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I’ve been on this Zombie kick lately. I’m about to finish Max Brook’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006) a multi-vocal narrative of life before, during, and after a global outbreak of the living dead. It’s a great read. Zombies allow me to fuse a childhood fascination with horror films and the supernatural with my academic interests of marginalized people in modern society.
A conversation with my Advisor about Will Smith’s I Am Legend (2007) prompted me to revisit my critique of the film as a narrowly articulated version of Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name. During an impromptu visit to Best Buy yesterday afternoon, I came across my opportunity to revisit the film and my critique picking up the Blu-Ray edition of Will Smith’s version intent on comparing the alternate ending against the novel’s storyline.
The first time I saw I Am Legend, parts of the film didn’t sit well with me. The film’s narration allowed the audience to sympathize with Robert Neville (and his canine companion, Samantha) while assuming the ‘zombies’ were one-dimensional characters set on Neville’s demise. Momentary cues in the film suggested that the ‘undead creatures’ possessed levels of intelligence and emotions similar to the average human. However, the film left their community unexplored. I was left wondering why the film-makers left this part out. It would’ve added an interesting layer to their relationship with Neville in the barren NY backdrop. Open plot lines in the film lead me to Richard Matheson’s version. Originally published in 1954, Matheson’s treatment of the post-apocalyptic society is noted as the influence for the modern Zombie film genre popularized by the work of George Romero.
The book satisfied my curiosity by making sense of the new community. While it is completely unfair to expect the film to live up to the one created in the mind while reading the text, the alternate ending was much more fulfilling and was actually the original ending to the film (Watch Alternate Ending Here). Apparently, it didn’t go over well with American test audiences so it was changed to Smith’s self-sacrifice in his home’s subterranean lab. I think Smith’s standoff with the infected group is more consistent with the novel’s vision of the relationship between the last known human on earth and the new breed of life. The new breed retains elements traditionally associated with humanity while the new monster is the one the audience identifies as most human.
Recently, I tweeted that “Zombies are scarier than vampires and werewolves bc they can’t be reasoned with and prompt us to act inhumanely with each other.” What happens to our sense of humanity when we refuse to treat others with respect and decency? These films and books serve as an examination of human social habits in the face of darkness. Pick one up the next time you get a chance and look for the story within the story.