I AM LEGEND
General Release 2007
101 minutes approx
Robert Neville -
Zoe Neville -
Directed by -
Written by -
Mark Protosevich & Akiva Goldsman
Dr Robert Neville is a survivor. When a genetically-engineered virus created as a cure for cancer wipes out the majority of the human race he proves to be immune, which is ironic since he was the chief military doctor trying to develop a cure. When the majority of those left alive turned into wild, light-hating cannibalistic monsters whose only instinct is to feed he learned to evade them. Now, three years later, he lives in New York City, alone except for his faithful dog, the Crazies and the promise that he made to a dead wife that he would make things right. The mutants, though, now have a leader, a leader who thinks and proves to be a much more deadly threat to Neville and just at a time when hope enters his life again.
A new version of Richard Matheson's celebrated story I AM LEGEND (see Charlton Heston as THE OMEGA MAN) has been in the works for decasdes with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ridley Scott attached. When a project has been around for that long you know that it's either going to be a masterpiece or a complete dog's dinner. Fortunately, this is closer to the former than the latter.
The set up of a lone man scrambling for survival in the devastated remains of the past civilisation that he knew so well is so perfect that it's a wonder that the new version took so long to arrive. The visuals make the most of the creepily deserted and decaying city, grass breaking through the gaps in the sidewalk, deer (and lions) roaming free in the streets, abandoned cars piled up on every road, the chirping of crickers emphasising the silence in Times Square. This is a palpably awful and different place.
Whilst Charlton Heston's character revelled in his role as the lone gunman in Dodge, there is a very real sense of Will Smith's survivor losing his grip on reality throught the total absence of the human contact and the memories of a wife and child killed before his eyes. He's memorised every word of SHREK, watches taped copies of news reports and has arranged store mannequins in his favouring DVD store in order to act out conversations (something that sets up a very neat trap for him later on). It's a smart and nuanced performance that fills the screen right up until the action takes over.
Which brings us to the film's main failing - the Crazies. Fully realised by CGI, they prove once again just how far the technology is from providing a believable human being. They just don't move right and the technology can't invest any real character into the leader of the pack, which makes him much less of a credible threat, undermines the suspense and makes the action that the last act descends into more like watching somebody else playing a video game.
Even so, many sequences do have an impact and show what the film might have been. Neville's first foray into the dark in search of his dog is truly tense and scary (this is before we have seen the Crazies) and the zombie hounds that are held back from attacking the crippled hero by a thin band of sunlight that is rapidly getting ever thinner is a moment of sheer suspense that does work.
Sadly, though, the story then changes when the new survivors show up. We barely get a chance to know them before the Crazies full on attack and the unbelievable action takes over. It's a shame because what makes the film interesting is Neville, not the CGI monsters.
Matheson's story is still awaiting the film version to do it justice.Top
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