Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Fresh Prince is Legend

According to this article on the Vh1 website, Will Smith is scheduled to play the lead in a new film adaptation of Richard Matheson's apocalyptic vampire novel I Am Legend. The book has been adapted before as The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price and The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston, and served as an unofficial inspiration for George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. There is also a very good graphic novel version of the story.

I greet this news with a certain uneasiness. This could be a great film, but I'm having nightmares of Smith turning Matheson's tortured hero Robert Neville into the wisecracking hipster we've seen in Independence Day, the Men in Black films, and to a somewhat lesser degree in I, Robot. I don't mean to sell Smith short. I think he's a talented actor with a lot of screen presence, and though I haven't seen Ali, I've heard good things about his Oscar-nominated performance. It's just that he's played the tough guy jokester character so many times, one has to wonder if he plans to do it again.

My hope is that the dark tone of the novel will survive the translation to film, and that Smith and director Francis Lawrence won't feel the need to pepper the story with humor because some focus group said it wasn't funny enough. If you haven't read the novel (and you should) this is one bleak and horrifying tale. Regardless of who plays the lead, I can't imagine a big budget Hollywood film using the novel's ending, but I think going in the other direction would severely compromise the film.

I Am Legend is slated for release in 2007.

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