Books vs. Movies: I Am Legend


I’m sure that we all remember when “I Am Legend” came out on the big screen back in 2007, but how many of us knew that it was originally a book? Initially, I had no idea. I’m sure they state that it was based on a book somewhere in the beginning or at the end, but I’m pretty unobservant so I never saw that. However, as I was reading the book, I noticed a lot of differences between it and its Hollywood adaptation.

There are reasons why the book and the movie are so different. Even though Richard Matheson wrote this book back in 1954,  it was meant to occur in 1976-1978.  Going back into history, WWII had ended and the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Now, the 2007 movie adaptation. This is obviously a completely different time period. The movie itself is supposed to take place in 2012. That is a 36 year difference in setting alone, not to mention the 53 year difference between when the book was published and when the movie was released. So obviously, differences are to be expected.

I won’t bother touching on the “in the book he’s white but in the movie he’s black,” thing, because I honestly believe that has no effect on the plot at all. However, the origin of the virus is completely different for the movie and the book. In the book, Robert Neville figured out that the vampirism was caused by a bacteria, and part of how it spread was through spores in the air. You see, in Los Angeles (where the book took place) they were having frequent dust storms. During a flashback sequence, it is stated that these dust storms, along with an increase in mosquito population, occurred after a bomb was dropped somewhere. These dust storms help to spread the spores, and the mosquitoes spread it through the blood. Whereas, in the movie, the disease originated from a treatment to cure cancer, and spread through the air and by contact.This doesn’t necessarily take away from the story in either case. As I said before, they were from two completely different time periods. There’s more understanding of how bacteria and viruses work, and there are different issues going on throughout the world. In the 50’s, there was big talk about the atomic bombs and how it would affect the future. In 2007, cancer was a big deal. But like I said, these changes I can live with. They were pretty big, but wouldn’t have changed the plot line much.

There were a several details that changed the story in the movie. For example, Robert’s profession. In the book, he worked in a plant(it didn’t really specify, but I’m going to assume power plant). He was in the army, because he mentioned that he had been stationed in Panama and had been bitten by a vampire bat, and that was why he was immune (he had built up a tolerance to the bacteria.) In the movie, he was a scientist and was a high rank in the army, and he had been working on a cure to the disease since it had began. This drastically changes things. In the book, one of the main struggles for Robert was researching information about the disease so he could understand it, survive, combat the vampires, and then maybe cure them. The cure was never a high priority, though. Yet, in the movie, he already has the knowledge and has already been searching for a cure. Part of the conflict is then radically changed as a result.The research had been an important part of the development of Robert Neville’s character, and the conflict had shown a realistic frustration that most everyday people would face, if this were real.

One thing they cut from the story when they made the movie was Robert’s many different experiments. These experiments were conducted to sift fact from fiction, legend from reality. They helped to show the reasoning behind why the bacteria made these people like the vampires of legend, and for me, that is extremely interesting. I like seeing how things connect. The cross harming them was psychological, the fear of becoming a vampire and sudden outbursts of religious revivals instilling fear and superstition in their hearts before they died. It was small explanations like that that caught my attention in the book. Yet, the movie is so focused on the cure, it has nothing about trying to understand the disease, really. Granted, movies are supposed to be more fast-paced, and most people aren’t interested in how a disease works. They want to see it cured, or people actively working on a cure. Well, Hollywood delivered there.

Robert’s wife and child are a big thorn in my side. One thing they shouldn’t have changed was the way his wife and kid died. It was a really important piece of his character development. In the book, his little girl got the disease first and died. He had to take her body to a burning pit, because burying people was illegal due to the spread of the disease. Then, his wife caught the bacteria and died. Naturally, he refused to burn her. He wanted to bury her, despite the fact that if he were caught, he would be shot. And he did bury her. But a few nights later, his wife came back to his door. He tried to keep her, but all she wanted was his blood, so he had to kill her. Naturally, this completely screwed him up. Although seeing your wife and kid die in a helicopter in front of your eyes would really suck as well, I feel like having to burn your daughter, bury your wife, and then stab your wife to kill her would be just a little more traumatic.

In the book, Robert’s issues with his past led him to become an alcoholic. He had a very large internal struggle with his alcoholism, and it added more to the story. If that conflict had been preserved in the movie, it may very well have gotten even better ratings. After all, the public loves to see a main character struggling with his psyche.

One thing that they added to the movie that I enjoyed was the fact that Robert had the mannequins throughout the town. It was a manifestation of exactly how lonely he had gotten. He had gotten to the point where he made up people to try and keep himself somewhat sane and retain some amount of normalcy after everything ended. It was a nice spin on the story.

Anything further than this would be nit picking though, and I’m not trying to describe every detail of what was different and why I did or did not like it. If I did that, this article would be a full length novel. So, this is Althea, signing off. See y’all next week!