We know all about alternative endings. They're extra takes that, when you finally see them, you understand why they weren't used in the final film. They're filler for the DVD. They're amusing but ultimately pointless fluff.
Except when they aren't.
Everyone's abuzz over the alternate ending to I Am Legend that showed up online last week. It'll be on the DVD, of course, but that isn't stopping anyone from drooling all over it now, or from watching it as quickly as we can before it gets pulled ... though why Warner Bros. would cut off this line of free advertising by wildly enthusiastic fanboys who are gonna buy the DVD anyway is a mystery to me. (Vic at Screen Rant has already had the ending yanked from his site, but you can still watch it at FirstShowing.net, where Alex's analysis of the new ending has prompted quite an interesting conversation.)
Don't read on if you don't want the endings -- either the original or the alternate -- of I Am Legend spoiled.
People who were unhappy that the movie deviated so far from Richard Matheson's 1954 novel will be more pleased with the alternate ending, because it restores a sense of the vampires as sentient beings, and not the mindless monsters they were in the original theatrical version. In the book, the character of Neville (played by Will Smith in the movie) is a legend among those vampires because he's been hunting them, and they are smart enough and self-aware enough to be terrified of that in a way that they can communicate it among themselves: it's the beginning of their culture. This alternative ending restores a sense of that, and diminishes -- greatly -- the sense of Neville's legend legacy as coming about because he created a cure for the vampirism and died in the process.
Oh, yeah: and Neville does not die in this new ending.
I like the new ending a whole lot better than the theatrical one for how it lends all sorts of additional possibilities for this transformed Earth: humans may be on their way out, but the vampires may create something new. But this new alternate isn't alternate enough to fix the one big problem with the film: the arrival of the woman and the child into Neville's solitude. That's where what had been an astonishingly un-Hollywood movie, a startling portrait of loneliness, went Hollywood. It would have taken a whole alternative third act to fix that.
MaryAnn Johanson (email me)
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