Thursday, March 06, 2008

"I Am Legend"s Better Ending

A lot has been said about the theatrical success of Will Smith's Holidays blockbuster "I am Legend", namely that the ending came far too abruptly and that it completely veers away from the spirit of the original material. And I say Will Smith's because even though it wasn't the usual "Aww HHell No" Big Willie-style star vehicle, it wasn't even 15% of Richard Matheson's groundbreaking novel of the same name.

The thing is, if you want a $100M+ movie to succeed, you have to make it highly commercial; Matheson's novel is far from that. It's gritty, the hero is unlikeable, and the ending is a downer shrouded into a grave lesson for all of humanity: we're much too arrogant of our place in this world for its or even our own good. it's understandable, from a business point of view, that studio execs requested some "changes".

The climax of the novel has hero Robert Nevile, a construction worker who mysteriously survived a modifying plague, discovering that some of the "new Humans" have formed their own society; and he's been killing them off on the basis that they are monsters out of mythology who's place is not in this world, when in actuality he's the monster who's place is in legends and children's bedtime spook stories. He's a predator who needs the be dealt with by society - the new society. When he understands it, he lets himself be caught and judged, and accepts that execution is the only way out of his nightmare.

The movie has COLONEL Robert Nevile, MD (!!) fighting to find a cure to the plague and restore society as it was. When he finds a pair of other survivors, he sacrifices his own life in a blaze of glory so that they can escape with the cure and join a colony of survivors to try and repel the plague themselves. WOW did THEY miss the point.

HOWEVER, just this week, the original ending, IE the one that was scrapped by the studio in favor of the "hero" one in time for theatrical release, found its way (like everything these days) on YouTube. It's already become a source of tremendous debate among the geek community, some saying it sucks (I like that very vacant and close minded argument) while others praise it to high genius.

I usually try to look at both sides of any argument, and find the common ground to bring peace on earth and please everyone. this once, though, I have to take a stand. The alternate ending is MUCH BETTER! First, because it keeps in line with the books: Nevile realizes he's been hunting the meta-humans like they were beasts outside their cages when in reality they are the new dominating race, able to think, feel and gather in a somewhat-coherent society. Second, because Neville is anything but a hero - he shouldn't die like one, in a blaze of glory or some other honorable death. Third, because the end is left ambiguous, like everything was back when the novel was written; IS there a colony of human survivors? Will they leave the meta-humans alone? Will they survive their journey? Are they the very last humans or not, and do they understand their new place in the world?

I do praise this new ending to high genius. Plus, it makes much more sense toward the rest of the movie: why the meta-humans followed him home, why he was set up in a trap, etc. It redeems a movie that I initially condemned as one more inaccurate and downright lame version of a great novel, to the point where I wish to high heaves that the studio will release a director's cut with that original ending, the same way Paramount allowed Brian Helgeland to materialize his vision of "Payback".

If only for my own enjoyment, here's the ending in question, in all its YouTube glory.

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