Monday, November 26, 2007

I Am Remake. So what's new?

In the poster, the tagline reads "The Last Man on Earth is Not Alone." Neither are the filmmakers who decided to remake a remake of a movie based on a book (that's inspired dozens of other movies just like it). From what I've read, Will Smith had a whole lot to do with pushing this project through to production. Good for Will. But what's the point?

I Am Legend is interestingly the first film based on Richard Matheson's original 1954 novel that actually uses the books real title. The first film, made in 1964, called itself The Last Man on Earth and starred Vincent Price. (It was one of many projects that combined Price's talents with writer Matheson, who penned many of the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations that found their way to the screen back on the 60's.) In case Richard Matheson's name isn't ringing a bell, among his many script credits are TV classics like The Twilight Zone. IMBD lists 16 episodes, among them, one of the all time best, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, that's since become the most memorable role in William Shatner's career after Star Trek, and yes, he wrote a Star Trek as well. Also among his credits is one of the absolute best television movie's ever made, foreshadowing Steven Spielberg's expertise at creating an ominous, unseen presence (before the shark in Jaws) with the 18-wheeler in Duel. It seems that Mr. Matheson's talents crossed paths with his actors and directors often, with five decades of credits defining him as the classic "working writer". Having been the author of the original material and the screenwriter for both of the earlier feature releases based on his work (the second being 1971's Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston), you can't help but wonder what his own expectations would be for this newest reworking of the story on film. And that brings us back to Will Smith (and kind of back to Spielberg).

One of our favorite modern day adages is if you're remaking something old, what's new? What are you bringing to the story that is different, exciting, compelling? Too often the only answer to that question is Special Effects. There's the Spielberg connection... what was the point of remaking War of the Worlds other than dipping into a treasure chest of modern special effects? What's the point of the upcoming remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (waiting in the wings for a release about this time next year)? Is it just star vehicle hype? Is it just about marketing high concept around stars like Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves or Will Smith?

Why remake I Am Legend? For one, while War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still are pretty classic flicks in their own right, neither The Last Man on Earth or Omega Man rose much above the level of camp, at least in retrospect. So maybe there's a case to be made that this material, relevant in subject matter in this day of supersonic viral transport, hasn't seen the benefit of first class filmmaking. 
Well, that is unless you've seen 28 Days Later and it's first class sequel 28 Weeks Later. And there's where the whole thing gets shot to pieces for me. Those two films are edging into the modern classic column and presented everything about the idea of an apocalyptic virus that turns victims into near-dead raging zombies (vampires in 'Legend) that can drive a compelling story. How much more is there? Vampires are among the most overused conventions of Horror & Sci-fi and viruses are beginning to run a close second. (Even the convention of a house barred and barricaded and being shattered and busted by marauding monsters is starting to feel a lot like satire.)

I Am Legend is scheduled to open on December 14th. I think I've seen it all before, at least several times before. I won't be looking at the special effects, I've seen them in the trailer. I'll be looking for just one simple reason for Hollywood to have trotted out yet another remake - what's new?

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