By: Peter Martin (original publish date: December 12, 2007)
(With the Cine-staff off on a late-July mini-vacation, we thought it'd be fun to bring you some of our favorite pieces from years past. Enjoy!)
As a longtime science fiction aficionado with a weakness for special effects, Francis Lawrence's I Am Legend is catnip to me. That doesn't mean I won't be watching with a critical eye, though. I've accumulated a long list of pet peeves about the way that "last man on earth" stories are told, both in print and on screen, and personal warning signs have already popped up just from watching the trailers for I Am Legend. I hope I'm proven wrong and that the film allays my concerns, carrying me away to another time and place, but I'll be on the lookout for some of the stupid things last men on earth do -- and don't do.
1. They Become Attached to Just One Pet
Uh oh, it looks like Will Smith only has one dog. That's never a good sign. He exercises with him, tells him to eat his vegetables, hunts with him, and bathes him. (Later he holds the dog's limp body in his arms; just before that, he screams "Nooooooo!!", sounding like Darth Vader, which may or may not be related to what happens to the dog.) Why do you think all those old ladies keep dozens of cats around? In case one of them dies! Now, I'm not saying Will Smith's dog dies in the movie -- I told you, I haven't seen it -- but if you're the last man on earth, you have to plan ahead. Even if your best dog friend doesn't get eaten by lions or murdered by mysterious creatures of the night, you might actually outlive your buddy, so always have multiple dogs hanging around just in case. (Don't fret too much; remember, All Dogs Go to Heaven.) Unless, of course, Will's canine pal is The Last Dog on Earth, which might be another movie entirely.
2. They Don't Check to Make Sure They Are, In Fact, The Last Man on Earth
I'm sure Will's excuse will be that he needs to stay close to his laboratory so he can figure out why he's immune -- although, come to think of it, we don't see any lab scenes in the trailer -- but it's incumbent on someone who thinks he's the last man on earth to actually check to make sure. I don't mean broadcasting a message ("I'll be at the South Street Seaport every day when the sun is at its highest"), either, unless that message is taped and repeated continuously throughout the day. I mean getting out of Manhattan itself. I know you New Yorkers think Manhattan is the center of the world -- I did too during the dozen years I lived there -- but it's not the entire world, so try leaving town once in a while and seeing who else is out there instead of expecting everybody to come to you.
3. They Insist on Eating Meat
Vegans, speak up! We see Will exercising as well as eating and growing vegetables, excellent things to do if you want to live a long, healthy, if lonely, life as the last man on earth. But why corrupt your body by hunting animals? In the first place, it exposes you to unnecessary danger -- note roaring lion who doesn't know or care that he may be eating the last man and/or dog on earth. In the second place, if you're the last human alive, don't you want to live and let live? What did those deer ever do to you? Let's hear it for peace, love, and understanding between the species.
4. They Remain (Unnecessarily) Faithful to Their Mate
Vincent Price had the right idea in the first filmed version of Richard Matheson's story: keep your wife nearby. (Though, admittedly, that didn't exactly work out.) But both he and Will Smith fail to keep the survival of the human race foremost by not having other potential mates available. (Will seems to dance around this by sending his wife and child away on a helicopter, leaving open the possibility that they survive, at least according to the trailer.) This is related to Point #1: sure, you love your wife, but if she dies, you need to think of mankind. Plan ahead! In this regard, Dr. Strangelove really got it right. And before you call me sexist, I think it's only fair that both men and women have this option open to them.
5. They Don't Read Enough
I know reading isn't the sexiest activity around, but I'm concerned that, in the trailer, Will is borrowing DVDs instead of books. Sure, I love movies as much or more than the next guy, but all things in moderation. Besides, he's in Manhattan -- with the main branch of the New York Public Library available to him! He doesn't have to worry about suffering from Burgess Meredith's fate in that "glasses" episode of The Twilight Zone (a great source of "last man/woman on earth" stories, by the way) and, again, we're talking about the survival of the human race. He could educate himself to the greatest extent possible. And even if he's just looking for recreation, what's more relaxing than reading the great novels of the world? Really, if all this guy is doing is hitting golf balls off an aircraft carrier, needlessly hunting peaceful deer, and watching movies, I really do fear for the future of the human race.
6. They Hole Up in Cities
When I lived in New York, I met many people who had been raised in the city and never traveled anywhere else. Seriously, I talked to Brooklyn residents who'd never been to the Bronx, and Bronx residents who'd never been to Brooklyn. (Everybody goes to Manhattan, though.) So I understand the reluctance of many city-dwellers to go outside their comfort zone, but, related to Point #2: get out of town, buddy! Not just to make sure you're the last living soul, but to get away from those scary mutant things that only come out at night. There are bound to be fewer of them in New Jersey or Connecticut or even upstate New York, so get a move on. You might find you like it in the country. And don't use the excuse that all the bridges are blown up and all the tunnels have collapsed (see Point #5 to learn how to build a boat.)
7. They Walk Around With Clothes On
OK, maybe none of you want to admit it, but a lot of us like walking around naked once a while in the privacy of our own homes (as long as no one else can see us). Usually, it's not a pretty sight, but it's comfortable and the human body is a beautiful thing. In the trailer, Will exercises without a shirt, but otherwise keeps his clothes on. This makes no sense. If I'm the last man on earth, I'm stripping down and dancing for the first three days, at least. Freedom! Probably Will's excuse is that he'd feel uncomfortable being naked around his dog or that he has an endless supply of clothing in all those Manhattan stores, so he can just throw away his clothes when they get dirty and smelly.