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I Am Legend: Comparative Analysis Of The Book And The Movie

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When someone hears the title “I Am Legend” they usually think of the movie by Francis Lawrence and Will Smith’s portrayal of Robert Neville. However, people tend to forget about the original book by Richard Matheson, and how it blended science fiction with horror to create a classic novel. The book and the movie have similarities and differences, however, the book is far superior to the movie because the characters felt more real, the plot was more interesting, and the movie didn’t capture the theme of the book correctly.

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The characters in a novel or movie are very important and help further the plot. The novel had five large characters; Robert Neville, Virginia, Kathy, Ben Cortman, and Ruth. Robert Neville is a scientist and the last human alive. Virginia and Kathy were Robert Neville’s former wife and daughter, who succumbed to the virus. Ben Cortman was a friendly neighbour of Neville’s. After he gets infected by the virus, he becomes Neville’s biggest enemy. Ruth is a seemingly un-infected woman who befriends Neville. The movie, however, only had three important characters; Robert Neville, Anna Montez, and Ethan. In the movie, Robert Neville was a U.S army virologist. He is very lonely and his only “friends” are a dog and mannequins positioned throughout the city. Anna Montez is an immune woman who worked on a Red Cross evacuation ship near Sao Paulo until the navy fell apart and the ship was overrun by “Darkseekers”. Ethan is a young boy from Maryland, who spent time with Anna on the ship in Sao Paulo. In the end, after reading the novel and watching the film, the novel had superior characters compared to the film. The characters in the novel were more realistic, interesting, and their emotions felt more powerful and real. However, many of the characters in the movie felt stiff, forced, and were portrayed poorly.

The plot is the most important part of a novel or film. The plot is the sequence of events that create the story. In the novel, Robert Neville is the sole survivor of a pandemic that has killed the majority of the human race and turned the remainder into vampires. The novel details the life of Robert Neville months, and eventually years after the outbreak as Neville attempts to research the disease. During the day, Robert searches for food and weapons against the vampires, and he spends all night barricading himself in his house using garlic, stakes, and mirrors as protection. Neville’s past is slowly revealed through flashbacks. We learn the disease claimed his daughter, whose body the government forced him to burn, as well as his wife, whose body he secretly buried but then had to kill after she rose from the dead as a vampire. We see Neville’s grief when he thinks “How long did it take for a past to die?” (Matheson 137). Neville decides to learn as much as he can about vampires in an attempt to possibly cure the virus. One day, a stray dog finds its way to Neville’s house. Neville is filled with joy and attempts to befriend the dog by feeding it and bringing it into his home. Despite his efforts, the dog dies a week later. Neville, saddened and hopeless, returns to learning more about vampires. Neville learns many more efficient ways of killing vampires. With this new knowledge, Neville is killing a lot more vampires. However, when testing on bodies of vampires, Neville yields inconsistent results, leading him to believe there are two different types of vampires: those conscious and living with the infection, and those who have died but been reanimated due to the bacteria. Years later, Neville sees a woman in broad daylight named Ruth. At first, Neville is suspicious of her, however, they gain each other’s trust over time. Neville takes a blood sample from her to see if she is immune or infected, and right as he views the results, Ruth knocks him unconscious. Neville wakes to a note of Ruth revealing that she was a vampire sent to spy on him. The note further suggests that only the undead vampires are violent but not those who were alive at the time of infection and who still survive due to mutations in their DNA. The infected have slowly overcome their disease and are attempting to build a new society. They have developed a medication that diminishes the worst of their symptoms. Ruth warns Neville to leave the city or her people will come and capture him. Neville doesn’t listen and he is kidnapped by the infected and placed in a prison. Ruth visits him and hands him suicide pills, due to the fact she doesn’t want him to be killed painfully. Neville goes to his prison window and sees the infected staring back at him with the same hatred and fear that he once felt for them; he realizes that he, a remnant of old humanity, is now a legend to the new race born of the infected. He recognizes that their desire to kill him after he has killed so many of their loved ones. As the pills take effect, he is amused by the thought that he will become their new superstition and legend, just as vampires once were to humans. The plot of the film is very similar to the novel. In the movie, vampires were created by the Krippin Virus or KV, a genetically modified version of the measles virus, originally intended to cure cancer. KV at first showed no side-effects, however over time the virus started mutating and started giving its hosts rabies-like symptoms. The virus broke out in December 2009 despite the military’s best efforts to contain it. The virus killed 5.4 billion people. Out of the 600 million left alive, only 12 million were naturally immune and the other 588 million turned into vampires, nicknamed “Darkseekers” due to their aversion to sunlight. However, many of the immune were killed by the Darkseekers. Neville, portrayed by Will Smith, lives in New York City with his dog, Samantha (Sam). Will Smith barricades himself in his home every night and without the knowledge of the Darkesskers. He spends most of his day capturing and experimenting on Darkseekers to find a cure, always failing. One day, Neville is patrolling the city with Sam and he is caught in a trap made by the Darkseekers and is knocked out. When he wakes up, the sun is going down and attempts to escape the trap before the Darkseekers come to find him. He escapes, but he is forced to fight rabid dogs infected by the virus. He and Sam were able to kill the dogs but Sam was bitten by one of the dogs and was infected by the virus. Neville takes her home and attempts to cure her, however, he fails and is forced to kill her. Neville, saddened and bent on revenge, suicidally attacks a group of Darkseekers during the night. Right before he is about to die, he is saved by a pair of immune humans, Anna and a young boy named Ethan. Anna tells Neville they are travelling to a survivors camp in Vermont, but Neville refuses to believe this camp exists. The next night, a group of Darkseekers who followed Anna home attacks them. They all retreat to a lab beneath his home, where Neville discovers he has created the cure in his latest experiment on a Darkseeker. Neville helps Anna and Ethan escape with the cure and he sacrifices himself to keep them safe. Anna and Ethan successfully arrive at the survivor’s camp. The novel’s plot was far superior to the plot of the movie. The novel had a far more interesting plot and it had a sense of mystery and excitement that the movie just simply lacked. The movie was paced way too quickly and gave away too many surprises too quickly.

The book, however, was timed perfectly, constantly leaving you on the edge of your seat.

Finally, the theme of a story is a dominant thought, a unifying vision. It is the central idea behind a story. The themes of the novel were loneliness, grief, and alienation. The novel slowly revealed the grief and loneliness felt by Neville. Throughout the story, we would learn about him losing his wife and daughter to the disease, then the grief he felt as he was forced to kill his wife as she came back from the dead to drink his blood.

“‘She came back, you see,’ he said. ‘I buried her, but one night she came back. She looked like — like you did. An outline, a shadow. Dead. But she came back. I tried to keep her with me. I tried, but she wasn’t the same anymore — you see. All she wanted was —’ He forced down the sob in his throat. ‘My own wife,’ he said in a trembling voice, ‘coming back to drink my blood!’….

‘I put her away again,’ he said. ‘I had to do the same thing to her I’d done to the others. My own wife.’ There was a clicking in his throat. ‘A stake,’ he said in a terrible voice. ‘I had to put a stake in her. It was the only thing I knew to do. I —’” (Matheson 138)

The way that Neville relives the death of his wife and his child day after day suggests trauma. While most people overcome their trauma by interacting with other people, Neville has no one to talk to. He’s all alone with his depression. As a result, he spends his time drinking heavily and playing loud music, in a vain effort to escape his own grief. As the only human being left, Neville is very lonely, so he tries to cure this by making himself busy. He has a routine of driving around Los Angeles to kill vampires, researching the science of vampirism, fortifying his house, and more. Doing all this keeps his mind off how lonely he is. However, when the opportunity comes to connect with an outsider, he goes out of his way to befriend them. First, he tries to befriend the dog, then a woman named Ruth, who he believes to be human but is a vampire. In both cases, Neville risks his own safety to bond with an outsider. His hunger for someone to talk to easily outweighs the possibility that his new acquaintance will hurt him. In both cases, Neville fails to create an emotional connection with his new acquaintance. The dog succumbs to the disease, and Ruth betrays Neville to her fellow vampires. Ruth’s betrayal steers Neville toward a frightening conclusion. As the last human being left on Earth, Neville will never truly escape his own loneliness and grief. However, the most important theme in the novel is alienation. It is difficult to imagine someone who has been who is more alienated than Robert Neville. He was a normal American man until the world changed around him. Simply by remaining who he is, he became the only remnant of humanity left alive after the world has mutated and moved on. At the end of the novel, he is experiencing an alienation that is both evolutionary and transcendental. Simply by being himself, he evolves from an average human to a myth. He transcends from being a forgettable man to being an unforgettable legend. The themes of the film were the same as the novel, however they did not focus on alienation. Neville’s grief was shown through a series of flashbacks. We learn that his wife and daughter died during an accident while the military were evacuating New York City. His loneliness is shown when he is forced to kill his dog and only friend, Sam. As a way to cope with his grief and loneliness, he “talks” with mannequins he has placed throughout the city. The novel slowly revealed his loneliness and grief over the course of the story, this kept you interested without revealing too many secrets. However, the movie was too fast and didn’t give us enough time to process Neville’s emotions. Also, the scenes in the novel were simply a lot more powerful and emotional. Granted, the movie did an admirable job portraying Neville’s loneliness by using Sam and his social interactions with the mannequins. However, the movie steered away from the last and most important theme, alienation. This theme was the most powerful one as it made the readers think of how one man, became hated for staying the same, and how he became a legend, for being human.

While the movie by Francis Lawrence was good, the original book by Richard Matheson was better. The book is far superior to the movie because the characters felt more real, the plot was more interesting, and the movie was unable to capture the original theme of the book properly. 

10 Jun 2021

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