Intriguing Premise Turns Hokey in I Am Legend
- 2007 14 Dec
DVD Release Date: March 18, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: December 14, 2007
Rating: PG-13 (violence, disturbing images, mild language)
Genre: Action/Drama/Science Fiction
Run Time: 100 min.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Actors: Will Smith, Alice Braga, Willow Smith, Darrell Foster, April Grace, Emma Thompson, Marin Ireland
In storytelling, it’s constantly been said that it’s far better to show than tell. But in movies, especially ones that are meant to send shivers of fear up your spine as you reach for your popcorn, too much showing inevitably ruins the impact.
Take I Am Legend, for example. Watching Will Smith do battle with an angry group of blood-thirsty CGI zombies that all resemble Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies made me think of 2002’s Signs with Mel Gibson. All the enjoyably suspenseful, make-you-jump-out-of-your-seat build-up that was established early on was ruined the second you glimpsed the truly laughable creatures that were causing all the problems.
If the creatures were meant to be kitschy in that old-school horror movie vein, that’s one thing. But my guess is that’s not exactly what the people behind Signs and I Am Legend were going for. And the laughs that were prevalent among audience members at this particular screening only solidified how silly these creatures were in light of the perilous circumstances being presented.
That flaw aside, I Am Legend does have a few charms. After a brief prologue where it’s been announced that a cure for cancer has been discovered (wouldn’t that be nice?), the opening shots are eerily realistic glimpses of New York City without the usual horn-honking hubbub normally associated with Manhattan life. Parts of the city, like the Broadway theater scene, remain unscathed after the aforementioned cancer treatment backfired and caused the unfortunate chain of events the movie is built around. But the only signs of life are a family of lions, birds and deer (oh my!) and pesky weeds that have even overtaken the cracks in the NYC streets. And with the superb editing and precise attention to detail involved, one quickly gets a sense of the utter desolation that Dr. Robert Neville (Smith) and his trusty pooch are up against after surviving the viral outbreak that has (maybe) taken the lives of the rest of the population. Much like Tom Hanks and that volleyball in 2000’s Cast Away, Neville is without a doubt, alone, and left talking to someone who can’t respond back the way he’d like.
Rather than simply do nothing to pass the time, Neville tries to make the best of his new circumstances. After figuring out a daily routine that works (like making sure to keep his windows shut because the zombies prefer to do their work in the dark,) Neville regularly sends out a radio message to see if anyone else is there. And when he’s not taking his dog for a walk or saying hi to his “friends” who are actually mannequins at the video store, he’s working on a cure for the virus in his lab. In the absence of hope, he remains hopeful, which is always a redeeming theme.
Demonstrating the same sort of empathetic sensibility and broader range of acting that made his performance in last year’s The Pursuit of Happyness noteworthy, Smith does well with a role that doesn’t call for much dialogue. And one can’t help but notice that silence as the story relies on action scenes to keep the story moving. Without belaboring the point any longer, these often-cheesy sequences simply don’t cut it in the absence of conversation, making I Am Legend nothing more than an interesting premise that really never takes off. It’s like a second-rate horror movie with no sense of humor, which isn’t probably how most people would prefer to spend 100 minutes in a movie theater.
- Drugs/Alcohol: No alcohol use is portrayed, and the only drugs that are involved are the ones of the medical variety.
- Language/Profanity: A few mild expletives of the “hell” and “damn” variety of are uttered. A couple of instances of the Lord’s name taken in vain.
- Sex/Nudity: None.
- Violence: In abundance, given the film’s subject matter. Because of the threat of the infected creatures, Robert carries a gun at all times to protect himself and uses it repeatedly. There’s also plenty of disturbing images (animals preying on one another, the shouts and growls of all those zombie-like creatures running around). SPOILER ALERT: Robert’s dog is euthanized after getting infected with the virus.
- Religion: Before Robert’s family is separated, Robert’s wife initiates a prayer for safety. Robert also makes the clear delineation that it was humans—not God—who caused the crisis. The more time Robert spends alone, however, his faith wavers. When Anna talks about God providing a safe haven from the virus at a compound a few hours away, Robert says he doesn’t believe there’s one—or that God would provide that sort of respite. SPOILER ALERT: But in the end, Robert regains his faith and makes the necessary sacrifice to save Anna (and anyone else who happens to alive) from further harm.