Friday, December 14, 2007

I Am Legend

This is the latest iteration of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel of the same name. This is essentially the book that gave birth to the apocalyptic zombie story. Everything from George Romero's Living Dead series, to Resident Evil, to 28 Days Later their existences to this novel. I Am Legend is only the second version of the story I've seen (the other one being Charlton Heston's Omega Man), but this one was far superior.

I have dubbed 2007 the year of the one man show, with 1408, Into the Wild, and now I Am Legend. Will Smith stars as Robert Neville, a military scientist trying to contain an global virus (a cancer vaccine gone awry). Most of the movie is spent with him being the sole survivor (along with his dog) in the ruins of New York City, continuing his research to try to cure this virus. Of course he's not actually alone. Hiding in the shadows, and emerging only at night is a race of infected people who for simplicity sake, I'll just call zombies. It's a game of cat and mouse, as Neville rules the day, and the zombies rule the night. Turns out they're a lot smarter than he gave them credit.

I Am Legend delves more into the human condition than any zombie movie I've ever seen. This immediately puts it leagues ahead of most zombie fare. Neville talks to mannequins and his dog to prevent himself from going crazy. No end of the world movie I've seen explores this isolation and loneliness as this one did. Unfortunately, this doesn't last long. By the mid-point, the creatures begin emerging more and more, and it becomes just another horror flick.

Then we are introduced to two new characters, Anna (Alice Braga) and her son, Ethan (Charlie Tahan). They are traveling to a supposed survivors' colony. This creates an unnatural, and uninspired dichotomy between the two of them. Oh well, I guess they couldn't keep Neville alone for the entire movie.

It was quite haunting to see New York City as a ghost town (take Vanilla Sky and multiply it by a hundred). They reportedly spent $6 million just shutting down and transforming different areas of the city. Unfortunately some of the other visual effects weren't done nearly as well, with the creatures acting a bit too cartoony, and some very obvious CG work.

I appreciate one technique they tried to employ- non-linearity. Francis Lawrence, in his second feature flips back and forth between before the outbreak, and after. This worked for a bit to keep some important events from the audience as long as possible to build suspense. Unfortunately, what it builds up to is obvious long before we see it. This results in a fairly climactic moment- being fairly anti-climactic. In general, though, the movie is handed quite well by Lawrence.

I Am Legend makes attempts to reach beyond the typical zombie movie. It delves into isolation, and paranoia, and even religious themes. In the end, though, these ideas aren't fully explored. This does possibly go down as a definitive zombie movie of recent years.


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