I Am Legend is a novel written by Richard Matheson in 1954. It’s the story about the last man on Earth, living in a dystopian Los Angles populated by the infected. It’s a notable story for its influence on the modern zombie genre (George A. Romero/ Stephen King, Danny Boyle) as well as its groundbreaking vision of vampirism as a disease (Blade, Resident Evil). It’s a backdrop of post-apocalyptic fiction also makes it a standard of pop culture.
I Am Legend had been adapted to other mediums as the films Last Man on Earth, Omega Man, and I Am Omega. All deviate from the source material as does the current adaptation. I Am Legend is directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine) and is a blockbuster vehicle for Will Smith. It opened with $76.5 million.
What sets this fourth attempt apart? Time. Special Effects. It’s beautifully filmed with a digital camera. Wonderful, cinematic vistas of a future Earth. An abandoned New York overrun by wild animals. They have the obligatory view of Times Square, but here it’s a ghost town ran over with nature gone amuck. With current technology and a massive budget, it looks so real. And that’s part of the appeal of the movie. Total suspension of disbelief, allowing full acceptance of the high concept.
Will Smith plays Robert Neville, the last man on Earth. How did this come about? Well, science has developed a cure for cancer, that has the side effect of turning people into vampiric/zombie crossbreeds. The creatures have a hint of the superhuman (much like the crazed zombies in 28 Days Later.)
Will Smith anchors the movie! Akin to Tom Hanks in Cast Away, but the major difference is there are no complaints about being boring. They obviously had much to study before making the movie. Such as Cast Away, the previous attempt for one actor to hog a screen for so long. Here, the best friend is Sam the dog, rather than a volleyball. People like dogs and dogs have more character.
Next, there is Children of Men, another post-apocalyptic screen gem that originated from a novel. Children of Men was successful in bringing about the suspension of disbelief, allowing the audience to immerse into the world. The strongest comparison for me though is 28 Days Later. I Am Legend shares a very similar theme of genetics gone awry- a man playing god. They are both suspenseful, with an undercurrent of terror always present. Never know what’s around the corner, what could leap from the shadows.
The detractors of the film list the C.G.I. creatures as the primary flaw of the film. Director Lawrence used special effects to render the creatures, rather than real actors. I’ll admit to it being almost a waste of budget. I can’t say it took away from the story. I had no problem with the special effects of Dark Seekers. In fact, how can these special effects really be a detriment when we are so accepting of puppets (Yoda, Farscape) or the more ridiculous creatures from science fiction ( Star Trek, Babylon Five.)
The complaints I’ve heard are about the absence of a typical happy ending with a tightly wrapped and convenient closure. This movie has none of the silly catchphrases that the American Public adores. And no romance, which is the key ingredient some women require for a film to be complete. Of course, these factors only made me love the movie more.
On a quick side note, the little girl in the movie playing his daughter is his daughter Willow Smith. She looks so much like her brother Jaden (Pursuit of Happyness) that I actually had to do a double-take.
How is the movie not boring? The Fresh Prince really delivers. I must admit, I enjoyed this sci-fi flick more than I did than the emotional tear-jerker The Pursuit of Happyness. Francis Lawrence makes excellent use of non-sequential storytelling. (Props to Tarintino amp; Lost for embracing the technique.) Whenever a quiet moment approaches in the film, it’s an opportunity to flashback to provide some back story. Awesome technique! It prevents the tired use of the data dump- where a writer tries to unload an entire origin story within the first ten minutes- usually rushing to get to the current story.
In the department of acting- Will is very capable. He didn’t show any range that one hadn’t already seen from him. We’re aware of his comedic timing, his action hero status, his ability to carry a project as the lead actor, as well as his strength as a serious thespian. I Am Legend requires all of those talents combined to pull off the tour de force. And Will did just that. I Am Legend has a well-balanced blend of humor, to keep the audience interested while maintaining the tension of the story premise. Kudos.