made first adaptation, 1964's The Last Man on Earth, still the definitive version. It blows the chance for an updated presentation of that seminal story with great production values.

Surprisingly though, the movie picks up quite a bit from its two major predecessors. The screenplay is even credited as being based on 1971's Charlton Heston-starring film, The Omega Man. Promotions even use the same tagline, "The last man on Earth is not alone".

The "last man" character in this adaptation has reverted back to being named Robert Neville (as in 1964) and he's a doctor once again, left alone in Manhattan (as in 1971), defending his abode and research lab from creatures of the night and finding them in their lairs by day.


Official trailer for 2007's I Am Legend, starring Will Smith.

These are probably the best scenes of the movie, as Neville along with a dog, given a much more developed role in this version, roams the silent city by day. He shops for supplies in vacant stores, humorously interacting with mannequins, and he lays traps for zombies while trying to evade their traps for him. These creatures, which he calls Darkseekers for their avoidance of light, seem to have some intelligence of their own.

Neville meets a woman (Alice Braga) and her son who seem immune from the disease and are in contact with a group of survivors outside the city. Neville's task becomes to find a cure through experimentation on his zombie prisoners and get it to the survivors.

So far, so good. But then the movie wimps out and has Neville implausibly sacrificing himself to save the woman, her son and the cure—leaving him a legendary figure. It's a crowd-pleasing finale but completely misses the ironic point of the title.

A "director's cut" alternative ending is also available, promoted as being more in line with the original story. In this one, Neville has a showdown with the leader of the Darkseekers and comes to realize he has been killing and torturing sentient beings. He gives up his search for a cure and heads for the survivors' camp with the woman and boy. Another wimp-out from the tragic novella, but closer to its understanding of "legend".

— Eric McMillan

THE NOVELLA | THE TEXT | THE MOVIES

1964, 1971, 2007, 2007

See also:

Movies
Robinson Crusoe

Movies
I, Robot

Movies
Dune

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I Am Legend

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