The third film version of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novella I Am Legend is due for release in December and I, for one, am looking forward to it. I remain intrigued by how vampirism and the trope of disease are re-worked in different periods, and after 63 years, Francis Lawrence’s vision will undoubtedly provide further insight into how American culture manages its home-grown ‘others’.
Interestingly, the first two film adaptations are ideologically opposed. Sidney Salkow’s The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price, is closest to depicting the moral ambiguity of Matheson’s text. Is Neville (renamed Morgan for some reason) a legitimate slayer of germ-ridden vampires (read communists), or a McCarthyite witch-hunter sweeping up the living with the dead? Does science hold the answer, or was science the cause of plague and the end of civilization? Matheson’s dystopian ending offers no firm answers, and Salkow’s cold war vision replicates the death of the last uninfected man and hence, civilization’s return to barbarity.
As if in response to Salkow’s pessimistic hand-wringing, Boris Segal’s The Omega Man (1971) suffers no such ambiguity; the plague is released as the result of a war between two communist nations:
So what will we be treated to next, ideologically speaking? And can Will Smith, the cheeky Fresh Prince and hero of Independence Day convincingly portray the drunken, sexually frustrated, suicidal, and morally flexible vampire slayer? I see from the trailer that Neville cruises around in a red sports car a la Heston rather than Matheson’s utilitarian five door wagon with wood inlay. ‘How will he transport the bodies to the burning pit’ I ask? Will he, like Heston, dispatch those pesky vampires with an M16, or combine folkloric and scientific remedies? My early impressions, based on nothing more than a cynical suspicion that ‘them’ versus ‘us’ films sell more tickets, suggest we about to be subjected to another ‘ideology as virus’ message; a simple substitution of communist for terrorist designed to rally the populace. The film’s New York setting and images of missiles piercing the skyline clearly re-enact the horror of 9/11; but what remains to be seen is whether Francis Lawrence’s Neville confronts his own complicity in the deaths of the living; whether force or science is the ultimate solution; and whether Neville’s death represents the end of humanity as we know it, or whether a drop of his germ-free blood, a glimmering red corpuscle of hope, will survive to cleanse the morally righteous. If Ladbrokes were giving odds, I know where I’d put my money.
On the other hand, I could just enjoy watching it through my fingers like everyone else…..
I look forward to any thoughts and reviews. Below is a link to the film’s trailer. Enjoy.
Tiny URL for this post: http://tinyurl.com/3xe7exb