After several lacklustre attempts at adapting Richard Matheson’s vampire tale, we have suggestions for doing the reboot right.
Dear Warner Bros,
You have just announced plans to create a cinematic reboot of I Am Legend. You must have realised you haven’t sucked every last drop of blood you can from Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, because this time you want to change things up by telling a completely different story to the one you bastardised seven years ago. Quite frankly, it is an outrage.
The reason the Will Smith version didn’t work is because you took out everything that made the original story so compelling
Thankfully, your original (and terrible) reboot idea to make a prequel was nixed, because instead you’re interested in a spec script written by Gary Graham, an Apple Store employee of all people. So, basically, it is a sci-fi reworking of the John Wayne classic The Searchers, except set within the I Am Legend universe. You must have decided to go in this direction because the version you put on screen in 2007 was not quite to your liking. The thing is, the reason the Will Smith version didn’t work is because you took out almost everything that made the original story so compelling in the first place. The following is what you will need to do to make I Am Legend a legendary piece of horror cinema.
Firsly, the source novel was set in the 1950s, so set the film in the same period. By couching the film in the gritty post-apocalyptic cinema of the 50s, the film will have an air of grim desperation with which this sub-genre positively excels. There is already a market growing for period-set genre films, with Jim Mickle’s Cold in July being a perfect example of a film adaptation that kept the period of the novel and was all the better for it.
In fact, Jim Mickle would be a perfect choice for director, as he has all the talent and genre know-how to bring a proper adaptation to the screen. Although, he has already swum in similar waters with his film Stake Land, so instead perhaps Jeremy Saulnier could take a solid crack at it. Matheson’s grisly and psychologically murky story of one man alone against a world of vampires is something that the director of the excellent Blue Ruin could really sink his teeth into.
With the current oversaturation of vampire stories re-treading the same ground, Matheson’s take on the mythos is more than welcome
You should avoid hiring a big star to play the haunted protagonist, Robert Neville. A good, solid character actor can portray strength but also the mental unravelling that occurs over the course of the story. Neville is an absolutely flawed character and his dark side should not be shied away from. This is a man who is fast becoming a monster himself; he is not an action hero. An initially unassuming actor with an inner intensity would suit the role well. Scoot McNairy or Chiwetel Ejiofor would be perfect for embodying this character of an everyman pushed to the edge by extraordinary circumstances.
Also, and I really shouldn’t have to point this out, the antagonists of the story should be vampires. Not irradiated mutants like in Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man, or those grey, balding I-don’t-know-whats in the 2007 Will Smith version. The story is about a plague that turns all of humanity into vampires and Neville, the only one immune, is left alone to go insane until he decides to finally get proactive and investigate scientifically the nature of vampirism. With the current oversaturation of vampire stories that re-tread the same ground over and over, this fresher take on the mythos is more than welcome.
Finally, and probably most importantly of all, I Am Legend must, absolutely must, keep its original ending. If not, you may as well just give up now. Not to spoil anything (it is a 60-year-old novel after all), but at the book’s climax, Neville learns that society has actually begun again, only now with a new vampiric status quo. That makes Neville the aberration. It means he has been the villain of the story all along, and with his death he will become the legendary monster that children will learn to fear in horror stories.
A word of advice, Warner Bros: produce that sci-fi remake of The Searchers – it sounds a great idea – but leave I Am Legend out of it
A word of advice to you, Warner Bros: produce that sci-fi remake of The Searchers – it sounds like a great idea – but leave I Am Legend out of it. The 1964 Vincent Price-starring adaptation of I Am Legend, The Last Man on Earth, was the only time this terrific story was adapted at all faithfully, but it is screaming for a remake. Capitalise on audience taste for horror cinema and bring to the screen a down-and-dirty genre flick that has a more exciting take on the vampire myth. Don’t shy away from the darker aspects of the story either; Neville’s descent is what makes him so achingly and dangerously human. Please, Warner Bros – if you’re going to do I Am Legend once again, do it right for once.
Read more: Is epic horror an unattainable movie genre?
Featured image: Warner Bros
Inset images: IFC Films; 20th Century Fox