Francis Lawrence's I Am Legend debuted over a decade ago, and while the film earned solid reviews and has generally been fondly remembered as a good sci-fi/horror thriller, there are certainly a few issues with the film that have popped up among some fans of the source material. These problems haven't gone unnoticed by Lawrence, who recently admitted that if he could, he would go back and make a more faithful adaptation of Richard Matheson's original novella. Lawrence explained:
Looking back at it now, I think that we could have just done basically the story of the novella straight up and made the same amount of money in terms of ticket sales because people went I think for the last man on earth. They would have accepted the nihilistic ending, they would have accepted vampires instead of people with infections. We could have literally made the book, which I would have been much happier with, but you know when you're spending that much money you're panicking that you're making this weird little kind of art film about a guy alone with a dog in New York and you're trying to you know sort of create that spectacle.
I Am Legend was generally faithful to the source material in the sense that it focused its story on a character named Robert Neville (Will Smith) dealing with his status as the last man on Earth. However, the film made a number of notable changes to the source material, not the least of which included changing the vampires to zombie-like monsters, and turning Neville into an expert scientist with a legitimate shot at curing the disease. Looking back, Francis Lawrence seems to think that audiences would've responded better to the film if it had stuck to the novella and told an arguably more straightforward siege story about a far more average man fighting an army of semi-intelligent vampires. If given another shot, it sounds like Lawrence would've simply stuck to what worked in the text.
Then, of course, there's the issue of the movie's polarizing ending, in which Robert Neville remains the hero and sacrifices himself to kill a horde of monsters, instead of the original ending, in which Neville learns that the monsters have humanity. Francis Lawrence continued his conversation with Screen Rant and explained that the original ending (despite being his preferred conclusion) didn't play well with test audiences, saying:
I agree it's the better ending. I mean, it's the more philosophical version of the end, but in terms of story math we're doing everything you're not supposed to do, right? The hero doesn't find the cure, right? They drive off into the unknown and the creatures you've been saying are the bad ones the whole time you learn actually have humanity and aren't the bad ones -- the hero's the bad one. And so you've basically turned everything on its head. We tested it twice and it got wildly rejected, wildly rejected, which is why we came out with the other one.
It will be interesting to see how these lessons become applied to Francis Lawrence's work moving forward. His next film is an adaptation of Jason Matthews' Red Sparrow (which, to reiterate, is not a Black Widow story), and given his remarks about how I Am Legend turned out; we will have to wait and see if he opted to stay more faithful to source material.
Make sure to catch Francis Lawrence's latest directorial effort when Red Sparrow premieres in theaters on March 2.