"I AM LEGEND"
It is impossible for SF fans of my generation to see this movie without automatically comparing it to its predecessor, the classic 1971 film "The Omega Man", starring the late, great Charlton Heston. To cut to the chase, while "I am Legend" it is a good movie it is inferior to the original.
This may surprise some. Clearly, in some respects the modern is superior—the CGI, the creepy vampires, the sweeping photography, the stunts, are all impressive, however, where the modern lags is in the story itself. IaL has a relatively simple plot. Neville lives in an unpeopled NY. We see him hunt, fish, and talk to his dog (the presence of which is an obvious survival necessity, missing in the original), and search for a cure to the plague that eliminated 95% of humanity. Well produced as it is this backstory is mostly filler, with good actions scenes, and the evocation of pathos for the lonely isolation of Neville.
It is in the final half hour of the movie that the plot progresses. Here we see the final conflict between the vamps and Neville. He meets a woman (with whom he does not have sex) and a boy, and, moments before his heroic death, he discovers his cure, which provides him with posthumous salvation. The movie ends with the vacine delivered to a small colony of human 'normals'. IaL is a good example of the sub- genre, post apocalyptic survival plot. Better executed than most, further boosted by Smith’s excellent acting, but no more than this. An entertaining, predictable, and forgettable B movie.
In contrast "The Omega Man" is a different tale. Here the story is complex, with multiple participants, each of which have their own goals and agenda, and with multiple sub-plots. It is even possible to feel sympathy for TOM vamps and their plight and their own struggle. The Heston Neville interacts far more with his fellows: the vamps, who capture him on two occasions; a handful of normal humans; and we even see interaction between the vamps themselves, who have their own vision of the future (and can speak). The supporting characters in the TOM are each individuals (and Neville does get to have sex with the girl).
In some ways the difference between the two movies is a reflection of different times. The ease of modern CGI is a temptation to substitute visuals for plot complexity, while the interaction and dialogue of TOM reflects the changing times of the 60s. Even the gun toting Heston can express doubts about American society, an issue not even raised in the post 911 IaL.
The portrayal of Neville also differs between the two movies. This is again partly due to different times, but also due to different actors. Heston is a man alone, who gives every appearance of reveling in his goal of eliminating the vampires, who wish to destroy what is left of his world. When Heston’s character meets his band of fellow human survivors we see him engage in a game of dominance. He is the man in charge, who goes so far as to outfit himself in a US military uniform for his final confrontation with the vampires. His death is a manly sacrifice to his own beliefs. Smith plays the character differently. He is burdened with the loss of his wife and daughter, the death of humanity, and what seems to be his ‘survivor guilt’. He is willingly waiting for the end to come and embraces it when it does.
I enjoyed both movies, however, I am firm in my conclusion. "The Omega Man", dated and corny as it is in parts, is the superior movie. It revels in social concerns and criticisms, raises the questions of right and wrong, and has a complex story to tell. Conversely, "I am Legend" is your basic vampire/zombie movie raised up a notch. For those of you in a younger generation than myself, with a fondness for a good movie and who have not yet seen TOM, go and rent a copy. You will not be disappointed.