It's a fool's errand to try and compare a book to a movie, so here I am. The Will Smith movie "I Am Legend" is the third version of Richard Matheson's 1954 classic to hit the big screen. Proceeded by "The Last Man On Earth" starring Vincent Price in 1964 and "The Omega Man" with Charlton Heston in 1971. I saw the latter film when I was a kid, and I remember that I liked it, but that's about all that I can recall. In fact, I think in my mind I may have parts of "The Omega Man" mixed up with "Soylent Green" so I'm going to have to leave further comment be its own sleeping animal.
I had avoided seeing the new film adaptation when it was initially released in theaters. I don't know why, but I had some qualms. Perhaps Hollywood's treatment of other books of the macabre - especially ones that make strong statements about humanity with no pat answers - has jaded my already rheumy eyes. How would they address the vampirism in the movie? How would they handle last man Robert Neville? How would they confront the stark reality of a future devoid of hope? Simple. They gutted the story and threw in deus ex machinas whenever they wrote themselves into a corner.
Matheson's original work is dark and complex, and he manages to introduce an enigmatic outcome without it seeming lazy. On the contrary, it's the natural ending given the evolution and unfolding of events. Anything else would be an unforgivable Mary Sue-ing wish fulfillment device, decelerating into inertia and utter nonsense. The novel, you see, explores the tenuous grasp on sanity a lone human being might experience in a world turned to sheer horror. What conclusions is the protagonist to draw when he barely knows what questions to ask?
The movie doesn't trouble itself with such existential paradoxes. In fact, the movie doesn't trouble itself with much of anything. Neville has been transformed from a working stiff to a military doctor/researcher. Now, I love movies with science geek heroes, but this change in character takes Neville from being an everyman battling vampires who barely has a clue as to how this plague occurred to being someone who was privy to what exactly happened. New Neville also has a laboratory in his basement where he is working on a cure.
But, the most egregious change in this movie from the book is the introduction of the character 'Anna'. Anna, along with a young boy, Ethan, arrives in time to save Neville from the vampires. She had been living near Baltimore for the last three years, but then God told her to...Oh, what does it matter? How much suspension of belief do the filmmakers expect if they want the viewer to simply accept that God told Anna what to do? It's not just ridiculous, it's insulting. Not to mention manipulative.
I recommend to anyone who hasn't read the book, skip the movie and read the book. Then, watch the movie. Be prepared to hurl.