Warner Brothers has released the new trailer for their upcoming vampire apocalypse film I Am Legend starring Will Smith, and while it’s certainly a good teaser for an upcoming sci-fi/horror blockbuster, there’s a lot in this preview for the I Am Legend classicist to hover a cynical eyebrow above their forehead about.
Specifically, the fact that they’ve turned the story into a 28 Days Later knock-off: a major island-locked metropolis experiences a rapidly spreading contagion that turns everyone who becomes infected into a murderous ghouls. In response, the government quarantines the island, while the lone survivor struggles to stay alive.
Don’t get me wrong: that’s a fine plot for a zombie movie. But I Am Legend is the novel that started the entire zombie genre as we know it (although ironically, it’s about vampires). George Romero was heavily influenced by Matheson’s novel, which is still as readable and compelling as the day it was written. I Am Legend established all the classic themes of the modern zombie film: not only the more obvious horror of being eaten alive by your friends and loved ones or becoming infected with a disease that robs you of your humanity, but the chasmophila horror of living in an emptying world closely juxtaposed with the claustrophobia of heavily-barricaded survival. Characters in zombie movies tend to metaphorically bury themselves even as the dead rise from their graves.
Matheson’s I Am Legend is the Bible of Zombie Movies: there is scarcely a single elaboration on the genre that Matheson didn’t originate 53 years ago. Which is why it’s such a hobnail boot to the gut that Hollywood can’t bring itself to make a faithful translation, but instead felt the need to substantially alter the film to cash-in on the success of the very movies I Am Legend inspired. Perhaps it will be a great film, but based on the preview, I think I prefer Matheson’s quiet vision of the despair and loneliness of the last man on earth to a Hollywood blockbuster featuring an Uzi-packing Will Smith* racing his roadster through the empty streets of New York.
I Am Legend Trailer [Apple.com]
* — Incidentally, I’m dreading the pretentious analysis of film theorists who will find Will Smith’s casting to be some sort of poignant commentary on the role of the modern black man in American society. There’s no doubt that African-Americans can have it tough, but let’s face it: being a minority in a predominantly white culture is not quite the same thing as being surrounded by millions of blood-sucking vampires. Although possible Jesse Jackson would disagree, I don’t really know.Read More