The ending of 'I Am Legend' is drastically different to Richard Matheson's 1954 novel, which is easily my favourite book of all time (see here for a review). While the film is a poor adaptation, it is an exceptional movie in its own right. The ending has been slated by critics (in fact, the entire 3rd act has!).
To sum up, the vampires attack Neville's house and chase him into the basement where he discovers his 'cure' for vampirism has worked. Here's the original ending showing Neville's sacrifice to save the cure:
The voiceover at the end clarifies why Neville is legend - he essentially gave hope to the entire world. In Matheson's novel, this is very different. The entrance of Ruth is where things change:
She is in fact a member of a 3rd race - not human, not vampire - a form of mutated infected. In the finale, this new breed is already in the process of wiping out the vampires. They kidnap Neville and he gets a glimpse of this 3rd race's lifestyle - they live together calmly in a solid society. They look on Neville with fear. He soon realises that while he once saw the infected as an intruding, terrifying plague on the world, he is now in such a position. The infected are now the norm and Neville - being the last human ever - is legend. To us, vampires are things of myths and legend, but to the infected, humans fit that bill.
So now you know the ending of the novel, take a look at the alternate ending to 'I Am Legend':
As you can see, this is slightly more fitting with the original climax. Neville realises that the infected are indeed evolving - they are not just mindless monsters. It also sends a message of hope: first of all, the infected may one day be able to live alongside the humans peacefully. Second, there are probably more humans out there so society can be rebuilt.
When I saw 'I Am Legend' at the cinema, and heard the voiceover saying what Neville's "legend" was (that he invented the cure) I was royally pissed off! "No it isn't!!!" I cried. However, had I seen this alternate ending, showing Neville survive in the way he does, I would have been all the more pissed off and 'I Am Legend' wouldn't be one of my all-time favourite films. Let me explain......
For an entire movie, these monsters spend their time trying to kill Neville. And he kills them. Then all of a sudden, he manages to.....what?.....talk them out of it?! WTF!? Impossible! That would have ruined the entire film for me. But I can see the appeal of the alternate finale - it's very touching and suspenseful as hell! But just all too sentimental and implausible for my tastes.
'I Am Legend' is a great film and I've already said the book is my favourite. I'm just very glad this story exists in so many forms - it's been a huge influence on my writing and will continue to be forever.
So what do you think? Which ending is the best? For those who have read the novel, were you as angry as I was at the differences? Do you think the alternate movie ending would have worked better? Let me know.