I Am Legend Review
Written by: thegoldensimatar
Okay, first off let me say something before I get into my review so you won’t have to read the whole thing just to know if I Am Legend is good or not. Basically, the first two thirds of the movie is decent, the last third completely and utterly destroys the film. The reason? None other than the fact that this flick is tailored for the mainstream and not for the horror community. I won't mention the third act, just so y'all will be surprised by its complete crazyness and then you will understand my low grade.
This recent incarnation of Richard Matheson’s classic novella has been in development hell for over a decade and has gone through several directors and stars. It took director Francis Lawrence and Will Smith to finally bring it to the screen and the results are a mix.
The adaptation fell to writers Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman. Their screenplay is pretty good at the start and do take some liberty explaining how the virus started. In the original novella it is left fairly unclear exactly where it came from. However since modern audiences can’t stomach any mystery in films anymore, the writers happily spoon feed us that a scientist (played in a quick cameo by British actress Emma Thompson) created a cure for cancer using an altered measles virus. However this radical cure is a bit too radical and thus causes the downfall of man. Will Smith’s Robert Neville was working to counter the effects before the apocalypse; however it’s rather obvious he failed.
The screenplay is also is pumped up on the action elements to make it more accessible to the mainstream. However I do credit the writers with keeping the isolation for Neville so that’s not completely been watered down and that they wrote it tight enough so the film would not drag.
As I have said before the first two thirds of the film are the best. Francis Lawrence (Constantine) is able to keep the feeling of isolation prevalent in the opening. The car chocked streets of NYC are now full of weeds, car skeletons and runaway deer. The only movement of course being Robert Neville. In what could have been a serious drag until the Neville meets vampire scenes, Lawrence is able to keep a tight rein on the pace and the film move smoothly through.
The scene of Robert Neville walking through a movie rental shop picking up a flick and talking to various mannequins that does provide some humor, though its nothing more than to relax you. The cinematography by Lord of the Rings and King Kong DP Andrew Lesnie is wonderful when it gets to the dark scenes. The shadows are deep and lighting is sparse and with some scenes only lit by the flashlight on the end of Neville’s carbine, there is some nice canvas for Lawrence to weave some tension. However the tension that is built is something that will be felt more by a mainstream audience than a horror audience as its basic stuff we have scene before.
While in the book there is only one real action scene where Neville races back to his home at nightfall, the movie has a lot more than that. The action is well paced and here Lawrence shows his talent. MTV style hyper-editing, is something you will thankfully not see in Legend, the cuts are quick, but they are not a few frames then cut, we are allowed to process the scene and take it in before it shifts. This might not bode well with some teenagers as they are used to having movies look like music videos. For this I thank Lawrence for not making Legend a music video.
The first two thirds of the film do the story some justice. While certainly not 100% loyal to Matheson’s vision, the first two thirds do provide something to sate a horror fan to some extent. However, the problems and lost chances in the film help to kill it.
In an effort to stay spoiler free, I don’t know why I should, but a few folks might get ticked at me, I won’t reveal too much about the third act. However if you are a good and honest horrorhound like yours truly, you will hopefully agree with me it kills the movie.
The vampires in the novella obviously display some intelligence. They can speak and the females try to lure Neville from his home in a variety of ways *wink*wink*. However these vampires don’t seem much more than vicious, mindless killing machines, however we don’t actually see them make a kill. Thinking that they are mindless becomes a little more questionable as the film goes on as we see some instances of a male vampire attempting some physical communication with Neville and we see them set some traps for him. Showing the vampires with intelligence, even if they never said a word, showing intelligence through physical body language could have brought the film up and would have enhanced it. However these brief instances don’t last more than the single scene that they are in. A completely lost opportunity on part of the writers, there is a good deal to be explored and could have made the film better.
If the writers had chosen to explore the vampire intelligence more, it could have comprised the whole of the third act and replaced the piece of crap they concocted for it. Yes folks, rumors were true. The ending of the film is as opposite Legend as Queen of the Damned is from being a good movie.
However, Will Smith is not opposite. I know many of us were nervous with his casting as Neville as in every role he has been in there has been a lot of humor. Here however Will Smith shines wonderfully and plays the role with complete seriousness. He shows a great deal of emotion and captures the feeling of being alone and the feeling of loss. He of course brings it when it comes to the action scenes, that’s what he is good at but he can also emote and play well by himself. While in other films he has other actors to bounce off of, Smith carries the whole film squarely on his shoulders and carries it well. Will Smith is Robert Neville and does the character justice.
The vampires, or should I say “Naked, hairless, pale, humans running around in tattered clothes.” Yeah, you think they could have made cool vampires. 30 Days of Night gave vampires their fangs back; it gave them back their blood lust that they had lost over the years. Legend however looks like it might take all that away. Now in the film they are never referred to as vampires or really much of anything. The vampire look is simple. They are hairless, very pale and lack fangs. One can only deduce they tear open their victim via their regular human teeth. And though we do see some blood in the film, none of it is from a vampire attack. So we don’t get to see any kills.
However, the vampires are also…wait for it…drum role….MADE USING MOTION CAPTURE CGI! Yeah...and what average CGI it is. Apparently there was an attempt to have actors in makeup, but the makers felt they weren’t moving as aggressive as they would have liked so they did some mo-cap and CGI’d it. Now in low lighting, you really don’t notice the CGI and it is pretty good. Less is more, a very effective method of doing horror. Though once again modern audiences don’t like mysteries in their movies, they want to see the full thing and we do. The CGI is as painfully obvious as the CGI in low budget Sci-Fi originals. I know that is hitting below the belt for a large budget movie but DAMMIT! If you’re gonna do your creatures, which look exactly human spare for pale and hairless, you damn well better make something that is a damn sight more believable than that! Completely average CGI that might go unnoticed in some films, but where it’s put out in complete full on light and concentrated on…it doesn’t hold up.
The music composed by James Newton Howard is very well done and does capture the mood of the film. It’s nothing overly groundbreaking and will not invoke any images of John Carpenter, but it serves its purpose. The sound in the film is beautiful, crisp; clean, even, nothing wrong with it.
I Am Legend is a watered down mainstream movie of the book. While the first two thirds are strong and will satisfy a fan, not to any great degree but enough to have them say “it was a decent adaptation” the third act will make them go “they f**ked it up.” If I may make any recommendations to someone who wants to see this movie, watch the first two thirds then leave and save yourself heartache. However I wasn’t expecting greatness, I was expecting more than what I got. Legend is a movie that will completely please a mainstream audience who doesn’t care for crap about the novella and only wants to watch a movie with Will Smith and being its PG13, teenagers will swarm it.
It’s a movie however that will not completely please a horror fan. Maybe in another 20-30 years we will see an adaptation of the book that is actually fully true to it and keeps the tone right to the very end of the movie. However, this is what we got and it’s workable. I would probably rent it instead of seeing it in theater and save yourself some money. Oh, and there is nothing at the end of the credits.
Catch you on the boards folks, Simatar out.