Friday, March 7, 2008

Slightly Less Lame, But No More Legendary

I think it’s a given that the literal ending of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend novel translates rather unsatisfactorily to the screen (see the ending of the otherwise excellent Last Man on Earth for viewable proof), but I’d take an inadequate rendering of Matheson’s scribbles over what Warner Brothers and Francis Lawrence gave us in the most recent Legend adaptation.

That ending was a late-in-the-game reshoot, prompted either by the studio’s or test audiences’ displeasure with Lawrence‘s original conclusion. The WB is including the original ending as a bonus feature on the film’s upcoming DVD, but those who can’t wait to start debating the pros and cons of each can see it here now (hurry! Warners’ lawyers come out at sundown in search of video pirates’ blood).

Based on the commentary that accompanies the clip at the above link, there are some who clearly feel that the original ending was vastly better than what made it to theater screens. If Lawrence continues to have a solid career, there may even be film classes fifty years from now in which students and instructors point to Legend as yet another example of a Hollywood studio quashing the far superior vision of a director. But I’m not biting.

I’ll agree with anyone who feels that the last minute or so of the theatrical cut felt like a church bake sale tacked onto the end of a two-hour striptease, but I can’t say that Lawrence‘s original closing does the film that preceded it any better justice. My disappointment with the film started twenty minutes before its conclusion, when two needless characters crashed Will Smith’s party and what had been an impressive lead performance degenerated into a Tom Hanksian train wreck, an error Lawrence failed to correct with his original capper. And while the biggest gripe about the theatrical release among Legendites is its complete disregard for Matheson’s central theme and the inspiration for the title itself, this clip doesn’t come any closer to solving that problem. If anything, it’s even less faithful to the spirit of the book; imagine if Spielberg’s adaptation of Duel had ended with the diabolical semi making junkyard love to Dennis Weaver‘s Plymouth -- Legend’s original close is basically the same thing.

Just nowhere near as brilliant.

EDIT: After revisiting the film (and both endings) on DVD, I'm feel compelled to retract some thoughts above and align myself with the original ending. It may not maintain the themes of the novel as explicitly as the theatrical ending, but at least it doesn't pander or bludgeon me over the head with its intent.

Now, on to more pressing questions regarding the film -- like, for instance, why don't the putty vampire people wear more clothes?


  1. Anonymous said...

    You're right; I'm disappointed. I was hoping the original ending included a Smith dance/musical number.