26 April 2006

Will Is Legend

Here we go again: According to today's Variety, "I Am Legend", Richard Matheson's classic horror novella, is set to once again rise from its development tomb early next year, with Will Smith all-but-signed to play Robert Neville, mankind's methodical savior against a global vampire virus.

The tale has been adapted onscreen twice before: once as 1964's moody "L' Ultimo uomo della terra", or, "The Last Man On Earth" with Vincent Price in the lead ("Dr. Morgan"), and more notoriously as 1971's campy "The Omega Man", in which Charlton Heston battled Anthony Zerbe's groovy albinos and took a memorable pause to weep at footage from "Woodstock". Unofficially, "IAL" has served as the (acknowledged) inspiration for George A. Romero's "Night Of The Living Dead" and just about anything else involving vampires/zombies/ghouls in the modern world (surely, Danny Boyle must at least have known about it...).

Written in 1954, "Legend" is set in the then-future world of 1976, in which the human race has been eradicated by a blood pandemic that turned nearly everyone into blooddrinkers. Nearly everyone--save for survivor Neville, who races against the sunset daily to find a cure and secure his home/fortress from attack. Matheson offers clever pseudo-scientific and psychological explanations for the conventions of vampire lore, and in the character of former next door neighbour "Cortman", the tale can be taken as a macabre satire on the hive-mind of suburbia, ala Rod Serling (Matheson wrote many of "The Twilight Zone"s best episodes). Neville discovers that there are other survivors, some who have discovered a way to keep the disease at bay...

"Legend" came very close to getting made in 1997 with director Ridley Scott and Arnold Schwarzenegger set to star, but was shelved for budgetary reasons. "Constantine"s Francis Lawrence, "The X Files"' Rob Bowman, and "Armageddon"s Michael Bay"I Am Legend" have all been attached at various times. This one, apparently, is the charm, with shooting scheduled for 2007 in New York--which is odd, considering the original story is set in Los Angeles.

Read all about the great Richard Matheson and the original novella here. The check out this portfolio of Sylvain Despretz's unused storyboard art for the Scott version...