I am sure most have seen this movie, but perhaps a few didn’t realize that it was first a short novel from the 50’s. At the time when this one came out in theaters, I was unaware that it was first a novel. I also did not realize that this was not the first time the story had been made into a movies.
Richard Matheson is one hell of a writer. Honestly his famous novels are almost too many to name, but I will do it anyway. The Shrinking Man, Hell House, What Dreams May Come, Bid Time Return, A Stir of Echoes, and Button Button. Goodness, I am not sure of another writer that has so many incredibly famous novels, not only that but most of which have been turned into movies. Matheson has also written 16 episodes for The Twilight Zone series. I have to confess that I did not know who he was, other than he wrote this novel. But I have seen quite a few of movies based on his novels. A Stir of Echos is a really good movie. Button Button is another movies that had a really neat premise, the movie is called The Box. Matheson won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement, and is in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. WOW!!! Truly one of the most remarkable careers I have ever seen. Sadly he passed away 2013 at the age of 87.
Robert Neville is the last person left in Los Angles. He had modified his house, stock piled food, and even rigged up a generator to give him electricity. During the day he searches for things he need or works on maintaining his house, but at night he is bunkered down listening to their shouts and screams. A disease has ravaged through LA turning everyone into vampires. Being the last person alive has pushed him to the brink of sanity while he tries to learn as much as he can about his enemies.
The book was quite a bit different from the movie, and I find it interesting to now have read the book and also seen the movie (the one with Will Smith). I would have loved to have talked to whomever wrote the script and find out how they got the final version for the movie. For me I think this is a rare instance where the book and movie are on the same level. I thought the movie was great and I feel the same about the book. Usually the book is so much better that it is not even close, but despite the major differences the movie is just as good as the book.
One of the major differences from the movie to the book is the main character Robert Neville. In the movie he is an Army Colonel and highly intelligent virologist. His character in the book could not be more opposite. The Neville in the book is a drunkard who is teetering on the edge of losing his sanity. The book Neville seemed to be not as strong mentally and more depressed than the movie Neville. While reading it was easy to relate to book Neville as you could really feel his agony. He lost both his wife and child to the disease and had not seen or talked to another person in months, which turned into years. Because I am a werirdo I sometimes envision that I am the last person on the planet. At times it sounds awesome, no one to tell you what to do, and you can do whatever you want. BUT what I forget is exactly what book Neville went though. How long could you last not talking to anyone or interacting with another human. At first it might be nice but eventually I think that would slowly drive a person insane.
Also, the book Neville seems like just a normal guy not a Colonel or having any advanced degree. He is not a doctor in the novel but he seems to just work an ordinary job but is intellectually curious about figuring out about the plague or disease, basically just forming his own opinion and conducting rudimentary experiments. In the movie Neville is a doctor who knows what he is doing and trying to find a cure on his own. He has a lab in his basement where he is using all means necessary to try and find a real cure.
The other major difference from the book to the movie are the vampires. In the book they are more traditional, sleep during the day alive at night, afraid of crosses, the typical vampires. Whereas in the movie they are more some type of mutant vampire. In the book they still need blood to survive, but in the movie this does not seem to be the case. While both share a fear of light that is really about all they have in common. Also in the book there are two types of vampires. Those that were turned while still alive and those that were dead before and the virus reanimated them. In the book guns seem to have little to no effect on them whereas wooden stakes through the heart kill them permanently. In the movie Neville use a machine gun to kill the vampires not needing a wooden steak to do so.
Another difference is the darkness of the book. While I will say that the movie is certainly very dark and somewhat depressing in terms of its tone, I would argue the book is more so. I think the movie does a better job of showing what the world is like being the last person, but they leave out what Neville is actually feeling. This is where the book really steps up. Matheson makes it clear that Neville is very depressed, drinking himself to sleep at nights and wondering why he is the only one still alive. To me this really drove home the darkness of truly being the last person alive, after having lost his family. That would truly be a horror in and of itself, then when you throw in the vampires and the treat of being killed every night. It certainly makes for a hell on Earth scenario.
As far as the endings go for both the movie and book I thought the movie ending was better. The book ending was somewhat odd I thought. It was fine and certainly fit with the dark theme of the book, but I was a little disappointed for the most part. I thought Matheson could have ended the story a little better and the book may have been even better, but as always what do I know. Still I liked the movie ending better though.
Overall I recommend you should read and watch the movie for this one. I am not sure what I would do first as I saw the movie first. Honestly they are different enough that it does not matter. They are similar in story but each has something a little different to offer. Also, the book is not very long and is closer to a novella instead of a full length novel. I also felt that it was a very easy read in terms of description and dialogue and action. This was an exciting read basically from page one. Despite its age this one holds up quite well, you certainly will not be disappointed with the movie or the book.