While I tend not to read a whole bunch of fiction, there are some writers I enjoy. And while they may not be everyone's cup of tea, I enjoy them still. One is -- no snide comments please -- Colleen McCullough. Yes, that McCullough of The Thorn Birds fame.
Just reading the synopsis now makes me wonder what it was a found so fascinating about that book. But in thinking back to it, one aspect truly stands out. Her attention to detail and ability to set a scene with such emotion as to make you feel you are actually there.
The Thorn Birds was also about Australia. And anyone who knows me knows I love the island continent. I've read many of McCullough's other books, some are better than others, and some, while arguably sappy romance novels, even appeal to me in some odd way. Anyone ever read Tim? Yeah, didn't think so. And I wouldn't suggest you do so either. That is unless you have a sweet tooth and enjoy terribly convoluted sappy romance stories that border on being inappropriate.
Then again, if you don't want to read the book, you can watch the equally troubled film version starring a very young (accent and all) Mel Gibson along with the always wonderful Piper Laurie. But I'm getting away from my intent here.
Another author I enjoy is Richard Matheson. When I first read Bid Time Return, a wonderful romance that took place at, virtually in my own back yard, the Hotel Del Coronado, I had no idea that this was the same Matheson who had penned episodes of some of my favorite television series' and movies. Bid Time Return was also made into a movie, with location changed, along with the title; Somewhere In Time wasn't a huge box office success. However it generated so much money in video rental and sales that it proved to be a profitable project after all. And could be regarded as the film that set Hollywood on notice about the potential for Home Video sell through.
In addition to Bid Time Return, Matheson also penned one of my all time favorites stories turned into movie when I was a kid; The Shrinking Man, of course the movie title added "incredible" as if "shrinking man" wasn't incredible enough. Other projects included scripts for Twilight Zone, Kolchak:The Night Stalker and many others.
Including, of course; I Am Legend.
I Am Legend has been adapted into a couple of different filmed versions. The most memorable for me was 1971s The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston and the late Rosalind Cash. In fact, it is this movie that the new theatrical version of the Matheson story is based. So I Am Legend is more a remaking of The Omega Man than of the original source material. And that's okay. I mean, I enjoyed the 1971 version enough that it irks me a little that anyone would want to remake it, but I also loved the story enough that a part of me thought it great that a younger generation will get to experience the story as I had so many years ago.
Well, kind of.
I should point out that I think Will Smith does a terrific job here. I especially like him in the brief flashback scenes of him as father, husband, and high ranking military scientist. He seems more human there than in the present day story. Granted it could be argued he's been alone so long that a character change was inevitable. But a super-badass force to be reckoned with? Nah, I don't think so.
Where The Omega Man was troubling on a variety of societal levels, I Am Legend is almost more so, but only in its basic story of what went wrong.
Warning, major spoilers from here on.
Emma Thompson (in a very brief, but very effective role) plays a doctor who has cured cancer. Her explanation is simple, straightforward, and kudos to the director for giving this brief scene to such a talented actor. Her cautious, and quietly exuberant answers to a reporters questions about her new discovery show us all how wonderful a dream that would be. When asked how many human trails have taken place she answers something like 10,009. When the reporter asks how many of them are now cancer free, the proud doctor answers 10,009. The resonance of that scene cannot be underscored. It is a powerful moment.
But what starts out as a hard science fiction movie turns into a science fantasy movie that seems more intent on delivering special effects and jump-out-and-scare-you moments than genuine suspense. I mean they have a great premise here, but the story gets lost in scenes that have no follow through. Like the rat in Will Smith's laboratory who reacts positively to a new serum he has concocted, but we never see again, or the Alpha Male mutant who goes to great lengths to trap Smith, but then disappears.
One of the great things about the book, and the 1971 movie was that these mutants were people. They talked, they thought, they plotted. In our 2007 version they just scream and fight and throw themselves about. They scale walls like Spider-Man, open their mouths wide enough for a small car to enter and generally look fake. And that's too bad, especially for Dash Mihok (Thin Red Line, Day After Tomorrow) who as Alpha Male is lost in CGI.
If all this weren't bad enough, the introduction of two new characters well into the story is nothing short of a convoluted attempt to create a happy ending. Which it does. But for me, didn't work. It's been many years since I saw The Omega Man, and I don't know if it will still hold up.
But I know one thing; the Matheson story is timeless. This film really isn't.