13 March 2008

The Appliance of Genius

The latest American Hell cartoon couldn't help but make me smile.

'Why are you quoting the toaster?' I asked Brother the Elder earlier, glad that he had done so, as it was only this morning that I'd noticed the label about the actuating lever and thought it was a great sentence.
'It's the appliance of genius,' he said.

There wasn't much I could say to that, so he followed up by saying that he'd just made tea, and to ask me whether I'd seen the original ending to I Am Legend. I hadn't, so immediately clicked on the link he sent. You'd be well advised to do likewise, at least if you've seen the film.

Interesting, eh? Radically different from the film as it stands, certainly, and implicitly closer to the book, in that it makes pretty explicit how the film's vampires see him as a legendary being, hunting them down like a mythical monster or a serial killer. I'm not sure that the film would really have been any better with this ending, though, not least because of the final sequence involving a somewhat confusing bridge.

I was glad to see this anyway, as it happens, as I'd been thinking again the other day about the differences between the film and the book, which I read a few weeks ago in the immediate aftermath of Bleak House. The Cheesemonger was intrigued to hear this when I mentioned it on Saturday, not least because he'd been disappointed by the film, and felt that the film I described was far more interesting than the film he saw.

What was the book like? Very different, was really all I could say. My feeling was that the film's makers had read the book, liked it, summarised it for a producer in one of those ludicrously concise pitches so lethally lampooned in The Player, and been commissioned to make a film based on their pitch rather than on Matheson's brilliant novel.

The novel really is something special. Granted, I'm hardly a connoisseur of either horror or classic science fiction, but I think Stephen King has it spot on when he says that Matheson
'... single-handedly regenerated a stagnant genre, rejecting the conventions of the pulps that were already dying, incorporating sexual impulses and images into his work as Theodore Sturgeon had already begun to do in his science fiction, and writing a series of gut-bucket short stories. What do I remember about them? I remember what they taught me; the same thing that rock’s most recent regenerator, Bruce Springsteen, articulates in one of his songs, no retreat, baby, no surrender. I remember that Matheson would never give ground. When you thought it had to be over, that your nerves couldn’t stand any more, that was when Matheson turned on the afterburners. He wouldn’t quit. He was relentless. The baroque intonations of Lovecraft, the perfervid prose of the pulps, the sexual innuendoes, were all absent. You were faced with so much pure drive that only rereadings showed Matheson’s wit, cleverness, and control.'
The pace alone is stunning, but King's right, there's far more to it than that. It's a jewel, really. A strange one, but a real one for all that.

One of these days I must get round to watching The Last Man on Earth which is conveniently viewable online, having fallen into the public domain somehow. I'm intrigued by the idea of Vincent Price as Robert Neville, or whatever he's called in the film. Not just yet, though; work needs doing.

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