Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Movie Review - I Am Legend

Yesterday I took my son with me to see I Am Legend. Unfortunately, I made a mistake in seeing it at the IMAX® theater at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale. Don't get me wrong, it is a great IMAX theater. The theater is inside a dome and features a 180 degree screen that enhances the visual effects of movies, particular in scenes that feature flying or other such motions. However, I Am Legend was not shot in an IMAX format, so it did not translate well to this particular theater's screen.

First off, having been aware of the mixed reviews the movie received, I did not expect I Am Legend to be the greatest movie ever made. It ended up being exactly what I wanted out of it, a decent movie that held my interest. Will Smith basically has to carry the entire movie on his shoulders, and he manages to pull it off. His dog, called Samantha, also is likeable, and should be nominated for a best supporting animal award. :-)

Most of the movie consists of Smith's military scientist Robert Neville and the aforementioned Samantha looking for food, supplies and engaging in some recreational activities in a deserted Manhattan during the day, and waiting at mid-day at the South Street Seaport for anyone who might have heard his daily broadcast. Nights are spent huddled in Neville's fortified Washington Square Park home hiding from the lurking threat outside. Neville still is engaged in his self-driven mission to try to find a cure for the virus that wiped out billions of people while turning many of the survivors into vampiric mutants.

I have not read the book I Am Legend, from which the movie is loosely adapted, though I did read a synopsis. I have seen the Charlton Heston film The Omega Man several times and I do recall watching the Vincent Price version The Last Man on Earth when I was a child. In The Omega Man, the infected were not monsters, though the virus turned them into albino-like beings that could not tolerate sunlight. They had formed some kind of bizarre cult called "The Family", and in ideology were like religious fanatics trying to destroy Heston's immune Robert Neville, who for them represented the last living reminder of the human race that was responsible for the world's ills. In the Will Smith film, the infected are violent creatures who are seemingly incapable of rational thought, a conclusion that Smith's Neville arrives at, to his later misfortune.

What I found interesting about the portrayal of a Manhattan devoid of humans in the year 2012 is that it jibes with the description of an abandoned Manhattan as depicted in the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. I don't know if the writers for I Am Legend consulted with Weisman in creating the look for a post-human Manhattan, though it would not surprise me if they did. I have not read Weisman's book yet, though I did read an excerpt in a recent issue of Scientific American that focused a lot on what would happen in Manhattan. The buzz around Weisman's book also sparked a History Channel special that aired last night called Life After People. It too featured a glimpse of what Manhattan would look like several years after humanity vanished.

While I generally liked I Am Legend, I thought of things that might have been done to make it a better movie for me. At various points in the film we witness flashbacks of Neville trying to get his wife and daughter out of Manhattan before it is completely quarantined. We can assume that Neville was going to have other personnel with him while remaining in Manhattan to try and stop the virus. I would have liked a flashback scene included that showed the last humans with Neville succumbing to the virus and/or the "darkseekers". When we last see Neville's captured "darkseeker", the antivirus he has injected into her is starting to work because he has also put ice around the darkseeker in order to enhance the drug's effects, but we never see where Neville gets the idea to do it, because in a previous scene the antivirus appears to be a failure. I suspect that after the scene where Anna tells him about the alleged survivor's camp in Vermont and that the virus does not seem to work in the cold, Neville gets upset with her and leaves her for a while to be alone. I wonder if there might be a deleted scene where Neville decides to put ice on the darkseeker after pondering what Anna had told him.

Some atheist bloggers who reviewed this movie blanched at the ending dialogue, where Neville appears to accept Anna's explanation that what is happening is part of God's plan. I don't think it necessarily has to be the case. Seconds after he sees the beneficial effects the ice is having on the captured darkseeker in conjunction with the antivirus, the attacking darkseekers threaten to break into the lab. Neville realizes there is only one alternative left if he truly wants his work to have any meaning, and he chooses that alternative. I won't give away the ending to any readers here who have not seen the movie, but based on the trailer below, it looks like the DVD will have an alternate ending as well.


Antimatter said...

The book is excellent, well worth reading. And by most accounts far superior to the film, which I have not yet seen. There was no religious angle to the book's ending either, just a commentary on the nature of civilization.

tina FCD said...

I loved the movie. It was for entertainment and that's what I got, I love to be spooked by a movie.