I Am Legend Review
Written by: jay_wigger
It's hard to categorize a film like I Am Legend. It's not quite a horror movie, although there are a few frightening scenes and the whole idea of being the sole survivor in a city that was once home to millions of people is by all means horrifc. It's not quite an action film, seeing as there's not much in the way of thrills until the last third of the movie. Call it what you will, but it most definitely would be considered a blockbuster, having made over $250 million at North American box offices.
Of course, the star power of Will Smith (I, Robot, The Pursuit of Happyness) can go a long way in getting fannies in seats at the theaters. In this, the third screen adaptation of the classic novella by Richard Matheson (the others being 1964's excellent The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, and 1971's Charlton Heston vehicle The Omega Man), Smith plays military scientist Robert Neville, a man who is left alone to try and find a cure for the virus that has killed most of humanity and turned the rest of it into rabid, vampire-like mutants. He's immune, you see, and his blood may hold the key to the cure. Neville spends his days roaming the streets of New York, hunting deer and foraging for food and supplies. It's a jarring sight, seeing such a huge and important city in a post-apocalyptic setting, having literally turned into a jungle over the course of three years. When he's not exhibiting his survivalist skills, Neville goes to the video store and "rents" movies from the mannequin who "works" there. In fact, it's these vulnerable moments where Smith's performance shines through. He very capably conveys a man consumed by loneliness and wracked with guilt over his failure to have perfected an antidote before the outbreak became a pandemic. Apart from the mannequins, his only real companionship comes from his loyal dog Sam, and the two make a compelling on-screen duo, playing off each other quite well. That's no slight, as the dog did a great job and Smith must have found it quite different that his only co-star for most of the film is of the non-human variety.
As directed by Francis Lawrence, who also directed the (slightly) under-rated Constantine, I Am Legend is a visually stunning experience, but after the excellent first hour and the introduction of the plague victims, it's all downhill. After being unsatisfied with the mutants as actors in makeup, Lawrence decided to go with full CGI for the bad guys, and it didn't quite pan out. They just don't seem real enough to elicit the fear from the audience that Lawrence was going for. I know, how real can vampire zombies be, right? Well, a lot more realistic than the end result in the film, that's for sure. The editorial decision to eliminate from the story the idea that these creatures were evolving and getting smarter was regrettable, too. All of this makes for an ending that's too quick and easy for this reviewer's taste.
As mentioned, the film is a treat for the eyes, and the soundtrack beautifully portrays the deafening silence of an empty city. The widescreen single-disc edition is kind of slim on bonus features, though, especially if you don't have access to a PC with DVD-ROM, where the juicy bits are. The four animated comics depicting individual stories in different areas of the world as the virus is spreading are excellent, showing just how entertaining this emerging technology can be. The DVD-ROM extras show the various stages in the making of the film and some mini-docs on the history of epidemic-style diseases, but unless you have Windows XP you're out of luck. Sorry, Mac users and Windows 2000-using film reviewers (unfortunately, this non-paying gig doesn't allow me to upgrade to XP). The two-disc release also offers an alternate version of the film with a different ending, among other things
I Am Legend amounts to an excellent character study over the first hour or so, and it's no coincidence that this is the part of the film that stays close to the source material. When the writers and director take artistic license in the final third of the film, though, it really suffers for it, making for a too-quick and too clean ending. If you are a fan and feel like you must get this film on DVD, spring for the double-disc version, as this one just doesn't offer enough bang for your buck.
originally reviewed on ioncinema.com