Regrettably it is not often a movie stays with me long after the credits roll, and even follows me into my dreams at night. But such is the case with Will Smiths latest thriller, and much-hyped I Am Legend, a haunting story of love, unshakable will and redemption set against the backdrop of a (mostly) deserted (by day) and desolate New York City.
I Am Legend is the latest screen adaptation of Richard Mathesons 1954 science fiction novel of the same name. This Will Smith vehicle is the third (credited) movie based upon the novel; the other two are The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price, and The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston. But a convincing argument can be made that the book has influenced scores of other movies (and video games) over the years most notable, Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of The Dead (1978), 28 Days Later (2002) as well as the Resident Evil trio of flicks staring one Milla Jovovich.
Directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine), I Am Legend takes place, well, in the future, in the Year 2012. Robert Neville (Smith) is a US Army medical officer who is intimately familiar with the mutated virus turned plague that as he puts it has wiped out 5.5 billion humans turned another 555 million into zombies, and left 45 million untouched, but then they were eaten by the zombies. There is reference to a cure for cancer at the beginning of the movie, but how we got from there to the virtual extinction of the human race, the movie was none to clear on.
Neville, who lived in New York City at the beginning of the movie with his wife Zoe (Salli Richardson) and daughter Marley portrayed by Smiths real life daughter Willow Smith, is still there, at Ground Zero. And he is utterly alone except for the packs of dear, occasional pride of lion, and zombies of course. Neville is searching for a cure for the plague and hunts vampire/zombies by day and experiments on them; he also experiments on rats, ugly rats.
The night belongs to the (evil) dark seeking hairless creatures that now inhabit the city; Neville and his trusty sidekick Samanthaa German Sheppardretreat to his swanky Washington Square townhouse where he locks and shutters the doors and windows with heavy iron, and spends most nights in the upstairs bathtub cradling his rifle.
Neville has a daily routine: he likes to hunt dear in the streets of the city in a seriously cool Mustang; grow and pick corn in Central Park, and get DVDs from the local video store; Shrek it seems is his favorite. And every day he broadcasts a radio message on all AM frequencies inviting any other survivor(s) to meet him at noon at the South Street Seaport, wherein they will find shelter, safety, and food. But in three years no one has come. Then evening Anna (Alice Braga) appears with her son (Charlie Tahan) in time to save Neville from the dark-seekers. She says that God has told her of a community of survivors in Vermont and wants Neville to go there with her. But he does not believe in God and is devoted to finding a cure for the plague.
In researching the background of the bookI have never read it, but now think I will do soI have uncovered that it (the book) is a lot different from the movie. For instance the setting for the book is California and Smiths character is not a scientist but an ordinary blue-collar Joe searching for a cure. Another stark difference: in the book the lead character hunts down and kills the quasi-intelligent semi-human vampires in their lairs; in the movie, Neville does no such thing. Would a true adaptation have been more compelling? Perhaps, but I have a feeling the adding extra blood and turning the movie darker would have pushed it into R rating territory (I Am Legend is rated PG-13), and shave a million or two off its box office take.
As written and shot, I Am Legend is compelling enough to me at least to have stuck with me long after the credits rolled. The barren New York City landscape kept creeping into my thoughts and I even dreamed about the movie. The film-makers outdid themselves in creating a New York that looked like the city only devoid of human life. The effect was a new level of realism that only lend to the eerie feel of the film.
I Am Legend is at its best when it portrays just how easily New York City can do without a bustling civilization, and conversely just how easy nature re-claims what humans abandon. The palpable emptiness of the city is crushing. And indeed I Am Legend is at it best when it is displaying the trappings of a human civilization that is no more.
Will Smith turned in another stellar performance, particularly telling since for most of the film he was in it alone. Alone except for the Sam and the CGI generated creatures that by the end of the movie are hunting him.
There are some genuinely scary parts of I Am Legend scenes that had me looking cross-eyed at the screen. The movie flowed well, but in my estimation could have been longer, taking a little time to explore the world outside of New York City, and explaining in more detail how the plague spread.
On many levels I Am Legend entertains, but in the end falls a little short of the novels mark, but then again movie adaptations area rarely as good as the novels they are inspired by.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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