Yesterday, some intrepid soul posted an alternate I Am Legend ending to YouTube. It's a full, polished ending, with complete special effects intact, so I'm assuming it was ripped from the special features on the imminent DVD. Blogger Adam Katz sent me the link because of the Book Vs. Film column I did on the source material and the four films (loosely) inspired by it; he thought I might be interested in seeing how the movie originally ended.
And it is an interesting spin on the film, I have to admit. Closer to the book in spirit, though not very much so in specifics. But I'm not sure it's really all that much of an improvement. Judge for yourself:
If nothing else, this version has less clichéd, obvious cheese: No big-ass explosion to top things off, no pointed wedging of the title into the dialogue, no big church looming over the final shot of the survivors of mankind, annoying everyone with its obviousness.
At the same time, I'm not sure what this ending is supposed to tell us. It feels like the key is Smith's reluctant glance at the wall of Polaroids of all the infected he's killed in his experiments – he's realizing that potentially, all of them had feelings and were, in their way, people, and he's a mass murderer. Which is certainly hearkening back to the book.
At the same time, it doesn't in any way change the fact that without a cure, humanity is essentially lost, and that these shrieking special-effects creatures are still sun-hating maniacs who live huddled in panting hives, suck blood, and are barely kept in check by their bellowing alpha male. Is it really that much of a happy ending to realize that all these infected people still have a tiny, wee scrap of humanity under their grey, veiny skins, and that they're willing to not kill Smith in this particular five-minute period? If anything, that just feels more horrible to me. Is this meant to be an unutterably tragic ending, where Smith realizes that humankind doesn't need to conform to his bourgeois standards (talking, wearing clothes, having hair, not poisoning people with a single bite) in order to be human, and that all his goals for "saving" them were misguided?
I didn't like the original ending much – it felt trite and actiony. But at least it felt definitive in a way that this one doesn't. I'm curious, though, what other people who saw the movie will make of it. Better, or worse? Or does it even really matter, in a film that has Smith hitting on mannequins and reciting Shrek at vast length?
Edited to add: The original clip and several mirrors have been pulled from YouTube for copyright infringement. No big surprise there. I've replaced the clip with one that's still working for now, but it'll likely get yanked, too. About all I can suggest is searching YouTube" for "I Am Legend ending" and seeing who still has it up. The DVD comes out March 18, and presumably includes the alternate ending.
Failing that, here's what basically happens: Will Smith and the other two survivors he's found are holed up in his underground lab, with infected invaders smashing their way in, just as it happened in the theatrical release. Then the leader, the one that's been stalking Smith ever since Smith captured a female infected for experiments, pauses and slides his hands over the glass wall of the lab, making a smeary, muddy drawing of a butterfly. Smith examines the female he'd cured, and sees that she has a butterfly tattoo. Appearing resigned and exhausted, he has Alice Braga open the locked door to the lab, and he wheels the test subject out. The infected hiss and snarl at him, but the alpha male shrieks wordlessly at them until they back off. He picks up Smith's test subject and they nuzzle and coo at each other, and then the infected all leave. Smith slumps to the ground and glances at his wall of Polaroids, indicating all the infected he's killed. The film ends with a shot of him, Braga, and her adopted kid zooming out of town, with a voiceover from her, recapitulating the message Smith used to broadcast, telling any other possible survivors who they are and where they're going.
Essentially, Smith realizes that the infected are at least marginally human capable of forming connections to each other on a sort of animalistic level, and with that realization, he gives them back the female he'd captured, and they all leave each other in peace. You know, for now.