The changes made to the ending are interesting. The movie introduces a third act character that is indeed in the book, but uses her in a completely different way. The movie simply has this random plague-immune character show up at pretty much just the right time and she helps Robert Neville save the day. The book has more of a Shakespearean betrayal kind of third act twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan’s pants shrink, and much like the dog, does a lot more with these people and situations and refuses to take any easy way out. A final example of taking the easy way out: they actually changed the ending to a less ambiguous and more definite ending from what they originally had, which was actually fairly close to the book in tone and intent. This alternate ending, easily found on the movie’s DVD, would have left audiences scratching their heads a bit and not just because of the moral ambiguity but also because it would have been set up kind of poorly. But hey, at least they tried.
It’s hard to explain without getting into the nitty gritty details of the movie and book, but I’ll try anyway: using the title of the book “I Am Legend” makes absolutely no sense in the movie, though the dear Lord knows they did their best to shoehorn the mothertrucker in there. The book ends with our hero realizing that not only is he the last human in a world of vampires, but the vampires viewed him as some sort of vampire killing boogeyman who comes out during the day and murders sleeping vampires. Neville learns that the world belongs to them and he has become the urban legend, the Last Human, the Vampire Slayer. He has become the legend that vampires once were. The body transference is complete! It’s a lot like Vice Versa or Freaky Friday. Wouldn’t be surprised if either of those movies are also loose adaptations of I Am Legend. Since the movie couldn’t really end this way because of the story changes made before it, some nonsense about Bob Marley’s Legend was inserted into the screenplay. Seriously. This must be the first film to be purposefully named after a best of compilation album. Maybe next Francis Lawrence will make an Echo The Dolphin movie, and work in something about how the Dolphin listens to nothing but Pink Floyd.
I Am Legend the film does have some good things going for it. The first hour is pretty well done (not surprisingly, this first hour sticks closest to the source material), and Will Smith is a fine actor. Plus he has the charisma and chops to be alone on screen for very long periods of time. That’s that whole it thing coming into play, and why Smith was actually a great choice for Neville. But there’s a moment in the movie where Robert Neville falls, hit his head and is knocked unconscious. And that’s where the movie itself falls and hits its head, and things just go from bad to worse. At the very least, hope can he had that in five to ten years, Hollywood will crank out their fourth version of this story, and maybe (just maybe), possibly, perhaps, they’ll get it right. But probably not.