The Last Man on Earth (1964) Versus The Omega Man (1971) Versus I Am Legend (2007)
This movie review will combine commentary about three films: the original production, as well as two remakes. I like to pretend I’m watching a race and each film is trying to make it to the finish line for the championship of my favorite choice.
This movie review will be more like a race to the finish line of determining the best version of the classic novel by Richard Matheson. Each film needs to be respected for the ideas that were attempted to be conveyed. Comparisons, contrasts, strengths and weaknesses are all considered when examining the independent features of each screenplay. There will be some unexpected surprises along the way, so spoiler alerts are just around the corner, as a warning to all.
The First Leg
The openings of the movies leave much to be desired, but that leaves room for one particular film to excel: both old films fail to establish a sense of emptiness and real abandonment with regards to the cities being void of human life. However, Will Smith’s “I Am Legend” has a graceful, convincing start with grass growing around the sidewalks, deer and lions roaming free, and an eerily empty Times Square in New York City. A brief television news clip also clarifies the origins of the virus causing the impending disaster. To top that all off, the audience is also introduced to Dr. Neville’s perfect precision regarding daily chores, the friendship with his dog, and a wonderfully-timed cue to display the title of the movie. The other two films sort of ease into the story, but make up for lack of ideal scenery later on in the plot. The scores all fit each movie like a glove, but the latest version is subtle and a bit more powerful, like a lingering memory. I dig the funky seventies’ vibe of Charlton Heston’s version, and saw an eight-track for the first time in my life (as I watched this version with my dad, he educated me on the days before the CD, when record players were not rare). For Vincent Price’s film, the weird organ music gave me that B-movie impression, but I reminded myself that this was the best of technology available in that given timeframe. I felt sorry for Vincent the quickest: less than ten minutes of the film had gone by and I was already fighting off remorse and compassionate tears for Dr. Robert Morgan. He was the most passionate about the plight of the world, regarding the devastating effects of the virus. However, Heston’s Dr. Robert Neville seemed the most disruptive of all the character studies, as he had little regard for breaking windows, messing up streets and wearing out cars. He curses the most out of the bunch, but he’s also a bit funnier than everyone else, clearly leading with the amount of snappy one-liners in his film.
The Second Leg
Narration is only necessary for the oldest film, but the other two convey more of the storyline by letting the main character talk only when necessary. The settings are pretty different: Vincent’s city is not clearly identified, as it may be in Europe for all we know. Heston’s city is Los Angeles, which leaves more room for creative day trips than any of the other films: he goes to the movie theatre, a winery, a few hotels, department stores, drug stores, car dealerships, etc. Smith’s Dr. Neville is in New York, and the action takes place on Manhattan Island. The dilapidated Brooklyn Bridge is impressive.
The Third Leg
Will’s character is never late for getting back home and preparing for the oncoming vampire-like creatures. The other two characters are usually late getting back home and almost don’t care about getting caught until the last minute. But then again, the villains are not as intimidating as the ones Will has to deal with: they are definitely the scariest. They are ugly, quiet, strong, agile, and have animal instincts with a possible measurement of I.Q, as they manage to trap Will later on in the film. Vincent’s vampires are a joke – literally. They are only pushed aside, not even needing to be killed all the time. They are most similar to zombies, yet are repelled by garlic, mirrors and can be destroyed by stakes through the heart (if “Dracula” comes to mind, it’s completely relevant). They talk, specifically calling out Morgan’s name to taunt him for being the last of his kind. It’s more funny than scary, actually. Heston’s villains are the most developed characters: they talk, reason, have weapons (that they’re not afraid to use) and make sinister plans. They even have a leader named Matthias. They are also the “equal opportunity” villains, in that there are both black and white races involved. That is honestly refreshing, even if a bit twisted. They even call each other brothers and sisters! It’s like a gigantic cult of deformed monks.
The Fourth Leg
All of the doctors attempt to find a cure for the victims of the plague, yet all of them don’t have families: Heston’s character was never married or fathered kids, but the other two had wives and young daughters. Furthermore, Heston’s character never cried, but the other two couldn’t help but let the tears flow, and I don’t blame them. I still give points to Heston for being the bravest and the most athletic (handsome for a seventies-style sex appeal, complete with hairy chest). He was the biggest thug of the bunch. The other two were nerdy, even though they were all doctors/scientists. All of them were also immune to the virus.
The Fifth Leg
Both Heston and Smith’s homes were well-stocked with supplies and had great furniture. Vincent’s house looked like it was on its last legs: there were barely-boarded windows, plain furniture, busted garages, etc. Heston chose a posh penthouse on the top floor of an apartment building, while Will was the most secure for locking down his precious house (yet fear compelled him to sleep in the bath tub on most nights, as I would have done in his place). The flashbacks of how the virus corrupted the entire planet are most credible in Vincent and Will’s versions, but Heston’s explanation is too cryptic and confusing.
Action was evenly dispensed throughout each film, but romance, sex and even nudity were present in Heston’s version. There was even an interracial love scene. He truly wasn’t the last man on earth, and he was glad of it! I almost forgot that this film was technically rated PG. Teens could handle it, but not anyone younger than that.
The Finish Line
Without giving too much away, the endings of all three movies were unnecessary, in my opinion. Vincent’s death could have been avoided altogether and so could Heston (he seemed too smart to go down the way he did). Will was the most heroic sacrificial lamb of the bunch, but an alternate ending on the DVD (that wasn’t released in theatres) was the best ending, with hope for both the humans and creatures alike. As far as my opinion goes, which movie is best? It’s a clear first-place winner for Smith’s film, followed by Heston, with Vincent trailing. I still respect the points that each story was trying to convey about human nature, sacrifice, and other appropriate themes. All films raised interesting psychological and philosophical questions. This character will definitely be remembered as a true legend of his time and setting, not for being unique, but for surviving as long as he did and leaving a legacy that was vital to the saving of all mankind. Like Smith’s female companion made reference to him at the end, he was truly a light to the surrounding darkness.