Looking ahead to I Am Legend

The big sci-fi film of the season is nearly upon us. Martin ponders Will Smith's upcoming I Am Legend...

Will Smith in I Am Legend

The appealing if juvenile machismo of the post-apocalyptic mise-en-scene is about to bring to the UK the fourth (official) screen-version of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, I Am Legend, which chronicles the struggle of the last man on a germ-warfare plagued earth, now peopled by vampiric mutants who are out for his blood.

Will Smith steps into the lonely role formerly occupied by Vincent Price in The Last Man On Earth (1964) and Charlton Heston in The Omega Man (1971). There was also a little-known Spanish version entitled – a direct translation – Soy Leyenda, in 1967.

Writer Matheson has an inviolable reputation in the field of literary science-fiction, horror and fantasy; sharing a morbid but poetic sensibility with contemporary Ray Bradbury, he is the imagination behind the killer truck in Spielberg’s seminal Duel, as well as one of the forces that succeeded in transliterating Poe for the screen in Roger Corman’s ‘Poe cycle’ in the early 1960s. A second version of his 1956 novel The Incredible Shrinking Man, is due in cinemas in Summer 2008, whereas the 1957 adaptation has long been considered a science-fiction classic.

The motivating force behind the 2007 remake is most likely the current popularity of zombie movies, but works considered seminal in that genre owe a great deal to Matheson’s book, which in turn expands upon themes originally dealt with by H.G. Wells and other writers in the Victorian science-fiction vanguard.

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In Legend –and The Omega Man – a scientist scavenges the ravaged and echoing streets of an eviscerated New York city for supplies and fellow survivors by day, and by night holds siege against hordes of monstrous mutants who regard him as an ‘unholy’ abomination against their new nature.

Unusually, Legend does not capitalise on the title of the popular Heston film, one of three almost-successive dystopic science-fiction works that Chuck produced in the late sixties/early seventies. But the Legend screenwriting credit is shared with Omega Man screenwriters John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington, so some genealogy with previous adaptations can be presumed.

Presumably Will Smith has signed his usual product placement deal in Legend, and we can expect him to be slaking his post-apocalyptic thirst with the sugary beverage of the highest bidder (hey, those cans are hermetically sealed – global holocausts not a problem and the more-numerous nasties prefer blood) – in any case Legend is unlikely to have the aspect of the kind of low-budget production which normally attracts impoverished film-makers; after all, you only need a month of early-Sunday shoots and you’ve practically emptied a city on the cheap.

The impressive thing will be if we get to see Smith’s character kicking the tin cans around wasted New York at two in the afternoon – and, if it will really look like New York all the way through the film (Escape From New York was mostly shot in Louisiana).

Matheson’s and Legend’s legacy precede this latest screen incarnation: Mad Max, 28 Days/Weeks Later, The Quiet Earth, A Boy And His Dog, Damnation Alley, The Stand, Resident Evil, the vibe in Escape From New York, loads of zombie films…and it remains to be seen whether the originality of such an influential work can possibly shine through decades of imitation.

The official website can be found here. It’s released in the UK in 21st December.

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