In Richard E. Matheson’s original 1954 novel, Robert Neville, the main character, is a blonde-haired boozing chain-smoker who listens to a lot of Beethoven and Brahms.

In the 2007 movie version Will Smith (!) plays Neville. He is portrayed as an overoptimistic health nut who exercises every day, listening to . . . a lot of Bob Marley! (How times have changed . . .)

Anyway, Matheson’s novel differs substantially from the Will Smith enough to warrant one reading the novel even though you have seen the movie. In the book Neville has to cope with vampires, Will Smith has to compete with Gollum-like sunlight averse zombies.

In fact the two differ so much that one wonders why Warners even bothered acquiring the rights to Matheson’s novel. If they had just changed the main character’s name, then only a few sci-fi geeks would have remarked on the passing similarity between Matheson’s source novel and Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay.

This of course isn’t the first time that Goldsman got to “adapt” (read: butcher) what is considered to be a science fiction classic. Goldsman wrote the screenplay for Will Smith’s previous sci-fi outing, namely I, Robot based on the Isaac Asimov collection of short stories of the same name. Why they bothered keeping Asimov’s title is also a mystery. Asimov originally wrote the short stories back in 1950 because he was tired with all the clichéd robots rising up to kill their human masters stories being churned out by sci-fi writers of that era. So what did Goldsman do? Churn out a robot uprising tale . . .

The same goes for I Am Legend, which has more in common with the previous “adaptation” of Matheson’s novel, namely the 1971 The Omega Man, which starred a bombastic Charlton Heston. If you want a movie that is closer to Matheson’s novel, then check out the 1964 Vincent Price flick, The Last Man on Earth. Goldsman even got the meaning of the book’s title wrong it has a more Kevin Costner / The Postman vibe to it in the movie than one would like.

It is a brisk read, clocking in at a mere 160 pages (the American paperback throws in some extra short stories by the author to pad the thickness of the book). Surprisingly it touches on some aspects that the several movie adaptations made in more permissive times never really touched upon, namely sex. (Being the only man alive, Neville is as horny as hell. It doesn’t help that the female vampires taunt him by flashing their privates at him!)

Hard sci-fi fans would find the most to appreciate as Neville tries to find a scientific explanation for vampirism in the book. It is tautly written and a decent read recommended for genre buffs.


I Am Legend (Paperback)
by Richard Matheson

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Tor Books; Reissue edition (October 30, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0765318741
ISBN-13: 978-0765318749




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