Apocalyptic suckiness?

I was looking forward to the movie, I Am Legend, that is coming to Morris in the next month or so, but the first review I’ve seen is not promising. I’ve read the book and the previous film adaptations; the original I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is a classic with an excellent twist, raising the troubling question of just who the monster is. The first movie, The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price is also good, and sticks to the story fairly faithfully.

The one most people have seen, The Omega Man, is awful. It throws away the ending of the story with its disturbing attempt to make people think and instead makes the protagonist a self-sacrificing hero who saves humanity … and the ending, with Charlton Heston bleeding and dying with his arms flung wide in the standard position of dying messiahs everywhere, was a self-parody of seriousness that had audiences laughing when I saw it — it turned the whole movie into a low-rent Christian allegory.

The new movie with Will Smith looked promising. The ads have all focused on the post-apocalyptic desolation of the protagonist’s situation, and since they restored Matheson’s original title (which was actually highly relevant to the ending), there was hope that it might actually be worth seeing.

Unfortunately, it’s more Omega Man than Last Man on Earth (that link contains many spoilers, beware). Worse, the Christian allegory has been expanded to consume all, and it’s set up as a conflict between evil science that creates plagues that destroy humanity vs. vague mystical prophecies and the salvation of mankind through faith.

Ugh. This is a disappointment. I’ll probably go see it anyway because I trundle through almost every movie that comes to Morris, but I expect to start gagging halfway through it now … at least it’s always good to go into a movie with low expectations. Alas, the high production values I’m seeing in the trailers probably means I won’t even get a laugh out of the ending — it takes monumental cheesiness, as The Omega Man had, to redeem a bad movie with at least a little amusement.

It takes the conservative ideologues at NRO to add that special frisson of stupidity to the reviews.

Shhhh. The end of I Am Legend is religious. And the beginning of the movie is anti-science. The military is a force for good, too. Shhhh. Our little secret. And what must be surprising to those on the Left, a movie that’s anti-science, religious and pro-military earned close to $80 million over the weekend. It is frustrating that none of the pre-release hype focused on the conservative aspects of the film, however.

Yay! It’s a plus that the movie is religious, pro-military, and anti-science! And for that extra dollop of idiocy, the guy brags about how a religious, pro-military, and anti-science movie can bring in the big bucks, and then notes that that agenda was never mentioned in the advertising. Duh.


  1. says

    You will most likely be as disappointed as I was. Yeah, the virus was unleashed by a scientist (to cure cancer) but on the other hand the cure is found by a scientist. Unlike the book or in the Omega Man, this movie does very little to develop a relationship between “the last man” and the diseased people. I won’t give away anymore but why didn’t they just screenplay the book?

  2. spondee says

    My fiancee worked on Legend and apparantly they completely re-shot the ending. The original was much closer to the book.

    I loved the first two thirds of it, but the ending failed to answer a few of the important questions raised by the behavior of the infected.

    It’s worth seeing though, if just for Will Smith’s performance.

  3. says

    Actually, it’s worse than Omega Man. At least in Omega Man the mutants still retained language. In Legend they’re reduced to howling kill-beasts. Well, one mutant is sort of developed, but mostly he just screams and jumps around. Also, unlike the book, Neville doesn’t personally know any of the mutants (which was another thing that made the original story more powerful).

    Even with that and all that you mention, it’s still watchable. Smith’s acting and charisma go a long way. I just wish he’d stop with the crappy classic SF remakes.

  4. firemancarl says

    Mrs FMC and I saw it. I liked. I wish the ending had been different and my mrs., didn’t like the ending at all. I got the god/jebus feeling too while watching the movie. I would still recommend it though.

  5. zer0 says

    I liked the film for the most part. I thought it very silly that not 15 minutes after his “there is no God” speech he pretty much changes his mind. What a douchebag. If some dame came rolling in my house claiming god told her to go to Virginia, I’d kick her ass back out the door after dark. See if she can pray herself safe from a horde of infected dark-seekers.

  6. Moggie says

    Well, that sucks. The book, though dated in places and hampered by a rather unlikeable central character, makes it clear that human ingenuity, rationality and courage alone are the solution to our problems. Neville tries his best to understand the “plague” using science, and (without wanting to provide spoilers) the other survivors aren’t conspicuously godly either. Why must the god-infected spread their contagion to everything they touch? Don’t they have enough fiction of their own already?

  7. says

    Damn, and I was looking forward to it too, especially after all the trouble Matheson went through in the original to dispell a lot of the mystical nature of his vampires. I guess I would have been okay with the vampires being reduced to {generic screamy-monster here}, but it’s frustrating to hear that they changed the entire story at the end.

    It’s like all the potentially good Cthulhu-mas movies this year (Golden Compass and I Am Legend) have been circumsized by a particularly malicious Hollywood.

  8. zer0 says

    #3: I wanted to like I Robot so badly, I guess it was okay. I’m a big fan of all the stories Asimov wrote, but the movie just came off like they took the 3 rules, 15 of the short stories and threw them on the ground, told writers to take only 3 paragraphs from each story and make a movie, GO.

  9. says

    Will Smith is great in the movie…and it’s very entertaining. I had to put my fingers in my ears because I was so scared…especially at the part where god came into the picture. I also didn’t understand how the dark-seekers managed to open their jaws as if they were anacondas.

    I’m with zero; pretty lame that the “there is no god” speech was followed with, “hey, wait, I change my mind.” Guess he found some evidence.

  10. Uber says

    Viewed it. Was ok. I will say it kept me tense throughout. Daughter said this movie sucked, wife didn’t like it much either. I will say the ‘hearing voices’ was the worst part of the movie and frankly made the entire thing cheesy.

    But then again they like chick flicks.

  11. says

    I wanted to like I Robot so badly, I guess it was okay. I’m a big fan of all the stories Asimov wrote, but the movie just came off like they took the 3 rules, 15 of the short stories and threw them on the ground, told writers to take only 3 paragraphs from each story and make a movie, GO.

    Actually, I Robot was a perfectly fine special effects-laden, big budget SF action movie taken on its own terms as such. The problem was that the producers had to name it after the classic Asimov collection of short stories when in reality the movie was related to Asimov only in that it had humanoid robots in it and that it invoked Asimov’s Laws of Robotics.

    As I said, if you can ignore the name of the movie and not sweat it too much about how little it has to do with anything Asimov wrote, I Robot is a perfectly enjoyable SF action flick.

  12. Sigmund says

    Its a crass rip-off of 28 days later. The original story did have a deeper meaning that they’ve entirely dumped to please the braindead movie-going public.
    On a more serious note the idea of a genetically engineered virus getting into the world and causing havoc is not quite as far fetched as one might imagine. I’ve personally seen quite a number of researchers take risks with viral constructs, desperate to get the result and publication that keeps them in work for the next year.

  13. Stephen Bedwell says

    I thought it was okayish. The ending was more like The Omega Man than the original story, but while it was the weakest part of the movie, the rest wasn’t bad.

    I have no idea what this “mystical prophecy” angle you’re talking about is. The movie wasn’t really anti-science when it comes down to it – the main character was a scientist, and he continued his scientific pursuits after the plague. If you mean the woman who hears God’s voice in her head, well, the movie doesn’t actually advance any argument that she really does, so what’s the problem?

    Also, salvation of mankind through faith? That wasn’t really in there either.

  14. Brian says

    I have mixed feelings about the movie. I really enjoyed most of it, and I thought Will Smith’s acting is probably the singular saving grace of the whole movie. Without him, it would have been abysmal.

    I read the book, and I agree, they make no real effort to follow the plot of the book, aside from using the main character. The ending was horrid – especially since it turns out god really did do it. What a bunch of crap.

    The dark-seekers bugged me a lot. I was okay with them changing Neville’s relationship with them, but they had no personality, they seemed to change between being intelligent and being primal, and they were much stronger than the book portrayed them as. Although they do respond to sunlight, my friends I saw it with had no idea that they were even vampires. I’m sorry, but that’s pretty pathetic.

    There are only two reasons to bother seeing that movie: Will Smith, and the german shepard.

  15. ryanb says

    I saw it already and I can say it was safely mediocre. It wasn’t really funny, and I guess it was a little sad at points. It was just kind of blah. I basically walked away wishing I could get my money back. It just wasn’t very well done. Typical hollywood nonsense where everybody makes the dumbest possible decision at various points to ensure the story keeps moving along towards the inevitable disaster…
    Example: So he sets up uv lights around his house to protect him from the monsters… but rather than anchor them into the house where they would be solid and provide protection, he has them standing on flimsy poles probably 100 yards from the house. Brilliant. Wonder how much time we spent on that plan?
    I just have a hard time getting into a movie where every 2 seconds I’m thinking to myself, “ok, well this is dumb.”

  16. MartinM says

    Awww, but the soundtrack is adorable.

    Unsurprising, given that it’s by Ron Grainer – who also did the soundtrack for ‘The Prisoner,’ as well as the Dr Who theme.

  17. says

    I’m so glad to learn that PZ hates The Omega Man as much as I do. I occasionally see it praised somewhere and just sort of have to cock my head and go, “Why?” I knew it was gonna suck from the moment Heston started quoting along with the Woodstock film, and everything after that didn’t disappoint.

    The Vincent Price version, Last Man on Earth, really was great, though. Mainly just for Price himself, but it was cool to see as well for the obvious influence it had on later films like Night of the Living Dead. (Which came amusingly full-circle when Max Brooks in World War Z had the Army character refer to human survivalists as LMoEs.)

  18. says

    I liked the performance of Will Smith and the Dog, but the movie is typical hollywood fluff. The ending was changed, again, from the original. I did like the fact that they changed the setting to New York, it added a lot of dark texture to the movie. I wanted to have much more explained, such as…if the mutants are truly in an animal state as Neville comments in the movie, how did they manage to rig a trap good enough to catch him?

  19. H. Humbert says

    Stephen Bedwell said:

    Also, salvation of mankind through faith? That wasn’t really in there either.

    So I guess you missed that whole “redeemed through blood” theme of the film, huh?

  20. stogoe says

    Look – if you go to a movie adaptation expecting it to be just like the book, you should go ahead and shoot yourself in the face and save yourself the trouble of being disappointed. Film and Novel are completely different media, and expecting them to exactly emulate each other is a fool’s errand. Take film on its own terms, not some impossible standard of ‘exactly emulates the book + exceeds the capacities of my imagination’. Sheesh.

    Also, if you insist on taking every sacrifice on film as an allegory for Christianity, I can only sigh, shake my head patronizingly, and back slowly away from you, careful not to make any sudden movements.

    As for the butterfly, I chalked it up to hallucinations – Neville was fully insane by that point anyways.

  21. Phy says

    And even if you didn’t catch that, there’s the survivor’s compound. They open the gates, and what’s the very first thing you see, but a church? The Things are Out There, God is In Here, says the end of the movie.

  22. Don N. says

    It was fun stuff for the first 80% of the movie. Still, you could tell it was going to be an anti-science, Frankenstein flick about 5-10 minutes into the movie. The evil gene research caused the problem. It did show Will Smith as a good scientist, still carrying on his research at ground-zero after the apocalypse. Though his methods were … ugly. However, it was faith that allowed him to pull out the end-world save.

    There was an interesting element from the book that was briefly explored. The changed humans came after Will Smith because he took their leaders mate. It was an act of retaliation by the leader and showed elements of humanity remained, including caring, organization, etc. They even had trained the mutated dogs. The movie also showed how Smith misunderstood the reaction of the leader when he took his mate in a trap as a sub-human sign, when it was entirely the opposite. This thread got dropped somehow as the movie came to a climax.

    Lots of flaws, but Will Smith did a pretty good job carrying it along. The visuals were awesome. It is worth seeing.

    Don N.

  23. Ric says

    Yeah, I saw it and I was underwhelmed. I normally love apocalypse movies, and I love zombie movies, and this one didn’t do either particularly well. There were too many plotholes, and CG just isn’t quite there yet. The monsters didn’t look real. But all the sickening religious crap clinched it for me.

  24. TSVN says

    I had a different interpretation of this movie. I didn’t see it as a “science is bad” movie. I saw it as a metaphor about how humankind has the power to bring about it’s own destruction(the virus), and yet it also has the power to save it as well (the immunity of Smith and the others, and his seeking the cure). I think the religious epithets were thrown in just to appeal to the masses.

  25. caynazzo says

    Though a complete know-nothing when it comes to insider Hollywood machinations, it seems that with this movie the execs were looking for their next bloodmeal, this year’s blockbuster. And of course, this offends my aesthetics when said execs fulfill their own profit-generating prophecy by casting characters like the Fresh Prince. It doesn’t matter what name he has in the film, you are watching Will Smith play Will Smith fighting Aliens, Will Smith battling robots, and now Will Smith smiting the undead. And this is the second genre film he’s been in where the first person singular is used. First, “Will Smith Robot”, and now “Will Smith Is Legend”. I’ll simply adjusted my expectation settings a little and enjoyed the movie despite itself.

  26. MikeQ says

    Delurking for a minute–

    I’ve seen the film already, and I liked it. The first hour of the movie (before any of the “zombies” show up) where Will Smith is wandering around a desolate New York is worth four stars. It’s fantastic, like an old horror movie. The terror is never seen, just alluded to, and felt in the atmosphere, and that makes it all the more frightening.

    However, I remember telling the person I went to see the movie with that the plot can be boiled down to less than 12 words:

    Science Screws Up. Science Fixes Things. Religion Takes Credit. Will Smith. Zombies.

    In reality, though, I didn’t think it was that bad of a movie. Then again, I never read the book, so it’s possible (probable) that the book is vastly superior.

    Relurking now.

  27. MikeQ says

    Oh yeah, I heard there was a Director’s cut and a vastly different studio cut.

    Those of you disappointed may like the DVD more, provided it contains the Director’s cut ending.

    Relurking now, for real.

  28. David Wilford says

    I, Robot wasn’t true to the book but as a Will Smith sciffy flick it was pretty good. So I’m not surprised by the religiosity at the ending, or that science again gets to be the fall guy. Faust would understand.

    FWIW, I recently heard a faint rumor about Joe Haldeman’s Forever War again maybe being made into a movie, which would be fantastic because in the end God gets credit for it all.

  29. wombat says

    The most interesting parts of the movie were the psychological flip flops he goes through contrasting the visits to the video store with the rigorous experiments he conducts on infected animals. And later, is initial reaction to his unlikely rescuer. Did anyone else cheer when he gave the “There is no god” speech? The entire theatre looked at me funny when I did. But yeah, after that scene the entire thing falls apart.

  30. J Daley says

    The movie is excellent until the end. Will Smith is a great actor, and it’s very suspenseful – it had me actually hollering out loud. You can mostly ignore the Xian themes until the end, too, and Smith does an excellent job of slowly unraveling into madness.

    I’m so sick of CGI, though. It’s terribly misused, overused, whatever. Why not get real people to play zombies? It’s much scarier. CGI should stick to panoramic shots and spaceships.

  31. peak_bagger says

    Better take a barf bag, PZ.

    I get suspicious whenever people claim (even in a movie) that they heard directly from God.

    I did appreciate the movie’s take that we get ourselves into our own messes – it’s too easy to place blame on God for our mistakes.

  32. bybelknap, FCD says

    I was 10 when the Omega Man came out. Anthony Zerbe scared the crap out of me. Later, I always got a chuckle when he would be in some crappy episode of Mannix or Rockford Files or something. I was afraid of HIM? Har!

  33. says

    Alright, I’ve seen it and I agree that there are some themes in it that don’t jive with my pro-science, anti-religious views, but it is still a very enjoyable movie. I especially liked the psychological degradation Robert Neville expresses throughout the film – hopelessness is one of my favourite cathartic emotions and I love seeing actors portray realistic desperation and sadness.

    And Neville’s cry for atheism in the film – regardless of a change of heart at the end – is very powerful and still resonates even after the film’s religious conclusion.

  34. says

    Oh, that’s terrible: the original story was stunningly memorable. Several stories now show vampires as protagonists, but none have captured the amazing epiphany created by the book.

  35. Steve_C says

    We definitely need some new spaceship movies…
    And the New Star Trek movie remake that’s coming out
    doesn’t really light my candle.

    Iron Man and the Dark Knight movies will be fun though.

  36. lylebot says

    So NRO is officially claiming anti-science as a core conservative value? I know they’ve been anti-science for a while, I had just never heard anyone admit it out loud before.

  37. Moggie says

    David Wilford @ 34: Forever War? Wow, that would be… actually, from Hollywood, it wood be worrying, but perhaps it won’t suck too bad. Until then, I’ll settle for Gunbuster (Forever War with Japanese schoolgirls).

  38. says

    I saw it this past weekend. In my opinion, it was just your standard zombie flick. This initial $80 million may just be due to Will Smith’s star power. I mean, you have Christmas and New Year’s weekends coming up and that may knock things down. I mean, you have the next Aliens Vs. Predator movie coming out on Christmas Day. If that don’t scream not caring about how much it makes, I don’t know what does.

    Thinking back to the trap Neville gets in where he is injured, it had to have been set up by the head zombie guy at night. Thing is, though, on the trap we see Neville set up, it’s shown that the rope goes over something to hold the bag up. Where the trap is that Neville falls into there doesn’t seem to be anything holding the rope up. Maybe a street light, but I couldn’t see one being there unless it was way off to the side and not in front of the building. Assuming it was off to the side, he wouldn’t be hanging over the puddle of water like he was.

  39. says

    My SO and I went to this movie last night, and we both agreed (along with several commenters here) that the first 90% of the movie was great — and that the last 10% sucked. I too appreciated the non-event that was hunting in New York, as it really built up the suspense for the rest of the movie.

    What really got me was (*spoiler*) if Will Smith could kill the ex-humans with a few shots from a handgun, how could the main ex-human slam over and over and over and over again into a seemingly unbreakable glass wall without even a bruise?

    588,000,000 vampires, though, that’s scary!

  40. Christopher says

    So, uh, how can you be pro-military and anti-science?

    Does NRO think the Atomic bomb was dropped by angels? Or that guns are shot out of the mouth of a giant idol, like in Zardoz?

    Science is the reason the US Military is so impressive.

  41. jpf says

    This seems vaguely on topic: Vatican blasts “Golden Compass” as Godless and hopeless:

    The Vatican on Wednesday condemned the film “The Golden Compass,” which some have called anti-Christian, saying it promotes a cold and hopeless world without God.

    In a long editorial, the Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano, also slammed Philip Pullman, the bestselling author of the book on which the family fantasy movie is based.

    It was the Vatican’s most stinging broadside against an author and a film since it roundly condemned “The Da Vinci Code” in 2005 and 2006.

    “In Pullman’s world, hope simply does not exist, because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events,” the editorial said.

    See what they did there? Redefine the word “hope” in terms of crazy cult nonsense (salvation from a 6000 year old curse resulting from your ancestors listening to a talking snake), then claim that people who don’t buy into the nonsense promote hopelessness.

    The Vatican newspaper called the movie “the most anti-Christmas film possible” and said that it was “consoling” that its first weekend ticket sales were a disappointing $26 million.

    So, are we now going to see the success of the supposed Christian film I Am Legend relative to Compass held up as a sign of God’s will or something?

  42. Azkyroth says

    It doesn’t matter what name he has in the film, you are watching Will Smith play Will Smith fighting Aliens, Will Smith battling robots, and now Will Smith smiting the undead. And this is the second genre film he’s been in where the first person singular is used. First, “Will Smith Robot”, and now “Will Smith Is Legend”. I’ll simply adjusted my expectation settings a little and enjoyed the movie despite itself.

    Any thoughts on “Enemy of the State?”

  43. Ian Gould says

    I’m sure I, Robot and Men in Black I & II were also hits because of their strong appeal to Christian conservatives.

    It’s not like they have anything else in common with I am Legend.

  44. rootlesscosmo says

    From David Denby’s comment in The New yorker:

    In 1973, when “Day of the Dolphin” opened, Pauline Kael wrote that it was “the most expensive Rin Tin Tin picture ever made.” Alas, this is no longer true. Will Smith’s movie cost two hundred million dollars, and he spends almost the entire two hours talking to his German shepherd. Man and dog are apparently the only fully human and fully canine survivors after an anti-cancer serum has killed everyone else in the world except for some rabid humanoids and devil dogs. The digitized shots of an empty New York, with grass sprouting between the cracks in the pavement, are intriguing to look at, but the rest of the movie is a violent retread of older last-man-on-earth films with Vincent Price, Charlton Heston, and Don Johnson. The religious will be relieved to know that God is explicitly not responsible for eliminating the earth’s population. The villain is science. Directed by a badly overmatched Francis Lawrence.

  45. says

    I’m with you on The Omega Man. Charlton Heston’s shtick wore out his welcome for me so much I can’t stand his other movies any more either (although Zerbe’s always a hoot wherever he appears). I prefer the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes simply because I’d rather watch Mark Wahlberg any day. As for planning on seeing I Am Legend, I like Will Smith, but I don’t want to see him in another mediocre Sci-Fi movie. I thought maybe I would stand pat with the Resident Evil series until something more compelling comes out.

    Seriously, aside from Last Man on Earth, is anyone old enough to remember a movie called The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) with Harry Belafonte, Mel Ferrer, and Inger Stevens? No zombies, just three people trying to work out the usual racial/sexual/end-of-the-world issues in post-atomic NYC. It was so long ago, I forget if it was boring or not.

  46. The Ridger says

    Just got back from seeing it, and the religious optimism is there, but not necessarily that overwhelming. The movie doesn’t answer a lot of the questions raised, but given that they killed Neville, it would be hard to do so. I do wish they had been a little more overt with the soldiers at the end – but it’s a feel good ending after 95 or so minutes of extremely effective dark movie. Will Smith is tremendously good. So, yeah, I wish it had ended differently, but it’s still worth watching.