Saturday, December 15, 2007

"I Am Legend" (IMAX) Review


I Am Legend is the latest in the spout of post-apocalyptic movies to have hit the worldwide box office in recent times. Following after Dawn Of The Dead, 28 Days / Weeks Later and Children of Men comes Francis Lawrence's IAmLegend.

The project has travelled a rocky road in coming to our screens, having initially entered development back in 1994 with Ridley Scott attached to direct, and Arnold Schwarzenegger to star. However a spiraling budget signaled the end of Warner's plans. Since then, others were approached to direct (Rob Bowman, Michael Bay, Guillermo del Torro) but nothing materialized until Francis Lawrence and Will Smith came on board.

I Am Legend is the 4th adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel of the same name. It follows after previous adaptations 1964's The Last Man on Earth, 1971's The Omega Man, and the 2007 straight-to-DVD release IAm Omega.


Set in 2012, IAmLegend is the story of virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith), the last survivor on earth. He lives in New York City with his German Shepherd, Sam, as he seeks to gain contact with any other remaining survivors, and to create a vaccine for the devastating man-made virus, KV.

The movie opens with archived news footage of an interview with a scientist (a brief cameo by Emma Thompson), discussing how she has found a cure for cancer, and has successfully treated over 10,000 cancer sufferers.

Cut to 3 years later, and Manhattan is derelict. What was once a sprawling concrete jungle is slowly becoming an actual jungle, with weeds, grass and brush lining the streets and wild animals inhabiting the island.

The cure for cancer has somehow degenerated into the man-made virus known as KV, becoming air-born and wiping out 90% of the world's population instantly. Of the entire world's population, less than 1% of people were immune to the virus. The remaining survivors were infected with the virus, degenerating into a primal state of being, devoid of all human behavior.


Going into I Am Legend, I knew very little about it. I have never read Richard Matheson's original novel, nor have I seen any previous adaptations. In fact, I had only watched one trailer for this movie. So, I wasn't entirely sure what I was to expect from the last "blockbuster" of 2007.

As mentioned above, the film begins with a brief clip of the unveiling of the much-sought-after cure for cancer, modern civilization's Holy Grail. Cut to 2012 and we get a very quick view of how the world now looks - a world abandoned.

The shots of an empty New York City are striking and very well done. Most people will associate Times Square with being full of neon lights and people, so to see Will Smith hunting a deer through an overgrown Times Square is quite surreal.

The film moves along at a rather slow but acceptable pace to begin with, and we get acquainted with Smith and his German shepherd quickly.

As Smith moves through the city, we get to know little pieces of back story as he talks to his dog. The images of an abandoned Manhattan pack real power, and so too does the image of a collapsed Brooklyn Bridge. One can't help but think back to September 11 as another of NYC's famous landmarks no longer stands to prominence.

As night falls, Smith begins to lock down his house, and we wonder what exactly is he barricading himself in from?

This is revealed in quite a tense scene as Smith is forced to follow Sam into an abandoned building after she has chased a deer. For me this was probably the best scene in the movie. We are restricted of seeing much apart from Smith's flashlight and the odd glimpse of his face as he desperately searches for Sam. The scene feels quite claustrophobic and tense, and was well executed.

Unfortunately though, it's not all good. As this is where we get our first look at the "Infected", and I was far from impressed. While the CGI of New York City is extremely convincing, the same cannot be said for the Infected. To me they looked like they were lifted from a video game. The texturing and shading was off, and they just looked like they were CGI (I know that they are, but we shouldn't be able to tell). This was the first thing I commented on after the movie - I thought human actors wearing prosthetics and makeup (maybe combined with moderate CGI) would have created a far better and genuine horror effect. Instead we get poor CGI models which really took me out of the movie at times.

As the movie progresses, we see Smith interact with mannequins which he has set up around the city and named. This was another thing which I was not a fan of. These moments came across as far too comedic, and as though Smith was doing this merely for his own personal amusement as opposed to his own psychological breakdown due to isolation. While this may have been how the director intended it to be, it certainly came across as "comic relief" and got some laughs from the audience.

As we enter the final-third, the movie trails off. Some things become too convenient and predictable, and as mentioned above - the Infected do nothing to instill real fear into the viewer.

Another thing that bothered me about the movie was the lack of having the audience feel much emotion. We see flashbacks to Neville's wife and daughter leaving Manhattan, along with their goodbyes to Neville and their ultimate fate - but I never felt like I cared. I'm not heartless. Sure I felt "that must be a terrible thing to have to do", but there was no connection. In fact, the only scenes in the movie which had any emotional impact were between Neville and his dog, Sam.


So, is this film "Legend"? Not quite. I enjoyed it for the most-part, and never felt at any stage that it dragged or that I was "bored". But in saying that, it certainly could have been better, and could have given us some answers (how did the cure degenerate, how was Neville "immune" to the virus, how was everything still "working", etc).

Will Smith gives a very good performance, and manages to hold our attention for the duration - not an easy feat given that he's alone on-screen for the majority of the 100 minute running time. Also, the spectacle of a derelict and empty New York City is worth seeing.

In the hands of a different director (Ridley Scott comes to mind), this tale of isolation could have amounted to being "legendary". Unfortunately, I'd say it's more a case of "I Am Worth A Watch".


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