Warners Bros. has announced that its film adaptation of I Am Legend, the 1953 horror novel by Richard Matheson, will be released on Nov. 21, 2007, according to Reuters. Matheson’s novel has been seen as a response to McCarthyism, and it can be read as such, but that limits its meaning unnecessarily. In fact it is a strong assertion of individualism and against forced social conformity in general. As such it is very much a product of its time, as the Omniculture began to form after World War II. As I noted in my two-part National Review Online article on the subject, "the ’50s culture was not quite what it has been portrayed to be [stifling, conformist, etc.]. . . . Far from being a hotbed of conventionality, the American culture of the ’50s in fact did much to promote individualism, self-expression, egalitarianism, and a widespread reaction against mindless conformity."
The story has already been filmed twice. The first was the 1964 film The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price as the title character who spends his time fighting off vampire-zombies and searching for some sort of meaning to his life. It’s an enormously bleak and apocalyptic film, yet there is also an important theme of Christian hope: Price’s character’s blood may just be able to save mankind. Interesting, then, is the fact that the actor playing this character is named Price!
The Last Man on Earth is probably the first prominent zombie film and kicked off a genre that has lasted more than four decades. Better known than the Price film is The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston and released in 1971. Here, too, the Christian symbolism is strong, with apparent references to Judas, Mary Magdalene, satanism (in the form of a vampire-zombie family evidently modeled after the Charles Manson cult), a crucifixion pose at the film’s climax, and so on. Also dominant is the late-1960s/early ’70s sense of impending worldwide catastrophe, in which population growth, pollution, nuclear war, and other human-caused evils were expected to end life on earth at any moment. Ah, nostalgia. . . .
Smith’s films often have fairly evident Christian themes among the knockabout comedy and action-film mayhem, and it seems a natural step for the star of I, Robot to take on Matheson’s novel. It will be interesting to see what he and his team do with it.