I Am Legend
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, I saw this science fiction movie starring Charlton Heston as a man who believes is the sole survivor of a plague that has infected the entire world, turning the human population into crazed albino mutants. Something about The Omega Man, a movie based on Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, stuck with me. It wasn't the distinction it had of being the first movie to sport an on screen interracial kiss (Charlton Heston and Rosalind Cash). It was Heston's acting coupled with that crazy albino plague look.
Years later, I was discussing the film with a co-worker and he asked if I had ever seen I Am Legend, starring Will Smith. When I told him I hadn't, he was floored. He explained that I Am Legend is yet another film based on the novel by Matheson. He said, if I liked The Omega Man (which he found cheesy, but good for its time), I would enjoy I Am Legend. The next day, he leant me the film.
As the movie opens, we meet what we believe to be the sole survivor of a pandemic. The streets of New York are barren, overgrown by foliage and inhabited by deer and other wild animals. In a series of flashbacks, we learn that United States Army virologist Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville (Will Smith) is immune to the pandemic caused when a genetically re-engineered strain of the measles was used as a cure for cancer. The strain mutated and infected the entire population. Neville's family was killed when the helicopter they were being evacuated on crashed, but not before his daughter Marley (Willow Smith) hands Neville their puppy. Her reasoning was that Sam would protect her father.
Now, years later, a full grown Sam is Neville's constant companion, helping him hunt and guard against the infected who have become nocturnal creatures, traveling in hordes and feasting on blood. Neville is bent on continuing his work as a virologist, searching for a cure for the virus and using his own immune blood to synthesize one. After testing his cure on rats, Neville decides it is time for the next step - capturing one of the infected humans and administering the cure.
In the meantime, Smith hunts for food - the four-legged kind and the non-perishable variety left behind in abandoned apartments. He also makes regular trips to the local video store, swapping out watched movies for those he hasn't watched and talking to mannequins he has placed throughout the store in an effort to maintain his sanity through socialization...even if it is with those who can't socialize back.
Things begin to go bad the minute that Neville captures one of the infected and brings her back to his lab. First, the cure isn't working as Neville expected. Second, during one of his hunting trips, he discovers on of his mannequins has been moved and, after losing it a bit, he finds himself hanging upside down in a trap. Neville barely escapes, but in the process of doing so, he loses the last precious piece of family he still has. Just when Neville is finally willing to give up, he comes across survivors that offer him some sort of hope. But after all these years alone, will he be willing to believe in their survival?
I was a bit skeptical when I first decided to watch this film, but I have to say, Will Smith was incredible in I Am Legend. Except for the flashbacks and the moment in which he meets survivors, Will Smith was basically carrying this movie all by himself...well, along with Abby and Kona, the adorable German Shepherds who portray Sam. The creatures in this film very closely represent those in Matheson's novel, featuring vampire-like qualities such as the need for blood as sustenance and the fact that sunlight burns their skin, making the creatures nocturnal. I am pleased that the creators of this film decided that CGI effects were better where the creatures were concerned. They looked real enough and there is no way that an actor in prosthetics could pull off some of the facial expressions the CGI creatures could.
I felt that the premise of the film, the idea that a genetically modified disease initially used for good could cause the annihilation of the world's population, was incredibly plausible. The idea of a global pandemic is not at all farfetched and the idea that this pandemic could actually be man-made is truly possible.
I really enjoyed I Am Legend, but had an issue with the ending. Although it was a decent ending, I didn't really buy it. I thought it could be better. In researching the movie, I found that it actually was better...in its original format. The ending was changed before it was released to theaters, but I discovered that I could find the original ending online. It turns out that this ending is much more in keeping with the book. Not to spoil things for folks out there, I will only say that Neville discovers that there is more to the creatures than meets the eye...that they actually have intelligence and thought-processes and feel for one another. When you look back at past scenes in the film, you begin to realize that this ending would be much more in keeping with the rest of the film. No idea why they changed it, but the movie was much better with the original ending.
That being said, I would still be happy to watch I Am Legend again in the original DVD format. The movie presented a plausible premise, brilliant acting from Will Smith, decent action, gruesome effects here and there, an adorable dog and a decent, if inferior to the alternate, ending.