December 24, 2007
Smith is LegendThe Film I Am Legend (IMDb) has two great strengths: First, the convincing portrayal by Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville, who over time in solitude begins to suffer the affects of isolation. The second is the awesome visuals, depicting an abandoned New York City, which you see right away as Neville races through the City's abandoned streets in a Viper hunting deer, his rifle in his lap, and his only remaining friend, his German shepherd in the passenger seat.
Legend reminded me a lot of the film 28 Days Later (IMDb). In that film, the character Jim wakes up in a hospital after being in a coma resulting from a bike accident and finds himself in what seems to be an abandoned London. But soon discovers that, while he was sleeping, a plague has sept through Brittan rapidly infecting all who come in contact with an infected person; causing them to have extreme rabid and violent behavior – kind of like a modern-day more scientifically believable version of a zombie outbreak.
Legend starts in the relatively near future where a British scientist (Cameo by Ema Thompson) has reveled that she's developed a technique of utilizing modified viruses to cure cancer. Then the film flashes forward three years to a world where the cure has backfired and caused all those exposed to it to experience a similar condition to the infected in 28 Days Later, but also leaving them vulnerable to ultra-violet radiation—a modern day version of a vampire outbreak. Once the virus becomes transmittable by air; the government does its best to maintain order, chaos ensues, followed closely by the end of civilization.
A big difference between 28 Days Later and I Am Legend is in the gradual way that Legend reveals those who have become infected. The film, at first, focuses more on Robert Nevil's day to day experiences. The film tells the story of how society breaks down and the mass exodus of uninfected (including Neville's wife and daughter) through a series of flashbacks that lead up the present situation where Neville, a military scientist assigned to find a cure, and one of the few naturally immune to the virus, is still steadfastly working. His only companion is his dog who helps provide the moments of humor (in a way similar to Wilson for Tom Hank's character in Cast Away).
One of the more compellingly frightening moments of the film, involves Neville's dog, who has chased a wild deer they were hunting into a dark building. Neville is running after him screaming at his dog to stop; not to chase the animal into the dark, but when his dog and only friend goes ahead, Neville follows into the darkness with only the flashlight on the end of his rifle to guide him. The creepiest moment is when he comes across a hive of the infected humans standing in a circle, resting. He quickly covers the light with his hand realizing the danger he is in.
I Am Legend is not an Independence Day kind of blockbuster experience; instead its a much subtler film in the sense that it focuses on the routine details that wear on Neville as a result of being isolated and trying his best to remember his former life.
[BIG SPOILER WARNING] My disappointment with Legend is the tidy and convenient last quarter of the film, and the abrupt and implausible ending. Its annoying that for the majority of the film, Neville is alone, and at the moment when things look the most bleak for him, he's rescued suddenly by other survivors, who show up just at the right moment. The odds of that happening (albeit in a story where you've already suspended so much of your disbelief) are ridiculous. As someone I went to see the film with put it: The first two thirds of the film are amazing, but the ending is very disappointing. Oh well. (Oh and the infected humans look annoyingly a lot like Voldemort from the Harry Potter films).
Other than those gripes, its a pretty good and realistic approach to apocalyptic horror. 4/5
NPR's Bob Mondello has an interesting take on the film, you can listen here.