By CHRIS SNYDER
I Am Legend will attract two types of fans: those looking for a modernized adaptation of the classic 1954 psychological sci-fi thriller, and those looking to see a jacked Will Smith battle some beasties, Independence Day-style.
In an attempt to appease both audiences, the film bounces back and forth, never reaching its fullest potential or finding its place one way or the other.
Robert Neville (Will Smith) and his dog, Sam, hunt by day. At night, they hide…
(Photo: WARNER BROS. PICTURES)
This is the fourth film based on the post-apocalyptic novel by Richard Matheson, and the one that most closely resembles the original story.
The tale is a legend in its own right, a grim vision of the last man left on Earth. Robert Neville finds himself somehow immune to a virus that has spread across the globe, killing his family (in the movie they presumably die in a helicopter crash) as well as almost everyone else. Any survivors have been eaten by the “infected,” who have become bloodthirsty creatures of the night.
In the book they are described as vampires — monsters, yet still very human. The film takes a different perspective, morphing Matheson’s complex beings into mindless CGI Hollywood ghouls. Perfect for the “shoot-em-up” junkie.
We are eased into the action, with a good chunk of alone time with Neville. He talks to mannequins, drives golf balls off a military jet, bathes his German Shepherd, listens to Bob Marley and hunts deer throughout the deserted streets of New York. And he would have caught a deer…if it weren’t for a roaming pack of lions (we never really learn how a deadly virus caused the city to turn into the African wilderness.)
The film seems a bit too caught up in portraying a deserted metropolis, with excessive panoramic views of the abandoned city — not to mention the overabundance of blatant advertising in the shots of Times Square. It’s similar to the opening of 28 Days Later, yet in that movie the imagery of a zombified London is much more haunting and less gimmicky.
The examination of solitude, and how man copes with it is an interesting one. Yet, we’ve seen this done before, most memorably by Tom Hanks on a deserted island in Castaway. Here, however, we don’t have a volleyball, but Smith’s canine co-star, Sam, lending an ear to the lonely lead.
When we do meet the “infected” it is one of the scariest scenes in the film. What makes the scene so bone chilling is the invested interest you have in Neville and his dog. All the time spent “hanging out” with them now realizes itself in first-person camera angles, shaky filming and almost complete darkness. You’ll feel like you’re there, and yet wish you were not. It is almost disappointing, in a sense, to finally see the creatures. Imagining them as you listen to their squeals at night as Neville and Sam cuddle together for safety in a bathtub is half the fun.
In the end you might walk out of the theater feeling a bit cheated, but ultimately satisfied. While much has been changed from the original novel, the film is highly entertaining. You’ll hate Sam for not existing in Matheson’s story, and feel for her when she’s cowering in fear. You’ll laugh at the ridiculous computerized grins on the faces on the “infected,” but scream in terror (as some did in the audience) when they crash through windows looking for blood. While you’ll enjoy the film’s interpretation, after you read the book you will realize that only it is truly “Legend.”