358 – I Am Legend

Anyone familiar with Richard Matheson’s story about the last man to survive a massive worldwide plague will have very little to complain about regarding this newest adaptation, with Will Smith as the slightly crazed Dr. Robert Neville, the harried former military doctor who’s been waiting for signs of other survivors for three long years.

Every day, Neville gather supplies from throughout New York City, and every evening, at dusk, he shutters his abode against the onslaught of zombie creatures that live only in the dark. Well, against those who’d attack if they knew where he lived. Which they don’t, really. And Neville has it made, at least in terms of resources. He has generators for electricity, so he can cook his own food (and for his dog, Sam). He has great security. He can watch movies to his heart’s content. But after three years, he’s more than a little lonely – he’s beginning to go crazy. (He’s even positioned mannequins in the video store so he can “converse” with them each day.)

We have a vague idea of what caused 99% of the Earth’s population to die, but the movie’s more concerned with the aftermath; how Neville survives, and how he lost his family. (Hint: It’s not because of the plague.) And this is where the strength of Will Smith comes into play. Until recently, Smith was mostly Action Guy – Independence Day, Bad Boys, I, Robot, and so on – and basically thrived on dopey catch phrases. Good news! There are no catch phrases in this movie. In fact, Smith has to actually emote and act, and damn if he doesn’t do an exemplary job. Remember when Tom Hanks chatted up a volleyball? Same sorta thing, only Smith’s talking to his German Shepherd; he needs to in order to keep hold of the tenuous gossamer strands of his slippery sanity.

When he’s not out gathering provisions and scouting for people, Neville is busy in his basement lab, trying desperately to reverse the virus and cure everyone. I’m not sure about the science angle of this, but since Neville himself is immune, he figures he can inject one of the zombie creatures with his blood, but that doesn’t work. So he keeps at it, adding things, taking away things. It’s all very scientific.

Smith’s beautiful, evocative performance is among the best he’s ever given, about on par with the maudlin The Pursuit of Happyness; I Am Legend is an action movie that doesn’t smack you over the head every five seconds with, well, more action; it instead builds suspense and then pays off. Multiple times. One reason this works is that director Francis Lawrence employed a hand-held camera during many of the more violent scenes, and it’s usually a pretty effective method – it’s just that sometimes the zigzagging is a little jarring. Still, not a big problem.

There are some differences between this movie and the original story, but they’re not bad differences, exactly; an example of a story being updated while not being demonstrably altered. And here’s another plus – although you do get to see the creatures – and they’re pretty nasty looking – you don’t see them often enough to get used to them, or their hideous screeches, or their no-holds-barred, uninhibited, visceral behavior.



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