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I Am Legend movie concept illustrations

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Being the Last Man on the Earth would suck

Fox is set to start airing the simply titled Last Man on Earth series this Sunday (3/1). Last Man on Earth stars Will Forte as the titular last man on the planet who gets to eats whatever he wants, loots fine art and searches for anyone else left alive.

Which got me thinking, while Last Man on Earth looks to take a serious/goofy take at being alone what would it really be like to be the last person on the planet?

I Am Legend

I Am Legend

We’re never really more than a phone call away from help. One call to 911 from just about anywhere in the US and the emergency services will come running. Even people on the sides of mountains trapped there after avalanches have been able to call 911 and be rescued soon afterwards.

But imagine if that was gone, that we were really and truly on our own and the last person on the Earth. There’d be no one to help us if we needed it and even worse resources that we depend on to live would slowly be depleted/perish leaving us to fend for ourselves.

Yet these ideas are very rarely used in all the various last person on the planet stories that have been popular the last half century.

Those stories take place in a mostly bloodless environment, where our male hero, and the last man is almost always a man, must fight against the elements/some sort of ghouls to survive. Where are the other 6.99 billion bodies? There NEVER around or if they are around they’re in the form of some zombie/monster.

But in reality the last man would have much more to contend with than being alone/monsters.

Quiet Earth

Quiet Earth

First all the things we take for granted like electricity and heat and food water and medicine would all eventually drain away. If there’s no one throwing switches at the electrical plant there’d be no more electricity. And while a smart person would be able to live off of whatever food stores were left after the end, fresh food would spoil almost immediately but canned food would last years and years, eventually everything left over after the end would be suspect since everything, even the stuff in cans, spoils. And eating some spoiled food can kill.

Since water only requires gravity to flow from the taps and most municipal supplies are designed to refresh a city full of people rather than just one person that would last much longer than the food. But eventually it too be it by a burst water main from a cold winter or a clogged pipe somewhere in the line and the supply would run out.

With no more supermarkets or water coming out the taps the last man would have to revert to the skills our pioneer ancestors had in growing their own food, hunting animals and digging wells. Only there’d be no one around to teach the last man things like how to stalk a deer and everything would have to be learned on the fly.

And one bad harvest could lead to starvation.

The Omega Man

The Omega Man

All of which is terrible, but is nothing when compared to what would happen if even a minor medical crisis would arise. Things today that result in taking a trip to the ER to get a shot to prevent tetanus, taking of a few pills to clear up an infection or outpatient surgery to remove an inflamed appendix would result in death to the last man. Sure, all the medicines would probably still be around after the end but I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t know what to take if I cut my finger on a rusty fence to keep tetanus at bay without consulting Google, would you?

Which is all why most last man stories take place pretty near the end of the rest of us. I Am Legend takes place a few years after the end where nature has just started to take back over while the New Zealand movie Quiet Earth starts moments after the rest of humanity sans one person has vanished. In these stories survival is still interesting, Neville’s driving a boss Mustang in I Am Legend and Zac in Quiet Earth spends time shotgunning his town when survival has yet to become desperate.

Which is how all of these last man stories would end. You can’t be on your own forever. Eventually some vital supply would run out, a sickness would take hold that’s more serious than an amateur could treat or old age would finally catch up with the hero leading to his demise. There’s no limit to the ways that our hero might meet his end.

That’s how all of the last man stories would have to end. Come to think about it, that’s how the story will probably end for the rest of us too.

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.

Robert Neville seeks shelter from the noises outside

Robert Neville seeks shelter from the noises outside

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.

One of the vampire mutants

One of the vampire mutants

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.

Neville, Anna and Ethan

Neville, Anna and Ethan

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.

i_am_legendAnd 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.

Survivor (aka I am Legend) Figure Set from Subway Toys

This action figure — which, let’s face it is really Will Smith from the movie I am Legend no matter what they call it — is pretty awesome. It retails for $140 and includes Neville’s dog Sam.

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What the heck was that? Pop-culture stumbled upon moments

I used to love channel surfing. I was the kid who went through the TV listings each Sunday in the newspaper and circled every program I wanted to see that week. And in the pre-DVR era this meant that sometimes I’d have to stay up late in order to see Night of the Living Dead or get up early to watch The Mighty Orbots Saturday morning cartoon.

But when there wasn’t anything on I specifically wanted to watch I’d randomly surf the dial looking for anything interesting. Most of the time this was a bust, but sometimes I’d stumble upon some interesting TV series or movie that I’d never heard of before that I’d end up loving to this day.

Simon Jones and David Dixon in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Simon Jones and David Dixon in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

One of my favorite series is Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m a huge fan of the HHGG books, love the audio/radio series and didn’t absolutely hate the 2005 feature film. However, my love of all things HHGG can be traced back to a chance viewing of the HHGG TV series (1981) back in the mid-1980s on our local PBS station. I only happened to catch this showing because I had to stay up late one Friday or Saturday night and since there didn’t used to be much on TV past 10 P.M. I found myself turning to PBS looking for anything to pass the time.

To be honest, I remember very little of the episode I originally saw. But HHGG‘s off-beat humor mixed with cheep special effects mixed with absolutely brilliant animated sequences I was hooked and instantly fell in love with the show. I became such a fan that I would buy HHGG first on VHS and eventually DVD.

Vincent Price is The Last Man on the Earth

Vincent Price is The Last Man on the Earth

One of my fondest memories growing up was spending Friday and Saturday nights camped out on in the living room and watching late-night TV with my brother. Saturday nights we’d usually watch Doctor Who and every Friday night we’d watch horror movies that would air weekly on one of the local TV stations. For some reason back in the mid-1980s schlocky horror movies were making somewhat of a comeback, and horror hosts from nationally syndicated Elvira to Sammy Terry (RIP) out of Indy were there to introduce the movies. To put it mildly most of these movies that were shown late nights were CRAP, but one of them has stuck with me over the years.

The Last Man on Earth (1964) was the first film adaptation of the I Am Legend story. Here, Vincent Price plays Robert Morgan who is, well, the last man on the Earth after everyone else is turned into vampires after a weird plague sweeps the planet. I remember that I only ever saw the movie once or twice on network TV, but it piqued my interest. A planet overrun with vampires – I needed more! It wasn’t until years later after I read the original Legend novel that I made the connection.

The cast of The Office

The cast of The Office

In our modern world of on-screen TV guides, websites, blogs, Facebook and IMDB I still sometimes stumble upon shows. The most recent of these is with the UK TV series The Office when it first started airing here in the US on BBC America. I honestly have no idea why I turned over to BBC America that day, it’s not like title The Office screamed “watch me” back when I saw it in ’03. The episode, “Training,” was already halfway over and was at the bit where David Brent (Ricky Gervais) strums on his guitar in a staff meeting singing his song “Free Love Freeway.” I couldn’t decide whether I was watching the most brilliant comedy on TV or if it was some reality show that had spun off the rails. Regardless, I was hooked on The Office from that moment on.

Ricky Gervais kicks out the jams in The Office

Ricky Gervais kicks out the jams in The Office

I remember that the next airing of The Office wasn’t until the following week and having to bide my time until then by surfing websites to learn more about I had just seen.

This randomness of all this has always fascinated me. Would I be interested in the same things today if there was something else to watch and I hadn’t been surfing the dial and stumbled upon these programs? I wonder what I’ve all missed?  Everything listed above is available on DVD and The Office and Last Man on Earth are available for free streaming online.