Look, I know it’s cool to talk about all the movies that were made from Philip K. Dick stories, like blade runner (both the original and Blade Runner 2049) and Total recallbut I think we need to talk more about Richard Matheson, because he also had a pretty good range of adaptations. What dreams can come, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Duelhell even the movie real steelwas based on one of his more obscure blurred area episodes, titled “Steel”. But if we’re going to talk about one Richard Matheson story that was most influential, then we have to talk about I’m a legendwhich has not one, but THREE film adaptations.
Now everyone knows the 2007 version of I’m a legend with Will Smith, but before that there was the 1971 film, The Omega Manwith Charlton Heston, and before thisthere was the 1964 movie, The last man on earth, with Vincent Price. Now, honestly, none of the movies even came close to being as good as the book, but some movies did at least come close to being. Like the book. But which film best brought Richard Matheson’s epic vampire story to the big screen? Well, you are about to find out.
Oh, and major spoilers for the book and upcoming movies.
Compared to the plot of I Am Legend
When a book is adapted for film, many fans want the plot of the film to be at least similar to that of the novel. So which of the three films is the closest?
The plot of the last man on earth
Not to be confused with the excellent comedy now canceled, The last man on earth, the last man on earth The movie is about a scientist who goes out in the daytime and kills vampires (although they creep around like zombies) and hides in his house at night while vampires knock on his windows. He befriends a dog (who dies), then befriends a woman, who is actually an advanced vampire. And then more advanced vampires kill our hero. The end.
Besides zombie-like vampires (which may have inspired Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead), the rest of the movie is actually pretty close to the book, even including the backstory with our hero’s daughter and her vampiric friend trying to kill him. It’s nowhere near as engrossing as the novel, but plot-wise it’s quite similar.
The Omega Man Plot
Charlton Heston plays a scientist who drives during the day and battles these hooded albino mutants called “The Family” at night. They want to kill him because he represents “science” and they hate science, because they think it turned them into the mutants they are today. Heston meets people along the way, fights mutants, and then dies with his arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross. The end. So true, The Omega Man borrows concepts from the book, but that’s about it.
I am the plot of a legend
An Army virologist (Will Smith) patrols New York alone while vampires, known as Dark Seekers, attempt to kill him. Smith gets a dog, who dies, and then the vampires evolve, and he blows himself and the head vampire up with a grenade. Well, that of course depends on which version of the ending you see. The end.
Winner for plot: While I’m a legend has the fast vampires of the book, The last man on earth is closer, plot-wise, so that wins in this category.
Compared to the protagonist of the legend I Am
A man named Robert Neville is the sole survivor of the book. So how is he in the movies?
The protagonist of Last Man on Earth
Robert Morgan (Morgan?) is a scientist in the movie, and he kills vampires, but Vincent Prince does NOT look like a vampire slayer. He is more scientist than soldier. Neville in the book is badass, killing vampires with stakes and crucifixes. Morgan uses garlic in the movie though, so it’s at least similar to the book.
The Omega Man Protagonist
This Robert Neville is also a scientist, but he’s someone who kicks ass and shoots his gun out the window. What else would you expect from Charlton Heston?
I am the protagonist of the legend
Robert Neville is a virologist in this one. He kicks ass, but he also looks pretty smart, so he’s a good middleman.
Winner for the protagonist: Well… None of them are really close to the practical killer of the novel, but if I had to choose one… then I would choose The Omega Manbut especially since he seems the most capable in combat.
Compared to vampires in I Am Legend
I’m a legend is a vampire story. So which movie gets the best score?
The Last Man on Earth Vampires
The last man on earth has “vampires”, but they move like zombies. It’s strange.
Omega Man’s Vampires
The Omega Man has albino mutants wearing capes. Certainly not vampires.
I am the vampires of legend
I’m a legend has vampires (or hemocytes), but they’re not like traditional vampires, and in the book, they’re traditional vampires. The cross (or the star of David) hurts them. So close, but not close enough.
Winner for Vampires: Honestly I think they all lose to the book, but I guess the Darkseekers in I’m a legend are the closest. I suppose.
Themes compared to I Am Legend
The themes of what isolation does to a person and the concept of never giving up hope are all themes in I’m a legend. So which film comes closest to these themes?
Last man on earth themes
This movie touches on the concept of how loneliness changes a person, but it’s not as effective as it is in the book.
The Omega Man Themes
The idea of feeling the pressures of isolation actually weighs heavily on this version of the story, and the actions of Heston’s character are directly tied to his desire not to be alone.
I am the themes of legend
I’m a legend try to do the same The Omega Man when it comes to showing the effects of loneliness. But it is not as effective as The Omega Manwhich is surprising, because I think Will Smith is a much better actor than Charlton Heston, so it must be the script’s fault.
Winner for themes: Surprisingly, The Omega Man best captures the book’s themes, even if it’s the silliest of the three films.
Compared to the end of I Am Legend
At the end of the book, our hero is now feared by vampires, but he is outnumbered. So he takes a pill to kill himself, and thinks, amusingly, how he himself has become a legend since, as the last man on earth, he has become almost mythical, hence the title.
The end of the last man on earth
The end of The last man on earth sees the evolved vampires (although they’re barely superpowered), coming in to kill Neville, uh, I mean Morgan, because they see him as a threat. He dies in a very unheroic way, but good. At least it’s somewhat similar to the book. Still, he definitely doesn’t seem legendary.
The End of the Omega Man
Neville fights the head of the family and he gets betrayed by someone he trusted. He is harpooned, then dies in a fountain. Um okay.
I am the end of a legend
Neville blasts himself and the head vampire with a grenade, but in doing so he has given the survivors a cure, which means there is hope for the future. Um… okay again?
Winner for The End: NONE of the movies have the incredible ending to the book, but, by default, I guess I have to give it to The last man on earthwho really sucks because that ending isn’t good, but that’s the closet of the novel.
The big winner: Surprisingly, I have a link between The last man on earth and The Omega Man (Also, how ironic is it that the one actually CALLED I’m a legend is the least like the book?). Always, The last man on earth actually has vampires (I guess), so I guess I consider that one the winner.
But what do you think? Have you seen all three films? For news on movies worth watching when you feel like the walking dead or upcoming horror movies, be sure to stop by here often.