Yesterday, I finished reading Richard Matheson’s original story, I Am Legend. I saw the movie last month, and liked it a lot. It didn’t take me long to buy the book it was based on — I was very much interested in comparing the two.
I bought the book at the airport last month and since read it in small portions during my commute home from work. In short, Richard Matheson’s original story and the latest film adaptation of it are very different in ways that just work to each version’s benefit.
In reading the book, I found that it was easier to feel the main character’s isolation than in the movie. The movie, for starters, was a lot shorter, and the main action took place over a shorter period of time. His isolation in the movie is softened by his companionship with his dog… Though his talking to mannequins was effective in demonstrating his desperation for contact. In the book, he does not have a dog (though one turns up late in the story) and rather than talking to mannequins, Neville resorts to heavy drinking.
The book goes into a lot detail about Robert Neville’s search for a cure to the plague, and you get a sense for his enormous amount of free time and his dedication as he struggles to not only deal with his virtual solitude, but with the horrors of the plague that took his family away, and ultimately let him to not only bury his wife, but kill her violently again when she returned from death.
In the book, he is not military doctor (as he is in the film) so his quest for a cure involves starting from the basics of medicine. As he builds up his knowledge from reading books on medicine and biology his understanding of the plague (and how to possibly cure it) increases.
In the book, the humans who weren’t killed by the plague (with the exception of Neville) became vampire-like zombies, who displayed similar weaknesses as vampires from popular legends (aversions to sunlight, crosses, and garlic) which may have been appropriate when the story was first published, but seemed a bit dated and uninspired to me. The genesis of the zombies in the movie (a mutated cure for cancer) was more appropriate for the present, and the vampire elements (except for the aversion to light) were not used.
Another thing that separates the movie from the book is that the movie had to have action that would bee effective for the medium given the opportunities that exist with special effects.
It’s hard to say too much about the differences and similarities between the book and the movie without giving away too much. In the end, I can say that I enjoyed them both, but I can’t say which I liked better. I liked the action and visuals of the movie, and the detail of the book. They both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Each were done at a particular time where certain themes or styles were appropriate.
Unlike my previous book/film comparison, there is no clear winner here. If you’re going to see the movie, read the book first. Both are worth enjoying.