Tuesday, 9 February 2010

'I Am Legend' - alternate ending(s)


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.

1 comment:

John H said...

'I Am Legend' is also one of my all-time favourite books (and probably the book I've read the most times anyway).

I consider the film to be a bit of three-star hokum that I neither love nor hate. I was a bit miffed by the theatrical ending, not because it wasn't the one from the book but because it was just very anticlimactic and very very patronising.

But then, as is often the case, my problem with the end of the film was the beginning and the middle. What I love so much about the book is Neville is the everyman, the normal guy, the idiot who spends most of a chapter teaching himself to use a microscope. In the film not only was Will Smith one of the flukey few to be immune to the virus but he was also a super-soldier AND a top-level scientist who worked on the original virus to begin with. Well, that's a stroke of luck!

In the book, it's Neville's normalcy that makes his journey to 'Legend' all the more impactful.

I can also see the movie logic of removing anything supernatural like vampires and making them just 'infected' in the movie - but it was the idea of folklore and myth that, again, made Neville's transition from Normal to 'Legend' so much more legendary and fable-like.

And what the hell were the infected meant to be anyway? That was crappy CGI design! 'Hey let's have an army of Mr Hankey the Xmas Poo but make them all grey'. Genius ;)

Saying that, there are some great aspects to the film. Will Smith's routine and how they illustrate his isolation were nicely done and there were some really creepy bits. Not to mention the collective 'noooooooooo' at the loss of the lovely dog!

I think the alternate ending on the DVD was interesting but still anticlimactic for the reasons you said. Basically, I think the producers liked the idea of 'last man alive in a world of...thingies' but didn't know how to take that any further in terms of introducing a character with an interesting journey and marrying that to the kind of action horror they wanted to tell as well.

Excellent book. Flawed-but-fun film.