The ode to sci-fi/horror continues with I am Legend, a movie starring Will Smith and based on one of the most awesome novellas ever conceived. This review will contain a lot of spoilers.
For those who don’t know, the book, I am Legend tells the story of Robert Neville, an everyday man who finds himself alone in a world filled with vampires and eventually has an epiphany. The movie version of I Am Legend tells the story of Robert Neville, a scientist alone in a city filled with fake-looking CGI zombie mutant things and eventually finds a cure.
It’s hard to overstate how excited I was to see this movie. And, after the first twenty minutes, I knew I was not to be disappointed. Yeah, the zombies looked really fake (seriously, why use CGI when makeup works better and is cheaper?) but the film had some genuinely terrifying scenes mixed with poignant moments. It’s a talented actor who can carry a movie all on his own (all right, with the help of a dog, but does that really count?), and Will Smith showed he was more than up to the task. His gradual descent into madness due to his isolation, while not quite as well-handled as in the book, was certainly believable. Some of the scary scenes were brilliantly thought out, especially a scene in which a wounded Neville has to hobble back to his car before the sun goes behind a building and the sun-phobic zombie-things can get at him.
The first hour or so of I Am Legend is really quite awesome.
And then they ***ed up. They ****ed up big.
A bad ending can really break a film, and the ending here is nothing if not horrible.
First of all, a woman and her kid appear out of nowhere in time to save Neville from an army of zombie mutants in the middle of the night. They explain they heard him on the radio. So a woman and her kid, neither of whom have any combat experience, were just cursing around looking for him in the middle of the night in a city filled with super-fast, super-strong, bloodthirsty monsters, and they just happened to find him right before he was about to get killed? Right.
Then, all of a sudden, wouldn’t you know it, Robert Neville finds a cure, but the zombies invade his house and he is forced to blow himself up with a magic grenade that somehow kills every zombie in the building in a huge wave of fire (I’m not sure that’s how grenades work) but leaves the woman and kid hiding a few feet behind him in a fireplace unharmed. Ok. That was convenient.
There are a lot of problems with this ending. First of all, there was little build-up to the cure. He just sort of found it, I guess because the screenwriters wanted the movie to end. It’s not a horrible ending, on its own, though, even if it is contrived, abrupt and somewhat uninspired. But when taken in the context of the book…it’s a crime.
What I don’t understand is why they named this I Am Legend at all. They could have named it Will Smith kills zombies with grenades and shit and I wouldn’t have hated it half as much as I do now. But they named it after the book. They ostensibly based it on the book. They could at least have come up with an ending that wasn’t the complete opposite of the entire point of the book.
See, in the book, Robert Neville, the vampire-hunter, comes to realize that HE has become the monster. In a world of vampires, the vampire-hunter is the creature to be feared, and he is executed for his crimes.
The worst part is, the filmmakers were originally going for something a little closer to this, thematically speaking. Take a look at this alternate ending:
It turns out the zombie mutants were only attacking Neville because he had been hunting them and capturing them for his experiments. If you watch carefully, you can see how several key scenes of the movie were subtly foreshadowing this ending. Ever wonder what the significance of his daughter’s ‘butterfly’ thing was? In the original ending one of the captive vampires had a butterfly tattoo, and when he saw it he thought of his daughter and realized the horror of what he was doing. Ever wonder why the fakest-looking leader of the fake-looking zombies stepped into the sun and growled at him (he even made a big deal about it, like it was going to be pretty important later)? Well, you’d never know it from the theatrical version, but it turns out he was distraught because Neville was kidnapping his girlfriend before his very eyes. The fact that they never bothered to go back and change those scenes just adds to the insult and proves how crudely tacked on at the last minute the final ending was. You can’t just leave foreshadowing in a movie and then take out the actual event being foreshadowed and expect no one to notice.
So what is the reason for this idiotic change of ending? Money, of course. The original ending wasn’t ‘marketable’ enough. Test audiences apparently weren’t happy with the peaceful resolution, which makes me wonder who exactly their test audience was composed of. Most definitely no one who actually read the damn book.
This movie could have been a profound story about the nature of good and evil and the effects of isolation and hopelessness. Instead, it ended up being just another cheap (well, actually, ridiculously expensive–could have saved a bajillion dollars if you’d just used makeup instead of fake-looking CGI crap, people) action blockbuster. A frustrating movie that drops the ball at the last minute and leaves you painfully unsatisfied.