Friday, 14 August 2009

Film Ramble: The Last Man on Earth

You spend years waiting for a good film adaptation of Richard Matheson's seminal horror / sci-fi novel I am Legend, and all you get is Will Smith talking to mannequins and rattling on about Shrek.

Then you wait a bit longer and finally get round to watching The Last Man on Earth, despite the fact that of the three adaptations (the third being Charlton Heston-starrer The Omega Man), it's the one everyone seems to sneer at.

And lo and behold, it's fantastic.

Which begs the question: why is it not a recognised classic? It's remarkably faithful to Matheson's book (he even had a hand in the script, under a pseudonym), capturing not just the tone, the sense of desolation, the interminable horror of Neville's (here Morgan's) plight, but also the internal struggles, subtext, all the things that adaptations normally fall flat on. The ending is somewhat changed, but unlike the Will Smith vehicle it holds true to the themes of the novel, and retains its resonance.

Vincent Price - who at first seems miscast due to his innate creepiness - gives a startling performance that only improves as the film goes on and we realise he's not quite the hero he's believed himself. A much underrated actor, he was never better than here, or had more opportunity to show what he could do.

It's genuinely dark (quite staggeringly so in places) and preempts much of what Romero would achieve four years later in Night of the Living Dead - even down to the noirish documentary style. The flashback sequence is particularly bleak, and haunting in its images of a society crumbling in the face of the inevitable.

Point is, if like me you're a fan of I am Legend, (and if you have the faintest interest in horror or sci-fi you should be, Gollancz didn't make it number two in their Sci-fi Masterworks series for nothing!), then do yourself a favour - watch the first and best film adaptation and see how it should have been done.

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