Comparing I Am Legend to The Last Man on Earth



The Last Man on Earth
The Last Man on Earth, an Italian horror/science fiction film released in 1964, is based upon the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend and is the predecessor of I Am Legend, the movie. Vincent Price stars in this black and white classic as Doctor Robert Morgan. The movie was set in the not-too-distant future of 1968, when a plague of probable ecological origin devastates the earth and reduces its victims to weak and lethargic zombie/vampires who cannot stand sunlight, fear, mirrors, and garlic.
By day Morgan roams the city, scavenging for food and supplies, hoping against hope to find a survivor, and killing any vampires he finds sleeping by driving a stake through their hearts. As the sun sets, he must return home to hang fresh garlic and mirrors, play his records and broadcast on his ham radio in case anyone is out there.
Then the zombie/vampires come a-calling led by their leader, chanting in a monotonous and unterrifying drone, “Morgan, Morgan, come out Morgan.” The vampires are not at all scary and seem to pose no real threat except in sheer numbers. Were they considered scary in 1964? I would guess so, but they are no match for today’s bloodsuckers.
Morgan discovers a dog who appears healthy, but he is unable to catch it. Later, he finds the dog wounded and takes it home to care for it, but as he grows quickly attached to the animal, he tests the dog’s blood and discovers it is sick with plague, and he must kill it with a stake through the heart. He finally sees a live woman, chases her, and convinces her to come to his house where it is safe. However, he becomes suspicious of Ruth and confronts her with garlic, which makes her ill, but she explains she just has a weak stomach.
Later Morgan sees her injecting herself with a serum and discovers she is also a plague victim, but part of a group which can keep the vampire/zombie symptoms at bay with the inoculations. Morgan injects Ruth with his own blood, which cures her. She reveals her group is intent upon killing Morgan, who is a legend of fear among them because he has killed some of them thinking they were vampires. The group then appears and chases Morgan. Wounded by gunfire, he retreats into a church where despite Ruth’s pleas to let Morgan live, he is finally symbolically impaled on the altar by a spear thrown by one Ruth’s group.
Black & white/86 minutes
I Am Legend
I Am Legend, released in 2007, is the third feature film adaptation of Matheson’s novel following 1964’s The Last Man on Earth and 1971’s The Omega Man (which starred Charlton Heston). This time Will Smith takes on the role of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville, the name Matheson originally used for the hero of his books, and the setting is our not-too-distant 2012.
In this adaptation, a treatment to cure cancer using a re-engineered measles virus runs amuck. Once the new virus mutates and becomes airborne, it spreads worldwide and kills 5.4 billion people (90% of humanity). While 12 million people possess a natural immunity, the remaining 588 million are reduced to “Darkseekers.” Unlike their predecessors in The Last Man on Earth, “Darkseekers” exhibit superhuman speed, agility, strength, intelligence, and organization.
When the virus jumps, Neville sends wife and daughter away on helicopter before New York City is cut off from the rest of the world. It is unclear to me if the helicopter crashed or made it out as those scenes were shown in flashbacks which were sometimes cut off by his present situation. Like Doctor Morgan before him Neville also has a dog, this time his child’s dog, left to him when the helicopter took his family away. In the movie’s saddest scene, Sam is attacked by mutated dogs while trying to protect Neville and begins to turn, and Neville has to strangle his beloved last friend in this heart-wrenching scene.
Like Morgan, Neville spends his days scavenging for supplies and looking for survivors. Neville uses radio broadcasts instead of the ham radio and invites anyone who hears his broadcast to meet him at the pier. In his darkest hour after Sam’s death, he is rescued from the “Darkseekers” on the pier by a young immune woman (Anna) and a child (Ethan) who survived the outbreak aboard a Red Cross evacuation ship. Neville is injured, but one of the most false notes in the movies is their reaction to each other upon finding each other. Hers is acceptance and faith that God has a plan; his is anger at her faith. He believes in science, but not in God. But after that initial reaction, where was the “YAHOO! We are NOT ALONE” jumping up and down for joy scene? If I had been alone for months and found a nice human companion, there would have been some joy!
Neville is a virologist and has been testing various vaccines on “Darkseekers” he captures, and they all die, with the exception of the last one. This one appears to be dying, then starts to look human right as the plague victims attack Neville’s home. He realizes his last vaccine works, and he gives Anna a sample of the recovering woman’s blood before pushing her and Ethan into an old coal chute, telling her that she’s right and God has a plan. He then detonates a hand grenade as the “Darkseekers” break through.
I Am Legend is much more exciting than The Last Man on Earth due to the incredible advancements in filmmaking since 1964. While Morgan wrestles with despair, Neville’s internal struggle seems to be more with faith. He seems to think if he can protect himself and Sam long enough and discover a cure through science, a new vaccine can save the world, doubting the very existence of God. In the end, he finds his faith in God restored and gives up his own life to save Anna and Ethan, to give them a chance to find a rumored community of survivors in Vermont.
Released in 2007
PG – 13
Color/100 minutes

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