I Am Legend
"Might not be quite what it could have been, but still highly recommendable."

Richard Matheson’s acclaimed novel I Am Legend has been extremely influential to the world of pop culture and movies. The story about a lone survivor of a virus, who tries to find a cure for the vampire-like creatures that have been left by the devastation, while keeping himself and his dog alive has been adapted into a movie twice before, in 1964’s The Last Man On Earth and 1971’s Chuck Heston-starring The Omega Man.

It has been credited with influencing kooky horror-novelist Stephen King’s work, George Romero’s horror classic Night Of The Living Dead and, to a lesser degree, Resident Evil. Furthermore, given the ‘soul survivor’ main character and flesh-eating zombie types, it is perhaps predictable that the majority of cinema viewers will cite comparisons to Danny Boyle’s British horror flick 28 Days Later (even that, though, was inspired by Matheson’s novel but now I’m just being picky…).

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However, I Am Legend is actually more like Tom HanksCast Away, as it is a clever observation of a man using routine and varying methods of entertainment to stave off the mental damage such extreme isolation inflicts. Treating her as if she were a real person, Robert (Will Smith) spends most of his time with loyal canine companion Sam (dog Oscars take note) and this is where the movie really excels. Seriously, a man bathing a dog has never been so captivating.

Like Hanks, only without growing a ragged beard and portly tummy, Smith captures the loneliness of our protagonist flawlessly. He credibly conveys a man who carries guilt and responsibility about what has happened while showing fear and ultra-caution in respect of what hunts him when the sun goes down. It is to his credit that we completely buy this suspension of disbelief and are reminded of how far he has come since The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Far above the normal fluff we can expect in movies of this scale, his performance should be particularly appreciated when you consider that his role was originally slated for the present Governor of California. You can almost imagine Schwarzenegger’s version where he systematically wipes out the creatures one by one with nothing more than his biceps, an Uzi 9mm and few well-placed puns.

Speaking of mindless action, this is where the movie lets itself down. After a key turning point in Robert’s basement (tissues at the ready) proceedings unfortunately take a surprising turn for the worse. After the deliberate, thought-provoking and - given that it’s a blockbuster - surprisingly contemplative first hour, the movie suddenly becomes more like a conventional action flick. When the “dark seekers” start climbing walls and taking up more screen time it becomes increasingly apparent how poor a choice it was to realise them entirely with CGI. These effects (like the wildlife earlier) actually pull you out of the movie as it is puzzling how bad they are for a major motion picture. Something wrong with real actors in prosthetics and make-up?

On the other hand, the effects used to render New York uninhabited are breathtaking. Thinking about it, it is reasonable to assume that Constantine director Francis Lawrence used the majority of whatever sizeable budget he received to transform the Big Apple into a deserted and overgrown wasteland. The cityscapes on show are eerie, memorable and strangely beautiful to the degree you find yourself curious as to what Robert is experiencing. Those expecting something reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s brief sprint through Times Square in Vanilla Sky should think again.

As far as experiences go, I Am Legend might not be quite what it could have been, but it’s still highly recommendable. Smith is top-notch, Sam is the dog we all wish we had and the shots of a desolate Manhattan are genuinely haunting. Despite an ill-advised last 20 minutes or so, this is an introspective movie with impressive depth far above the soulless fluff that it could have been. For those viewers disappointed by this, there are plenty of Michael Bay movies down at your local Blockbuster.

Reviewed on: 30 Oct 2008
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I Am Legend packshot
In the aftermath of a devastating plague, the last man left must fight off those who are no longer human like him.
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Paul Griffiths ***1/2

Director: Francis Lawrence

Writer: Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman

Starring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Dash Mihok, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Darrell Foster, April Grace, Joanna Numata, Samuel Glen, James Michael McCauley

Year: 2007

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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