Disaster Du Jour: I Am Legend (2007)
Know this — most of this article deals the the theatrical and alternate endings to the 2007 movie I Am Legend. So, if you’ve never seen that movie before and you don’t want to know how Legend ends it might be smart to look away now. And if you haven’t seen Legend before please run out and see it immediately!
You have been warned.
I’m a big fan of the book I Am Legend and when a Legend movie was released in 2007 I was ecstatic. The ’07 version of Legend follows Robert Neville (Will Smith), the last survivor of a plague that kills most but turns some into blood-thirsty sun-phobic vampire-mutants. Neville spends his days wandering New York City, looking for supplies and capturing some of the vampire-mutants to run experiments on to try and find a cure for the disease and rescue humanity.
Along the way not quite last survivor Neville finds two other survivors, Anna (Alice Braga) and Ethan (Charlie Tahan), who are passing through New York heading to a survivor colony nearby. But their family is short lived; the vampire-mutants follow the group back to Neville’s house/fortress and attack looking to eliminate the last of the non-infected people from the island of New York.
In the ending of Legend that was released in theaters, the vampire-mutants have forced Neville, Anna and Ethan into Neville’s basement lair, err… I mean lab. The group is somewhat protected by a blast shield down there, but the vampire-mutants are strong and are slowly breaking down the barrier. As things are looking the bleakest Neville realizes that he’s finally found the cure to the disease from one of the vampire-mutants he’s experimented on. He takes a blood sample and gives the vial to Anna and Ethan, whom he hides in an old furnace/fireplace. Neville has one last look at a photo of his wife and daughter, grabs a hand grenade and when the vampire-mutants finally break through the barrier he charges them blowing everything to smithereens leaving Anna and Ethan to escape to the survivor colony with the cure.
Which is a bit of a letdown. Not because the Neville character dies, he dies too in original book and the other two Legend films too, but because it goes against everything that the rest of the movie had been setting up of regret and redemption for the Neville character.
In the much better alternate ending that was released along with the theatrical cut on home video, the movie’s essentially the same to the point where Neville’s group are trapped in the basement. Except here there’s a pause in the action when the head vampire-mutant takes a moment to smear what looks to be a butterfly on the barrier in his blood. And in that moment Neville realizes that these might be vampire-mutants, but they’ve also got a bit of their humanity left intact too since the one he’s been experimenting on has a butterfly tattoo and the vampire-mutant outside just wants his girl back.
Neville realizes what he’s done. In a world ruled by vampire-mutants it’s Neville who’s the monster, snatching these creatures from their hideaways to take them back to his lab and experiment on them.
And in this moment is where Legend comes to its own as a film. The original version ends with a lot of screaming and “ka-booms!” with Neville sacrificing himself to save humanity. The alternate version has Neville coming to the realization that no matter what he wishes, there is a new world order which can’t be changed no matter how many hand grenades he has.
Left by the vampire-mutants after Neville gives up the one he captured, the final moments of the alternative Legend has Neville, Anna and Ethan driving out of the city. They might be headed towards a survivor colony or they might be heading towards their own doom at the hands of other vampire-mutants. Leaving their fates to our imaginations and simply not having a definite end to the story is what makes this version of Legend so darn great.
Theatrical I Am Legend, Grade: B. Alternative cut, Grade: A-
The alternate cut of I Am Legend is available on Blu-ray, DVD as well as to rent/buy on iTunes and Amazon.