Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I am Legend by Richard Matheson, Tor 2007 (Spoilers included)

I Am Legend is a good movie.

It's an amazing book.

Matheson's writing departs from the block buster move in many ways. And each of those ways make it a better story.

Similarities

Robert Neville believes himself to be, perhaps, the last person on earth. The rest of the planet has been converted by a type of disease into a vampiric race.

Neville holes up in his house during the night and hunts the vampires during the day.

A woman plays a significant role.

A dog plays a significant role.

Neville spends much of his time seeking a cure for the vampiric disease.

Neville dies at the end.

Differences


In the movie, all the vampires are snarling, enhanced beasts that seem to have no regard for anything other than their next meal. In the book, these vampires are present, but there other vampires who are sick but still functional and "living."

The vampires attack Neville's house every night in the book while the movie, the vampires find him just once and attack his house at the end.

In the book, the woman is a living vampire spy who falls for Neville, but later leaves him when he discovers she's a vampire. In the movie, the woman is another human survivor with a son and the rescue Neville at one point.

The book dog is not Neville's, and Neville has to earn the dog's trust, which he does only after the dog is infected. The movie dog was Neville's daughter's, and it gets infected protecting Neville. Both, sadly, die.

In the movie, Neville discovers a cure. In the book, he doesn't.

The book ends with the living vampires creating a new civilization, starting with a campaign to wipe out the "dead" vampires. They hate and fear Neville, who hunted them, thinking they would become "dead" vampires. A squad of killers from the new society break into Neville's home and kidnap him. In the final scene, the vampire spy shows sympathy for Neville but is unable to secure his release and he is executed.

The movie ends with Neville sacrificing himself by blowing up his house and the vampiric invaders so his woman rescuer and her son can escape to the last encapement of people.

The biggest departure from the movie is the humaness Matheson brings out in both Neville and the vampires.

Matheson's legend is Neville. Like the stories of medieval times when humans feared a lurking vampire, the vampires feared Neville who would track them down when they slept and kill them. The sympathy Neville shows for the dead vampires at the end of the book is very powerful, too.

At first, I didn't like what appeared to be rip offs from vampire legend: They could only be killed with a stake through the heart. They didn't like garlic or mirrors. But Matheson brilliantly explains why these are true (and why others are false).

While the movie, like much of Hollywood, relied on suspense and heart stopping thrill scenes to capture its audience, the book does the same with great writing that displays a desperate human dealing with an impossible situation. Learning, growing, pursuing and eventually dying.

Don't miss I Am Legend.
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