Thursday, 25 September 2008

Day 25 - DO NOT WANT

Admittedly some of my blog posts over the course of the month have been a little light on content, but today was the first day when I've woke up and really struggled to think about what I might write. Not to worry, I thought, something's bound to strike me at some point over the morning.

Well, it did. It struck me and knocked me down.

Now, before we go any further (and because I hate spoilers myself) let it be known that I am going to be talking about the book I Am Legend and the recent film starring Will Smith. I might even find myself talking about The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price or The Omega Man. Let's see what happens.

Once again, SPOILERS!!!

Empire posted today about plans to make a prequel to I Am Legend. The title of the article was enough to make me sigh deeply, and then look heavenward and ask God, "Why? Why??? WHY?!?!?!"

I've wrestled with my thoughts on I Am Legend since I saw it for my birthday in January. It's one of my favourite books ever, a book that I read at least once a year and have done so since I was 17. It's amazing, it's just fantastic. The protagonist isn't a superman or exceptional in any way other than the fact that he is the last man alive in a world of vampires. He is an ordinary man surviving in extraordinary times. That he then goes on, and motivates himself to try and understand why the world has turned out the way it has gives us a brilliant story, one of the best in science-fiction and certainly the best vampire story (as many have claimed) since Dracula.

Why is it then that every film adaptation of it has somehow got it wrong? Strangely, the first, The Last Man on Earth, gets it most right, keeping 90% of the story and putting Vincent Price in the title role - only the slightly ropey direction and lifeless supporting cast (even for vampires) undermines it. One has a sneaking suspicion watching it now that the same script made with a bigger budget would be really interesting to watch.

The Omega Man just made me laugh for the most part: jettison the vampires, throw in some crazy Luddites and a group of young and groovy kids who've somehow survived while Charlton Heston lives it up in an apartment fortress... Where would I begin? Where would I stop?!

And then there's I Am Legend... I was quite hopeful about this. The trailers promised quite a lot, and one can't deny that there is an unsettling beauty in all post-apocalyptic films of a similar bent (28 Days Later springs to mind) where one sees the cities that we all know, not in ruins, just unpopulated, or overgrown. You can't really fault Will Smith either, who really gives it his all. There are two big failures in the film: the first is the script, which throws out the vampires again in favour of people "infected" and all but rejects the notion of these different humans forming their own societal structures (there are faint traces of it, but they're totally unexplored, and lead to the audience having to make some pretty big leaps to jump the plot holes); the second is the use of CGI to create superhuman monsters which nearly all look the same and hardly ever look convincing.

I appreciate the different narrative structures in novels and films, and that some times in adapting works of fiction from one medium to another (or even one time setting to another) changes must be made. But why do we have to change the plot so much? The ending of the film just didn't fit with the book at all, and the "legend" was the final insult, taking away all the dark poetry of the final page of the book and turning it into something mealy-mouthed and wishy-washy.

(I have to confess that I didn't say this at the time when I saw it; I went out for my birthday with a friend who I was hoping to form a relationship with. Afterwards, over dinner, I was a bit non-committal about the film - I praised the look of it a lot I think - and tried to impress on her that the book was much, much better)

And now, now a prequel is in the works? Just... Why??? Is the box office the only thing that matters any more? Wait, am I kidding myself, was there anything other than the box office that ever mattered? What would a prequel add to the story?

We know how the world got to the way it is: the film showed us that in flashbacks. We know that Robert Neville will survive, because he's in I Am Legend. We know what happens to his family. So what does that leave us with? An action film of set-pieces, showing the last days as the population of New York are whittled down and Robert Neville plays scientist in his basement?

Sigh. Rant over. Hollywood, if you're listening, when it comes to adapting works of fiction in to films think about the following: you're adapting something because you think there is a fan base for it. You're adapting it because you think that there is something good about it (however we want to define "good"). Novels are not films, I accept that, but keep this in mind: change of pace, not change of plot.


Dave said...

Yeah, wasn't too keen on the huge plot holes of I am Legend either. Not read the book, but heard it's alot better. Have u seen both endings? The original was meant to be closer to the book, but they messed it up. As u said, they only slightly hint at the infected having any kind of society, then at the end they suddenly become nice enough to just take the infected girl and let Will and co live. Will just looks at the wall of photos and realises he's a killer.

zero_zero_one said...

@dave: I saw the original ending, and while it was slightly better it still didn't really have the impact that it should have. Robert Neville's legend is as the last human, a boogeyman hunting the new people...