Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Don't Want To Sleep Alone

I'm thinking. it must be wretched hell to have your novel, regarded as a masterwork of science fiction, fantasy and horror, turned into a film that completely misses the point you were making with your book. I'm also thinking, if I were in that situation, what would I do? Would I kick up a fuss, or let it pass, hoping more people would be turned onto my books?

Few writers in the world have ever made public their frustrations with film adaptations of their work. Anne Rice did, but after she saw Interview With The Vampire, she retracted her criticisms. Hey, after all, it's Neil Jordan. How far wrong could you go with him? Then, there's Alan Moore, who keeps dissociating himself from the films of his books, but never stopped selling the rights to his works. Which I think is the smartest thing to do. Shut up, take the money, and laugh all the way to the bank as they make a fool of themselves.

The thing that filmmakers and screenwriters don't seem to realise is that once you adapt a great work, no matter if you decide to deviate from the point of the book, if you don't make as strong a point, you're going to look extremely silly. And shouldn't filmmakers want to adapt a book because they like what the book is saying, and not just the premise?

With I Am Legend, it's completely the other way around. It seems they read the story (or maybe watched The Last Man On Earth and The Omega Man) and decided, hey this is a great idea, have a last human being on earth battling a world full of vampiric monsters. Why else would they have turned the talking, intelligent vampires of Richard Matheson's novel into primal, roaring creatures?

But I Am Legend is very watchable, entertaining in most parts, and, very surprisingly for a Hollywood blockbuster, has some atmospheric moments of quiet tension. It's smart too, how the director chose to film the desolate surroundings and how they affect Robert Neville's mind. Most of the psychological effects are nicely rendered with moody moments. The creepiness is straight out of Matheson's novel, such as when Neville and dog companion lock themselves up for the night and hear the spine-tingling sounds on the streets. Will Smith does well, although he doesn't completely shed his "Look, I'm Will Smith and I'm cool to watch" camera consciousness. Granted there's more earnestness in his performance this time (although they still can't resist having him show off his physique to female audiences). His character is nicely realised and conveys the human need for contact, and the desperation that comes with its lack-of.

But the film starts to fall apart in the second half. Firstly, despite a nicely filmed sequence in a dark, dilapidated building, the second half is full of the usual guns-a-blazing action sequences and the film loses whatever slow build-up it had in the beginning. It becomes just another action film.

And the ending gives way too much credit to the human race. The nihilism of the novel is not acted upon, but discarded completely for a tone that's not quite out of place with America's need for hope and a clean resolution to all the mess it created in the first place, which is how the virus in I Am Legend spread, created by human beings as a cure for cancer but later wrought havoc on the genes. There is, however, one moment when Neville's lab, where he experiments with some of the creatures he had captured, adopts the disturbing elements of a torture or concentration camp. But that isn't followed through.

In the end, I Am Legend is just an entertaining film that squanders all the story's opportunities to make a powerful and lasting point. It's not a bad film, just forgettable.

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