- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by David Medsker
he latest adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel “I Am Legend” is pretty much what you would expect from a modern-day remake of the story, both for better and for worse. You can practically hear the pitch session: “It’s ’Cast Away’ meets ’28 Days Later’!” No wonder Will Smith signed on to play the lead. He’ll get plenty of Oscar Winning Moments with no one but a German shepherd in a position to upstage him, and he gets to bust a cap at the same time. Who wouldn’t sign on to play that part, especially once they see how the screenwriters “radically interpreted” the story’s ending?
The movie begins with news footage of a woman announcing that she has created a cure for cancer. The movie then cuts to Manhattan three years later, and the island is completely deserted. The only person left is military scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith) and his dog Sam. Robert and Sam hunt and gather by day, but lock their house down like a fortress at dusk, to keep the beasties at bay. Through flashbacks, we learn that the cancer cure mutated into a virulent, airborne strain of rabies, killing 90% of its victims and turning the rest into a freakish pack of animal-like vampires. Robert, who’s strangely immune, has not given up hope of finding a cure and continues to reach out via daily AM radio transmissions to any other uninfected survivors. However, the time alone is starting to affect his sanity, and that causes him to get sloppy.
To accept “I Am Legend” warts and all, you have to accept that the Dark Seekers, as they are called, are both as dumb and as smart as the story needs them to be; no sooner than the movie informs us of the Seekers’ complete de-evolution as humans do we witness an act of such cunning that there is no way that they are capable of that kind of advanced logic. You also have to accept that the virus mutated its victims’ physical structure as well, so that they resemble evil Coneheads. You have to accept that, despite barricading every window at night, the sun is shining on Smith’s face every morning when he wakes up. (Sam is clearly one talented dog.) Lastly, you have to accept that this is a ‘jump’ movie, meaning it is loaded with moments that will make you jump in your seat unnecessarily. All will be quiet, and then BANG! Smith is closing the barricades on the windows. You’ll jump, but it’s a cheap scare. Oh, one last thing: the CGI is on par with director Francis Lawrence’s last effort, the 2005 supernatural thriller “Constantine.” In other words, not even the humans move like humans in certain scenes.
Casting is key in a movie like this, and Smith is engaging enough to carry the movie during the ‘solo’ scenes. The problems start when he has to interact with anyone outside of Sam the dog; in previous incarnations of “I Am Legend,” the Neville character had one group or another that he could actually engage as human beings throughout the story, but here he has none. That change, however, pales in comparison to the ending, which is more reminiscent of “The Player” than the original story.
There have been a couple curious decisions by the studios in the last quarter in terms of release dates for their movies. The Weinsteins dropped “The Mist,” easily the best horror movie of the year, on Thanksgiving weekend (?), and now Warner Bros. releases “I Am Legend,” quite possibly the quietest action movie ever made, just before Christmas. It’s a strange choice, but to be fair, I’m not sure there is any other time of year that would have made “Legend” a more pleasurable moviegoing experience. The movie is simply okay. Not awful, not great. Definitely beneath Smith’s abilities, though.
Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Review:
In true Warner Bros. fashion, the two-disc release of “I Am Legend” represents one of the most lackluster special edition DVDs of the year. Disc one contains the film and four animated comics (each telling a short story about different survivors around the world), while disc two includes an alternate cut of the film with the much talked-about “controversial” ending. No commentary track by Smith or the director. No deleted scenes. No production featurettes. Nothing. You know, just because the movie’s about the end of the world doesn’t mean you need to treat it like so.