Recently it was announced that director Francis Lawrence was back at work on the Will Smith version of I AM LEGEND, doing a reshoot on the ending. According to CHUD, the Suits weren’t happy with the ending. They wanted something more positive.
Having read the shooting script by über-hack Akiva Goldsman, I was perplexed: How in the hell could they make the ending more positive than what was in the shooting script?
Take the most grating ending you can imagine, slam your head against the wall and rethink that ending, and you might come close to imagining how poorly (considering the entire point of the source material) it was tied up. Well, if you're imagining a gathering of multi-cultural children holding hands and singing “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” ala that Coke® commercial from the Seventies, you hit your head too hard... but it's close.
After besting the lead mutant in a fistfight (as the other mutants obligingly just stand around) the next day Neville and his new family load up a truck to rendezvous with another human outpost.
And the dog is cured. Actually, everyone is cured because just in time, friggin' Neville finally figured out the secret recipe.
CUE: Sunshine and rainbows.
I mean, Jeebus... how are they going to top that for an upbeat ending? Hand everyone a puppy as they leave the theater?
But then, in my outrageously humble fucking opinion, the entire script was buggered from the start. An early sign things were going amiss was the relocation of the setting from the outskirts of Los Angeles (at the time of the novel’s writing, a middling sized city) to New York.
Yeah, New York. Because if everyone in the world suddenly turned into vampires (or zombies… or zompires), you'd want to keep refuge in what is one of the biggest metropolitan areas of the world.
The script starts off like biting on tinfoil...
... it's three pages of an extended com- mercial on the sheer macho exuberance of driving a '08 Shelby GT500. Although to be charitable, it also seems to be a nod towards the opening of THE OMEGA MAN.
But that begs the question: why not just call the film that and go from there?
Then it's thirty pages of Neville and his dog puttering about the empty city before we get around to some (brief) mutant action. And, well... generally the rest of the script plays like Goldsman has a pretty high level of disdain for the material, or that he's solidly aiming for the 13-year-olds in the audience. He blithely disregards maintaining any sort of adherence to his own internal logic, and pretty much defangs any sense of dread as to Neville's plight... the piece is more focused on the loneliness of the last man on Earth rather than any threat that exists at night.
In the script, it comes across that despite three years of being the only human left in New York, the millions of mutants that prowl the night have never been able to pinpoint his brownstone refuge. Or even seem to be looking for him. Actually, aside from about three set pieces, there's really no mutant action at all, just Neville talking to himself, his dog, and... well, a kid.
Actually, I didn't have too much of a problem with adding a kid to the mix, although traditionally you're supposed to wait until the sequel to pull that stunt. And that as applied here, it just seems like an excuse for Goldsman to just retype two pages from the screenplay for SHREK. Verbatim. Maybe he just was dying to field test the dual dialogue option in his Final Draft screenwriting software.
My issue was how they introduced the kid character and his escort, with a plot device so anathema to the internal logic of the world that Will Smith's character would have been perfectly justified in stepping back, looking up and saying, "Ah Hell no, tell me you didn't just do that!"
There’s so much deus ex machina hovering around the script that it probably needed its own airport.
Also, I can see where producer/writer Goldsman might have some problems selling the subtext of the source material in this day and age; Matheson was basically saying that there is no help from God and that evolution rules.
Whoops... That might alienate half your multiplex crowd right there. Which also brings about casting issues: on the page, Anna is implied to be British... but as the film gets cast, she ends up being played by a Brazilian. I suppose the Suits figured that Middle America couldn't bear the sight of Smith macking on a white chick.
Cripes, under the premise, can't the filmmakers take the opportunity to cross that color line? I mean, Chuck Heston got it on with Rosalind Cash…
... but thirty-five years after THE OMEGA MAN, we still can’t handle something as innocuous as some black dude kissing a white chick on a wide screen? Does pandering to the delicate sensibilities of the crackers hold more sway than just getting with the 21st century?
But then, there is also some intentionally bizarre subtext action going on... the weirdest one was having the introduction to the mutants as having taken refuge in the United Nations building. Um. It's not inadvertent, because Goldsman throws in an aside about the traditional ineffectiveness of the UN.
I find it hard to imagine why the film is still called I AM LEGEND... any subtext attached to that title has been removed to the point that it'd be like maintaining the title of THE SCARLET LETTER after doing an adaptation that removes any mention of adultery. Yeah, the Demi Moore vehicle came close, but still didn’t go that far.
There comes a point where you have to wonder why they even bother to option the original book, when it really has nothing to do with the source material... other than making sure no one else attempts to mount a faithful production.
Although to be fair, there comes a point where the source material becomes irrelevant. This is not an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”. It’s a Will Smith vehicle that shares the same name. It’s almost like being a huge fan of James Herbert’s “The Fog” and getting upset that John Carpenter’s THE FOG had nothing to do with the story.
Um… sort of. Although now that I think about it, Herbert’s novel would still make for one hell of an apocalyptic movie.
But then, the screenplay for I AM LEGEND just doesn’t even hold up in its own small way. Although, most of the things that aggravated me about the script were the same kind of things that have people rolling their eyes at me and saying, "Sheesh... it's just a movie."
This script was written for those people.