I Am Legend
I Am Legend
has a bit of a
pedigree. The movie is based on a respected Richard Matheson novel, and
Matheson is one of the greatest unsung talents of science fiction. The
novel has also been made into a well-known movie in the 1970s, The Omega
Man starring the Moses of the NRA himself and the king of the disaster
movie: Charlton Heston.
The new movie stars Will Smith – one of the biggest box-office names in
motion pictures. Smith has made his name in science fiction genre films
such as this – Independence Day, Men in Black, I Robot – okay, they
weren’t all that great, but they were mostly extremely popular.
It also features a
vital cameo by Emma Thompson – one of the great actresses of her generation
– as a scientist whose experiments to cure cancer instead unleashes a plague
that essentially decimates mankind on Earth.
It also has one of the most realistic and impressive post-apocalyptic sets
in film history. We’re not talking Escape From New York here. I saw
I Am Legend in a theater within blocks of many of the areas that were
shown in the film and the art design team nailed midtown Manhattan. Without
people but with the addition of overgrown plants, trash, free-roaming
animals and abandoned cars, the world of the film is undeniably creepy. The
better you know New York City, the more disquieting the sets become.
Yet when you strip away all the artifice, it’s still just essentially a
It is perhaps better made and more thoughtful – and certainly with much
better source material – but a zombie movie nonetheless.
Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist who is still trying to undo
a man-made plague three years after it is essentially too late. 90% of all
humans have been killed by the virus, mutating into
undead night-crawling marauders
who have killed and eaten almost all people who where immune to the
Through his training and intelligence, Neville has been able to survive.
Therefore he and his dog Samantha drive through the abandoned streets of
Manhattan, hunting for food, doing vaccine experiments on captured
creatures, watching videotapes of old news reports, shagging golf balls off of
abandoned jet-fighters, sending out radio messages that he will be at the
same place every afternoon.
Then at night, he and his dog go down to his house on Washington Square,
which he apparently lived at even before the
plague. (How did a civil
servant afford a huge four-story brownstone in the heart of the Village with
a park view?) They close the windows, put up metal barriers and shield
themselves from the howls,
crashes and odd sounds in the night.
He also goes to the video store every day, borrowing a new DVD every day.
Neville has set up a group of dummies around the shop, including a clerk and
And here, perhaps, the movie jumps too far in the surreal. Look, I’m not
judging. I’m sure if you go three years with no human interaction then you
will be desperate for some kind of company. Still, as a viewer, you can’t
help but thinking: the guy is chatting up a mannequin. Totally insane.
In fact, in a later
scene, he is nearly killed just because he is so delusional that he gets
freaked out because one of his mannequins has somehow shown up in front of
Grand Central Station – and he somehow is unable to completely comprehend
that this must be a trap. A mannequin can’t walk; therefore he must have
been put there by someone, right?
Smith does all of the
heavy lifting here – in fact he is alone (or with his dog) for huge chunks
of I Am Legend. Most of the other human characters are either
mutants or in flashback. For the most part Smith is up to the job of
carrying I Am Legend. However, his character has uncomfortable
quirks that make him hard to really like.
In fact, when two living human beings (Alice Braga and Charlie Tahan)
finally do show up, Neville acts like a complete asshole. Braga’s character
suggests that he has lost the knack of interacting with other humans,
however he is so off-the-wall that you again get that same queasy feeling
you got with him talking to the mannequins. It
seems like either bad storytelling or bad characterization – it may be what
would really happen, but it doesn’t make it more satisfying from a plot
Also, the zombified undead stuff has a strong whiff of been-there,
done-that. Yes, this is based on one of the earliest of these stories, but
by now we’ve seen the ravenous undead scrabbling for flesh way too many
times. I Am Legend allows the monsters a little more speed and a
little more intelligence, but otherwise we’re talking The Night of the
Living Dead here.
Too bad, because at its best, I Am Legend had promised so much more.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: February 12, 2008.