I’ve watched the first hour or so of Will Smith’s movie, I Am Legend. Not only is it a pirated copy, it’s a streaming copy too. How easy is it to partake in piracy these days? Back when I was a kid, you had to find a torrent and then spend hours, even days waiting for peers and seeds before you start watching a movie.
Anyways, while it’s streaming, the quality, both in video and audio is complete crap but you get the idea of what’s going on. If you know me, there was no way I wouldn’t see at least a bit of this movie in some way. It’s got all the elements that fascinate me when it comes to fiction: human survival in a post-apocalyptic world brought about by a pathogen that turns humans into dangerous, violent creatures.
I Am Legend started out as a book written by the talented Richard Matheson. It was written in the 1950s and has been made into film form twice, once with Vincent Price and the other with Charlton Heston. I rented the Heston version once. It was nearly unwatchable, in fact I remember forcing myself to watch the end even though I just wanted to return the tape half way through. The Vincent Price version is better, though I haven’t finished watching it. That version is now public domain, so you can watch it for free (legally) now. Try this link if you’re interested.
I must have read the book about seven or eight years ago. The thing that I still remember now about the book is a section where Matheson describes how Neville, the protagonist, makes dinner alone in his home. We are shown how Neville gathers vegetables from his pantry, he taking note how much he has left, especially the garlic. We privy to the clatter of a frozen steak against a black, cast-iron frying pan. In short, it’s a few paragraphs describing a man making a simple dinner with ordinary items that anyone can identify with.
What no one could identify with, is the reality of the world Neville is doing this in. The context of which is what makes the ordinary, the making of dinner, stand out so much. Early in the day, he had gone out, in sunlight, to hunt infected human beings, rousing them from their dark hiding places and staking them through the heart. The fact that there are no grocery stores anymore makes it that much more compelling that he’s even able to make an ordinary dinner. His steak was frozen. Where can you get beef in such a world? How do you even get electricity to run a freezer? When does it become normal to go home and fry up a steak after killing infected people?
In stories like this, we can all agree that the zombies and the vampires are indeed interesting but let us not gloss over the human survival aspect of it. How could a person survive? Where would they get food? What would cities look like? Where would you live? How would you arm yourself? Would you go insane?
It’s telling that in many reviews of Smith’s new movie, the critics say their favourite parts of the movie are early on, when Neville is shown alone in the city with only his dog to keep in company. He’s just going about his daily routine in a strangely deserted New York City. These same critics feel the action-parts, later on, where the infected humans starting showing up, are the weakest parts of the film.
This won’t be the last movie of its type and when the next one comes along, I’ll be asking, “what would I do in that world?”