Aggregating Skeptical Thought

I may be a legend but the movie wasn’t

First and foremost this blog post will contain MAJOR SPOILERS, if you don’t want to know how the movie or book ends click away now… go on, git.

Let me prefix the following post by saying that the book I Am Legend is perhaps one of my top 5 books of all time, if I were to ever compile such a list. Yes, I will be accused of being a purist, so be it. But please take this away from my post, my critique is not with the detailed, discreet changes to the movie (like the book had a white guy in LA vs. the movie having a black guy in NYC) those are an irrelevance because how you tell the underlying story should not be affected by these changes. In fact, the change of location from LA to NYC was probably a great choice because a deserted NYC is far more visually engaging than Californian suburbia. I actually applaud that change.

Let me start by saying that I think Will Smith did an awesome job acting in this film, he totally conveyed the feeling of loss, despair and isolation that one would feel in his similar circumstance. The director of the film did an excellent job showing the solitude, deafening silence and intensity of the situation. There were many times in theater when you could hear a pin drop, no sound from the movie and no sound from the audience (it’s hard to make a sound when you are holding your breath, or feeling totally depressed at this guy’s circumstance).

There were a couple of times in the movie that Will Smith’s acting had my wife sobbing and I suddenly had something in my eye, it might have been an eyelash… yea… an eyelash. For example, when his dog died and in the movie rental store when he finally had the courage to talk to the “girl in the back”, (that will make more sense if you’ve seen the movie). The phrase, “Please talk to me” has such emotional power for me right now.

There are a number of things I could pick apart in the movie like the CG was meh especially when you see the Infected. But honestly the movie shouldn’t have been about the Infected ala Resident Evil anyway, well not at least for this reason. There was also this random religious “God has a plan for you” thing that kind of came out of nowhere that I think was added to give the movie some depth before it turned into a standard zombie movie. They could have used that subplot even with the original story, I think it would be unnecessary but I’m an evil atheist so what do I know.

Let me get to my minor problems with the story:

Number one the main character in the book was a regular Joe schmoe named Robert Neville and I’m not even sure the book tells for sure how the virus was let loose, it’s honestly unimportant. The movie makes the main character Robert Neville the Number One Guy in the World in charge of stopping the outbreak of the infection and there is a whole subplot about how the K-virus (it now has a name because the virus has somehow itself become important) was even spread.

There was even this kind of ridiculous flashback sequence about how Robert Neville tried to get his wife and daughter airlifted out of NYC before they blew the bridges.  In the book, Robert Neville is a nobody and his wife and daughter eventually get the virus and die and he has to drive them to a large burning pit to dispose of their bodies before they “rise up” again. Actually now that I think about it I think he let them rise again hoping for the best but eventually had to “put them down”, very emotional stuff.

The movie begins to weave this virus subplot into the beginning of the movie and I knew once they elevated the K-Virus and Robert Neville’s status that the ending was going to be fundamentally altered (and it was).

Now let me get to the MAJOR problem I have with the movie and I think the best way to do that is tell you how the book ends, please remember that I haven’t read it in a number of years but the gist is intact.

Robert Neville does tinker in his basement trying to understand the nature of the infection like, “Does garlic work and why?, “What about silver?”, “Do crucifixes work?”, all of the standard vampire lore that anyone is familiar with. Finding a cure like in the movie that’s just ridiculous he’s just some schmoe how is he going to find a cure to some virus of unknown origin. He’s trying to figure out what hurts them not how to cure them.

Eventually, after many years, I think it’s like 20 years (not 3 like in the movie but I could be wrong), Robert Neville finds a woman in the daylight who is clearly frightened and out of her mind trying to survive like him. Up until this time his only interactions with anything is with the Infected and they usually just taunt him and try to break into his house (his neighbor is particularly funny), they aren’t undead supersoldiers and if memory serves me in the book he never leaves his house except during the day and he usually drinks himself to passing out every night so he doesn’t have to hear their taunts and their screams.

The woman (no child like in the movie) comes to live with him for awhile. Eventually and I’m a little fuzzy on how ( I think she healed unnaturally fast) but the woman is revealed to actually be one of the Infected who was sent as a spy to infiltrate his “compound”. They have developed a sunblock that they can wear to allow them out into the sunlight. The Infected have actually begun to build their own society and civilization and Robert Neville in the minds of the infected humanity has actually become the monster. He is the boogieman that infected kids tell other infected kids. Instead of Robert Neville being the human and the infected being the monsters, the infected have become humanity and Robert Neville has become the monster. Humanity has changed, it has evolved, the definition of what it is to be human has changed and Robert Neville has become something other than human.

The end of the book has Robert Neville being caught by the infected who don’t prey on humans anymore, they get their blood from cattle that they farm (that may be wrong but regardless they have progressed to point of not needing any humans and have begun there own civilization) and he is brought before crowds of the infected who are afraid of him and women weep and children cower behind their mothers. As Robert Neville thinks to himself in the closing paragraphs of the book about how he has become the monster, he drinks poison (or something) and his last words are “I am legend” as he slips away knowing how humanity has changed and that he is no longer “human”.

For those of you have seen the movie that is not only not the way the movie ends in the details it is not even the way the story ends in “spirit”. The movie ends with a woman that Robert Neville finds (who is completely human) is on her way to a survivor colony. Robert Neville has found a cure at the last minute in his super high tech lab in the basement of his brownstone. He does die by sacrificing himself while taking out as many of the mindless, animalistic Infected as he can so that the woman (and boy) can get away and make it to the survivor’s colony in Vermont where is “legend” is established by finding a cure for the virus.

I was so hoping that the movie would end with Will Smith standing in front a crowd of the infected (who look and act like pretty much like us) and the woman narrates while there are cut scenes showing a “new humanity” rebuilding itself and finally he drinks the poison and says “I am Legend”. The End. Silence. Gives me chills thinking about my own ending, hey why didn’t anybody call me to ask my opinion, I could have made that movie rock. Oh well.

I would encourage you to read the book even if you have seen the movie because the movie (and Will Smith) do an excellent job portraying his circumstances but when you get to the part of the book when he discovers this woman forget everything you think you know from the movie because the book is completely different in story (not just details).


Filed under: Reviews, Skeptic, ,

3 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Great review. I’ve been on the fence about spending the money to see the film, but I think I’ll go.

  2. Skeptigator says:

    I don’t know if this came across in my post but it is a very good movie and is definitely worth seeing in the theater. But the movie is not the book and if you go into the movie with that expectation you will be very disappointed.

    I have talked with people who hate the Lord of the Rings movies because they leave out so much or have subtly changed certain things, etc. To me that’s a bit nitpicky, I mean the movies combined are already like 80 hours long, there is no way you could faithfully recreate the books into a movie.

    Now imagine if P. Jackson had changed Frodo’s character into an Elf instead of a Hobbit who eventually kept the ring on and became the ultimate bad guy at the end instead of chucking the ring into the pit of fire.
    This change to the LOTR series would be equivalent to what was done with the I Am Legend book. It’s a fundamental change to the underlying story.

  3. […] I have an extensive spoiler-filled post here, in case you want a breakdown of differences between the book and the movie. […]

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