“I Am Legend”: Sacrifices Nothing

I Am Legend

Most often than not the big budget films of the year will pander to their audiences; too much handed to us, too much force fed. Excitement is equated with explosion. Ideas are sacrificed for marketability. Character development is exchanged for a big climax. I Am Legend does none of this. Except for maybe the big climax – but it’s well deserved.

Quickly, a virus breaks out, kills everyone except for the scientist hard at work at ground zero, also known as New York City. The island is cut off. The rest that survived can’t be explained. I will only say that it’s a world full of tension, the silence of a naked city is almost worse than what’s waiting around the corner. Though what’s waiting around the corner is deadly too. Robert Neville, our scientist, our hero, is left to live in this world alone. His only connection with life is his German Shepherd. He lives out a routine, perhaps so he doesn’t go mad. The dog has become more than a companion, he’s the last shred of reality that Neville clings to, and Will Smith lets you know this. And not by saying it, but by giving a surprisingly strong and sympathetic performance. There’s a reason why Will Smith is the biggest international superstar we have, and it’s not only based on box office receipts, its because he cares about the roles he takes on. He could have easily been Will Smith, strolling through this movie, letting us fall prey to the pandering, but he doesn’t…


Every time I see Smith these days he’s bringing something completely different to the screen. Here he uses his face in ways I haven’t seen him do to show how deeply Neville has been affected by his situation. This is a man that’s seen the crumbling of the world around him. A man who’s so caught up in his routine that he can’t see his own hope dangling by a thread that’s slowly shredding. And when a man loses hope, what’s worth fighting for? What Smith does is more than just show us what’s he’s going through, he allows us to go through it with him. That sort of openness and fearlessness when it comes to performing doesn’t only make a superstar, it makes a great actor. To say that Smith carries this film is correct, but the film does a good job keeping up.

When Akiva Goldsman wrote Batman Forever and Batman and Robin I figured his career was over but since A Beautiful Mind he’s been able to take everything he’s touched and turn it into a fascinating time at the movies. This time with the help of Mark Protosevich and the director Francis Lawrence, as director, they’ve made it an utterly involving experience.

There are two things a science fiction film needs to do to be so involving (and to say this is a science fiction film alone would cheapen it) the first is to show us things we haven’t seen before, and while the empty streets of New York City is nothing new to cinema – never have those streets felt so lonely and desolate, so quiet. And the things that are explored within the barriers of the Island show a level of ingenuity that perhaps only a digital era could do. The second thing is to connect it to a struggle that humans face in reality. Godzilla was about nuclear power, The Host was about chemical waste and the environment, and Event Horizon, Dawn of the Dead, Sunshine…the list goes on, all deal with relevant issues from God, to regret, to consumerism. About 3/4s of the way into I Am Legend Neville hints at what else could be going on and how his world relates to ours when he talks about and quotes Bob Marley. Come into the light. It’s a powerful speech, one that allows us to see why his struggle has been so hard, especially if what he is fighting is a metaphor for the reason he quotes Bob Marley. The fact that what Neville fights is a mob mentality in it’s most primitive state only heightens these ideas. The fact that his battle takes place in a ground zero New York City allows you to connect the dots and reflect more specifically on what people have had to face in recent years.

Smartly the directors and writers take the idea of come into the light, and being in the darkness and do some extraordinary things with it. The well thought out use of light and darkness and of things not seen, coupled with Smith’s tip toe performance helped create the most intense scene I’ve sat through at the movie theatre this year. There’s a point where Smith, with trepidation, leans around a corner, revealing the next hallway in slow deliberate chunks, and I realized I was leaning to the right to look around the corner with him, then I realized my friend to the right of me was doing the same.

My friend said the end comes quickly, too quickly perhaps. But with a movie that’s all about a slow building of tension, there comes a point in which that balloon has to pop, and when it does you’ve spent so much time in Robert Neville’s shoes, living his pain and loneliness, that the flood of badness knocking at his door is far more frightening than it would have been if he had been fighting tooth and nail the whole film.

And those up for another chilling surprise should watch the original movie that was based on the book by Richard Matheson. “The Last Man on Earth” (1964), a black and white film starring Vincent Price that predates Romero’s zombie infested film “Night of the Living Dead” by a solid four years. It’s a tense and surreal experience. One on par with Legend.

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3 Responses to ““I Am Legend”: Sacrifices Nothing”

  1. Phillip Says:

    Here is a response to my writing above of “I Am Legend” and my subsequent response on my “About” page that further delves into possible themes that the film deals with.

    Isaac Glendening writes:

    Did you even READ “I Am Legend”? Your writing on the new film is complete bullshit. Stick to writing about ridiculous indie films that ten people per city watch in order to stroke their own pseudo-intellectual egos. Try not to lend merit to stories made into film that you really don’t have the mind to comprehend or appreciate.

    Can you at least tell me the plot of the *actual* story written by Matheson?

    –i.

    And my truncated response (sticking to the film and it’s life as an adapted story):

    I hate to disappoint you, but I suppose I won’t since you hold such a low opinion of me based on an opinion other than your own, unfortunately I cannot tell you the story as written by Matheson, because I have not read the book. I suppose someone who has might lend merit to the book, but an adaptation is an adaptation. Once another writer has it in hand, he or she will lend their own thoughts and insights to the movie or television series based on their own reflections of the world as it has affected them. It’s something every writer has to deal with when their novel or poem, song or short story is adapted into a movie. And what every adapter has to do or the script will be lifeless and robotic.

    Obviously, there are elements added to the film “I Am Legend” that do not appear in the book. That doesn’t mean that these elements aren’t relevant to the movie, which also means that if they are relevant to the movie, then they can be comprehended and as I wrote in my writing for “I Am Legend”, appreciated by myself. The best instance of a film I can think of is “Blade Runner”. The book is nothing like the movie. Both are incredible pieces of work that are about completely different things, and can and should be respected and talked about as separate entities. Or perhaps “The Shining” as re-envisioned by Stanley Kubrick, or “12 Monkeys” which is based on a short film that details it’s story through still photographs. Or “Die Hard”. Or “Bram Stroker’s Dracula” or “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”. Or “Adaptation”. Or “Hitman”. Or “The Godfather”. Or “Babe”. Or “A Scanner Darkly”. Or “A Simple Plan”, “Wonder Boys”, “Ran”, “Mystic River”, “Million Dollar Baby”…well the list goes on and on and on, through indies and big budget extravaganzas.

    Like all books though or adaptations, I’m certain elements remain. I chose not to write about those elements in my writing of “Legend” feeling that perhaps they were obvious. Like most zombie films, whether you regard Matheson’s tale as a zombie story or not the comparison is apt. Typically one or a small band of people are left in a world which the fear of being alone, being without human contact is the most overwhelming fear. And of course that fear is amped up by the memory of lost ones, ghosts if you will. In this version of “I Am Legend” Neville is haunted by memories of his family and the mistakes he made (it’s what drives him) whereas in the original version with Vincent Price (titled “The Last Man on Earth) there is a man outside who has become one of the “zombies” or “vampires” and repeats Price’s name over and over again. Or maybe it’s about breaking free of a singular frame of mind, about freeing our thoughts and opinions from the main stream, that mob mentality that seems to control every aspect of our society from politics to religion. Even if you have a cure, even if you have a way to pass that on and help someone, to show someone perhaps there’s a better way a healthier way to perceive the world around them, their minds are completely closed to other peoples’ opinions…

    Another thing about adaptations that I find interesting is if they don’t somehow adapt to the world around us, they aren’t as interesting or emotionally involving. Some of those issues are universal, and any great story will attempt to make those universal feelings relevant to our time.

  2. emo Says:

    i love this movie, actually, i am always telling stories to my friends about this heeheh..

  3. emo Says:

    i love it ehehe…

    add me up in my friendster accnt.

    aikzz_emoscreamo@yahoo.com

    tnx!

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