An Apocoplytic Adventure for the Ages
We could have used “I Am Legend” this past summer to drown out the din of the superhero and shoot-em-up blockbusters. After all, a film about the last guy on earth being chased by vampire zombies in Manhattan is not exactly traditional holiday fare.
Better late in the year than never… “I Am Legend” was originally published as a novel by Richard Matheson. The book inspired 1964’s “The Last Man on Earth” and 1971’s “The Omega Man,” the latter of which is itself inspired moviemaking. The latest incarnation is that rare film that is indeed made for the masses and features a well-liked A-list star (Will Smith), but doesn’t let its big budget go to waste.
Scary, thought-provoking, jump-in-your seat suspenseful, it conjures up a “Cast Away” meets “Dawn of the Dead” concoction full of simultaneous solitude and nightmares.
The lone survivor of an epidemic virus, Lt. Colonel Neville (Smith) races around a desolate Manhattan in his choice of hot cars with his German shepherd as a wing man. Neville hunts deer, hits tee shots off abandoned aircraft carriers, and picks up DVDs to watch at night when the mutants come looking for him.
Holed up in his elaborately secure Washington Square digs, he also spends time in his lab- injecting potential virus-reversing serums into rats in the hope of finding a cure. Flashbacks recall the mass evacuation of the city three years prior, which included his wife and young daughter (Salli Richardson and Willow Smith, respectively). It’s a scene that purportedly cost $5 million to shoot, and it was worth every penny.
Director Francis Lawrence (“Constantine”) shows tremendous restraint by allowing us to examine Neville’s daily routines, which benefit from Smith’s relaxed humor, and by providing ample opportunity to gaze in wonder at the amazing camera work in and around a bleak and barren Big Apple.
Plenty of scenes provoke a “how did they film that?” sense of wonder, although with CGI it’s more apt to ask how these scenes were created. The effects here are pretty transparent.
Only cynical horror fans will find the fangorious creatures less than chilling, but most will find them furiously spooky. And these aren’t brainless monsters-as Neville finds out-they can set traps just as easily as he can.
The film doesn’t fill in all the blanks and leaves some room for discussion, but the basics work so well, unanswered questions don’t serve as a distraction. The ending, while less hopeful than some might expect, is nevertheless appreciated for its clarity and succinctness.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence