Remember when Will Smith was the king of summer? This comes at the end of that and is anything but a crowd-pleaser. In fact, it’s one of the most downbeat major motion pictures I can think of.
It’s based on Richard Mathson’s 1954 novel of the same name, which also inspired The Omega Man and The Last Man on Earth, as well as Night of the Living Dead.
This movie sat in development for decades, as Warner Brothers had owned the rights to the story since 1970.
Mark Protosevich was hired to write the script after the studio was impressed with his script The Cell. His first take took place in San Francisco but was closer to The Omega Man than this film.
All sorts of people were going to star — Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas and Mel Gibson — with Ridley Scott as director, but the studio wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger. The studio came to regret giving Scott creative control, as his movie was dark and had a downer ending. They were looking for action figures.
It took nearly another decade until Schwarzenegger became the producer of I Am Legend for a brief time, bringing on Michael Bay as director and Will Smith as star. Nothing happened there and a few years later, Akiva Goldsman and director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, four of The Hunger Games films) came on board.
Between closing big parts of New York City and a $5 million dollar Brooklyn Bridge scene, the film just feels huge and empty at the same time. And a week into filming, Lawrence decided to scrap the practical monsters for CGI. Trust me, time has not been kind to the effects in this film. I am a fan of how they sound, though, as Mike Patton of the bands Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas (and a few hundred other lineups) did some great vocal work for the bad guys.
The film concerns a genetically re-engineered measles virus — once a cure for cancer — that killed 90% of the world’s popular and turned the rest into mutants called Darkseekers who are basically vampires.
Three years later, US Army virologist Lt. Col. Robert Neville (Smith) lives the same day, day after day, alone with his dog Sam in the heart of Manhattan. Nearly the entire film is spent with Smith slowly going crazy, defending what’s left of the world and talking to anything that looks remotely human.
While the ending of this film isn’t anything like the book, it wasn’t the only one filmed. There was another version where Neville and the Alpha Darkseeker come to an understanding about the female in the lab. This one is the happy ending, but didn’t feel like it fit the spirit of the film.
One of the things I really liked is that most of the art on the walls of Neville’s apartment has been rescued from museums. If you’re the last man on Earth, why not grab something from the Museum of Modern Art?