----------Richard Matheson's brilliant novel I Am Legend is considered the first "modern" vampire story. However, the story also is credited as the first modern pandemic apocalypse story as well as strongly influencing the zombie genre (George Romero is credited as saying that Night of the Living Dead was heavily influenced by I Am Legend).
This ground-breaking novel is about the last survivor of a disease, Robert Neville, that wipes out humanity and replaces it with vampires. Those changed cannot survive in sunlight, sleep during the day, are allergic to garlic, and can be killed by fire, a stake through the heart, or decapitation. Neville spends his days hunting down those afflicted, getting resources for his survival, and repairing his fortress-like home for the night. Although he is just a man with no real scientific background, he attempts to figure out what caused the changes and find a cure. He copes with madness and loneliness during the three years he is alone and fighting for his life.
At night, the majority of the less intelligent vampires attack his house trying to get to him. He fends them off with bombs, guns, etc.
Neville runs into a woman who seems to be afflicted, but also has her facilities. He takes her in and he learns that some of the afflicted are changing; they are smart like human beings used to be, and can withstand some time in the sunlight, but they are also infected. This woman winds up betraying Neville and he is imprisoned. In his last few moments, he comes to realize that society has changed and, while he always thought of himself as the hero of his story, he comes to realize that he is the villain to this new society. As he stares out his prison windows, he sees the parents telling their children about the "monster in the day" and their "boogie man" who hunts them when they are sleeping and kills them without remorse.
It is a powerful story with a reveal that, especially when you consider the year it was published (1954), is so completely original and surprising that the story is considered one of the best ever in the horror genre.
*** --- ***
I Am Legend, the 2007 film starring Will Smith, got a lot of things right. It shows Neville facing madness and loneliness over the three years he is alone. It shows his struggles with survival. The afflicted are changed to be more zombie-like than vampire-like, but it is small change for the story and does have a foundation in the original novel. In the movie he doesn't seem to be going out of his way to hunt down those afflicted, but the movie focused more on his attempts to find a cure. To this end, they made Neville a scientist who knows something about the disease and was actively working with it prior to the infection becoming pandemic.
However, the movie failed in the most pivot points of the story. Neville is rescued by a woman (Anna) and a child (Ethan), neither of whom are infected at all. She tells Neville that she was told by God to go to a camp of survivors. The zombies follow them to his home, which is sort of like the betrayal in the novel, except here it is unintentional. The zombies attack en masse, get into the house, and Neville has to fight them off and save the other two.
He gets everyone downstairs, into his laboratory, and they discover that the last infected he worked on is returning to normal. Neville takes some of the infected's blood, gives it to Anna and Ethan, helps them escape, and then leaps at the infected in his house and kills them, and himself, with a grenade. Cut to Anna and Ethan making it to the survivors camp and handing over the infected's blood for research. A voice over tells the audience that it works.
So, in essence, the writer (Akiva Goldsmith) and the producers and director completely and totally missed the point of the original story. But Will Smith got to be a hero with his sacrifice-- yay. I actually wonder if Smith playing the role "forced" the filmmakers to make Neville into a heroic figure?
I have many posts about movies. Frequently I write about the remakes or book/comic book to film conversions I see and whether they are successful in translating the original material to the film. I expect some differences when taking something from page to screen, but those films that are often the most successful (Jaws, Spider-Man, Forrest Gump, The Godfather, LotRs, Harry Potter, et al) keep as much of the original as possible and they never lose sight of the main points of the source material. Those that are less successful (Elektra, Catwoman, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, Godzilla , et al) either are not faithful or miss the main point(s) of the source material entirely.
There is another set of movies that are somewhat successful. These are mostly faithful, but vary on some key points. Something like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe comes to mind for this-- the film was mostly faithful and did a good job bringing the world to life, but it left out, missed, or purposely avoided some of the parables that the source material that showed the four children learning powerful lessons for life while in Narnia (for example, in the book, after the final battle when Lucy uses her salve to heal Edmund, she tells Aslan to wait when he suggests there are others who need her help. He growls at her and she realizes that there are others beyond herself and her family who need her-- her lesson is learning to accept and be involved in the greater world).
I guess that I Am Legend will fall into this last category. The film is well-done, and half to two-thirds of it is very close to the source material (and very well-acted by Smith), but the end of it totally missed what made the original source material such a compelling and time-tested classic of the horror genre. By not showing Neville's realization that he is now the monster in a new society, he doesn't become the Legend of the title. With the way this movie ended, he becomes a hero, not a legend, and certainly not an ironic legend.
One other note: I think this movie would have done better business if they hadn't made all the zombies CGI. The CGI effects completely distracted from the film and looked cartoonish. This would have been much scarier and engaging had they just been real people. Of course, then it would have seemed and looked much more like 28 Days Later (which, in many ways, is closer to the intent of the book I Am Legend than many of the direct adaptations).
All-in-all, this is a watchable and fun movie. Will Smith does a very good job with carrying the movie without help for most of the film. However, the zombies are a bit of a disappointment and the ending, while exciting, missed the point of the original book.