Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Last Man On Earth...

First there was Richard Matheson's book I Am Legend, then came this - The Last Man On Earth - starring he of that great voice and 'tache, Vincent Price. Then it was the recently departed Charlton Heston gruffing up the silver screen in The Omega Man ... then the mediocre, dripping-with-Hollywood big budget Will Smith pop-corner I Am Legend.

The Will Smith flick is pretty good for the first-half-up-to-two-thirds, then it all just goes rather arse as the CGI monsters with their silly rubbery jaws go yomping around and all tension, intelligence and effort goes right out the window. A missed opportunity for post-apocalyptic greatness ... next stop, the adaptation of World War Z, which could quite possibly be an astounding zombie apocalypse epic ... or it could suffer the same fate as I Am Legend's recent incarnation, or worse.

Tracking back and we have The Omega Man, which upon first viewing I really liked, it certainly has that 1970's charm when films could hold a simpler thrill without being absolutely retarded. However, upon a recent re-watch, I was much less impressed, I'm genuinely shocked to say. It is showing its age worse than I originally recall, the music is almost entirely camp and out-of-step with the over-all pace, and the brotherhood of infected nut-jobs don't play out as well as they once did. They bitch about the machines of man, right before they roll out a complex catapult to fling fireballs about ... then again, there's no reasoning with nutters.

That said, it's still a great little flick, but nowadays it feels too cheap to have really pulled off what it set out to do, as well as the fact that it ignores the majority of Matheson's book. Indeed, the Will Smith version of Legend feels more like a 'no-more-than-based-on' adaptation of the book mixed with a hefty dollop of a remake of The Omega Man, with a dusting of 'lets make the monsters really shitty CGI things' zest.

Track back even further to the mid-60's and we find ourselves with Vincent Price as The Last Man On Earth. An incredibly faithful adaptation of Matheson's cultural landmark book it most certainly is, a big budget extravaganza it sadly is not. Evidently it's a mish-mash of American and Italian filmmaking (originally it was going to be a British Hammer Horror effort), seemingly foreseeing the likes of Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) and other such cheapy combination horror flicks.

Price isn't exactly the Robert Neville in the book, mainly due to the main man's underlying reputation as a mad cackler and entertaining scenery chewer (he was gleefully so in The Pit & The Pendulum, which I fortunately got to see at the Bristol Bloodbath 2006 film festival, in true grindhouse fashion on a rickety old print which broke down twice - it was certainly a memorable viewing which took me back to my Uni days watching the old prints of classics like The Maltese Falcon, or some Godard flick when the reel got jammed and the projector burned out the film...) ... hmm, gotten carried away with a tangent, ah memory lane...

Anyway, Price is perhaps 90% the Neville we know from the book, although he's now Robert Morgan. It's sad in a way because this, still the most faithful adaptation of I Am Legend, is such a low budget affair. Again, the process of aging hasn't been especially kind, but the downsides of a cheap-as-chips, USA/Italian partnership is clearly the harshest mistress standing over this otherwise solid film.

Many performances are wooden, lazy or just unskilled (meanwhile Price is overtly dramatic, but a comparative thespian of legend). The production value is rock bottom - either that or Morgan is a magician and can drive a car at night and at day at the exact same time. It really is an incredibly cheap film, insanely cheap sometimes, which is the main flaw. However, as previously stated, a wonderfully typical turn from Price and the sincere nature of the adaptation ends up making this quite possibly the best I Am Legend re-telling. At the very least, it is in terms of storytelling.

Meanwhile, the Will Smith version pimps great visuals (aside from the awful compu-monsters) but a story that holds few resemblances to the source material, ultimately raping it in the third act. As for The Omega Man, it's somewhere in the middle. Middling production value, middling script and retrospectively rather camp, even kitsch.

Perhaps, if only, instead of Smith's I Am Legend partially remaking The Omega Man, it could have looked a decade further back and taken several pages out of TLMOE's book.

Maybe the fourth book-to-film adaptation will get it properly right? Any Hollywood players with bundles of cash who fancy giving me said green backs would easily tempt me into doing it justice. Scale and story, both of which are intensely important for this particular tale.

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