If you consider yourself a horror fan and haven’t read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the book on which Warner’s post-apocalyptic thriller was based, stop what you’re doing immediately and pick up one of the most influential classics of the 20th century. And that’s not a phrase we use lightly.
Since hitting bookshelves in 1954, Matheson’s vampire hit has been adapted three times – namely The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man and I Am Legend – to varying degrees of success. But more than 10 years after its initial release, it is the latter movie that continues to be a point of contention among viewers.
Why, you ask? Because Francis Lawrence deviated from the source material to create a hopeful, fairly upbeat ending to an otherwise dark and scary adaptation. Such a weak reception led to the release of an alternate finale, in which Neville (Will Smith) begins to realize the intelligence of Ben Cortman and his flock of vampires. Or infected.
Indeed, when pressed about his own verdict of I Am Legend, Lawrence told Screen Rant that had he stuck to Richard Matheson’s novel classic, the ending would have fallen into place naturally – even if it came at the expense of mass-market appeal.
Looking back at it now, I think that we could have just done basically the story of the novella straight up and made the same amount of money in terms of ticket sales because people went I think for the last man on earth. They would have accepted the nihilistic ending, they would have accepted vampires instead of people with infections. We could have literally made the book, which I would have been much happier with, but you know when you’re spending that much money you’re panicking that you’re making this weird little kind of art film about a guy alone with a dog in New York and you’re trying to you know sort of create that spectacle.
Francis Lawrence then agreed that the aforementioned alternate cut is perhaps the better ending, as it presents our hero (Smith) as a much more ambiguous – and, by effect, interesting – character.
I agree it’s the better ending. I mean, it’s the more philosophical version of the end, but in terms of story math we’re doing everything you’re not supposed to do, right? The hero doesn’t find the cure, right? They drive off into the unknown and the creatures you’ve been saying are the bad ones the whole time you learn actually have humanity and aren’t the bad ones – the hero’s the bad one. And so you’ve basically turned everything on its head. We tested it twice and it got wildly rejected, wildly rejected, which is why we came out with the other one.
As for what the future holds, it seems I Am Legend has had its time in the sun, as Lawrence concluded the interview by cooling any and all talk of a potential reboot – let alone a sequel.