I Am Legend has had quite a history in its 50-plus years of existence. It began life as a novella by Richard Matheson that was published in 1954. Ten years later Matheson would translate it to the screen for an Italian production called The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price. Despite Matheson's work on that script, you will not find his name in the credits. Due to artistic differences over the finished product he took his name off of it; in its place is an alias, Logan Swanson.
Still, it stands as the most faithful adaptation of the source. Seven years later Hollywood took a shot at the tale with the Charlton Heston vehicle The Omega Man. It, too, differs from the source and has a touch of camp when viewed today. Now, we are faced with a third try, the Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. Well, at least they got the title right this time.
From a purely technological standpoint, I Am Legend is the most accomplished filmed vision of the story yet. We are given a completely convincing vision of a long abandoned Manhattan. It is overgrown with weeds and herds of deer run freely between empty cars and barren streets, hunted by lions and our hero, Robert Neville (Will Smith). This brings up a big question early in the film: "What happened?" It is not long before we find out.
Via flashback, we are let in on an important piece of information. In 2009 a cure for cancer is uncovered. Before long the cure has mutated into a deadly virus that has wiped out 99% of the world's population. The rest of the survivors have been turned into bloodthirsty creatures that exhibit similarities to both vampires and zombies, while not truly being either. All have become these things, all except one. The one lone holdout is Robert Neville, a man seemingly immune to the effects of the fast moving virus.
In this bleak future, Neville lives his life. During the day he cruises the streets looking for supplies, making sure he is back by night to the security of his home in Greenwich Village. It is in this house, with steel shutters and massive dead bolts that he, and his dog Sam, hide themselves away each night, keeping their distance from the creatures of the night. In addition to keeping himself alive, Neville has also set up a lab in the basement where he works feverishly, searching for a cure to the disease.